Nick Fuller, Consultant at Jaywing, part of Digital Marketing Group (DMG), looks at what's needed to get beyond the hype end encourage more brands to use mobile as a marketing channel
Think of mobile marketing and the phrase false dawn inevitably springs to mind. Many advocates have talked for years about the ubiquity of the device, its personal reach and the benefits of immediacy and location awareness. And yet, even now, many brands and agencies have yet to develop a comprehensive mobile strategy.
And now in 2008 we have the latest example of the convergence argument - the launch of the iPhone once again raises the spectre of a hand-held device that is all things at once from communication device, game player and music player to computer (amongst others). Yet its hard to see how this development will bring too much clarity to the debate.
At the heart of the issue is the traditional technology divide. In the blue corner - the tech enthusiasts who are looking for additional functions in a new device even before theyve taken it out of the box. In the red corner the rest of us, who will probably never use more than 10% of the functions that we have anyway. This is incredibly important even at a very basic level, it is the reason that the humble SMS is still the dominant medium over unarguably much richer technologies such as the mobile Internet (according to Ofcom, less than 10 million UK mobile users have 3G and, without it, the mobile Internet is really a non starter) and MMS (which has really not taken off beyond peer-to-peer because of its cost and relative complexity).
The importance of the iPhone
The launch of the iPhone, amidst claims that it delivers unrecognisable mobile Internet browsing via wi-fi, and a much-improved email experience compared to a Blackberry, is important. Many directly involved in the UK launch (including 02 - its exclusive UK distributor, and mobile Internet ad networks) see this as a major breakthrough in showing us consumers the real possibilities of mobile Internet consumption. Similarly, Intel, which has already developed a chip that allows some Motorola handsets to comfortably run Vista so that they become real mobile computing devices, promises to provide web access via a mobile device that is proactive, predictive and context-aware. This is a long way from todays WAP service. This will be delivered via Wimax, a technology that increases bandwidth a similar effect to the forthcoming 3.5G technologies. All of this, however, should be put into context alongside the proliferation of 3G which, to many, is still a new technology with relatively modest take up; according to Netonomy over 70% of UK users have 3G-compatible handsets, but have not taken up the service.
Yet all this aside, these developments are important, and brands should be considering their potential impact on marketing strategy over the coming years. Such planning, of course, has to happen in parallel with todays marketing activity; we all have targets to meet!
Power to the people
Importantly, in todays permission marketing world, it is not us marketers who will decide the channel and technology through which we communicate with consumers. The consumer has that power. Its instructive, therefore that, even using todays technology of SMS and the mobile Internet, the network operators dont appear to have done marketers many favours - 2007 research by Gfk NOP showed that 70% of consumers felt that mobile marketing messages from their network operators were irrelevant, and 64% found them annoying. In this context, a raft of new technology is hardly going to make the difference.
This, however, is in stark contrast to many brands using the medium to deliver real value content to truly opted-in audiences. This is what its all about. And within this are a range of technologies available today, including:
Location Based Services a great example being The Mayor of Londons Cab Aware programme which enables users to find a licensed cab depending on their location, thereby removing the need to use unlicensed cabs with all of the inherent associated risks.
Bluetooth using local area applications, for instance at outdoor festivals, to deliver tightly-targeted audio and video content with user permission, is a major leap forward from SMS.
Mobile Ticketing quite apart from the environmental advantage in paper reduction, issuing tickets via mobile represents a cost saving and an increase in convenience for the user. Some European cities now run public transport systems on mobile tickets and Juniper Research predicts that over 2.5 billion mobile tickets will be delivered worldwide by 2011.
Mobile Coupons the Suns high-profile use of QR Codes in a cross-media campaign recently has announced the arrival here of a technology that has been established in the Far East for some time. Using QR Codes, consumers can simply scan a code to open a mobile Internet site, rather than browsing or having to open a URL within a message.
M-commerce its unlikely that all of us will be transferring all of our shopping habits to our mobile device any time soon, but the example of Amazon now allowing a user to buy from their phone, using a very simple version of the familiar online process, is a good one. Advances in mobile payment systems too, are opening up possibilities way beyond traditional small-item Premium SMS transactions, such as ringtones and wallpapers.
That means permission - all of these applications are strictly permission-based. The consumer chooses to receive them or to interact with them. They play to the strengths of mobile in that, at the moment, its seen as a largely spam-free zone - according to the IAB, 95% of text messages are opened, compared to just 25% of e-mails.
The priority for many of us in marketing is getting to grips with these techniques and, most importantly, measuring their effect both as campaigns and on individual consumers. At DMG, we know that we cannot expect all customers to go for these applications so we must create them on the understanding that, as a permission medium, they will be taken up only by those willing give us their attention. Our focus is always on using mobile as an integral element of any digital marketing strategy where it delivers a real benefit for consumer and brand alike, creating what weve dubbed a Positive Interaction between the two, where both brand and consumer alike experience a positive and beneficial outcome.
A Positive Interaction wont be a by-product of all cases, however, so we never look at technology for technologys sake. This, we believe, is the key to really using mobile effectively, and ensuring that when it is used, it creates a beneficial experience which the consumer will have no issue with granting their permission to.
Measuring the ultimate effect of this is a real challenge for marketers. It goes way beyond the traditional direct mail measurement (i.e. ultimate response rate) and even beyond previous digital channels (such as delivered v opened v clicked on e-mails). As yet, there is much to do in terms of harnessing analytical data and providing truly personal choices of channel, but mobile has a major part to play in this development. As direct marketers ourselves, working for clients with the same discipline at heart, this is vital.
The applications outlined above, and these issues of measurement, may be seen as so last year to the tech evangelists, but for the pragmatic marketer who has to balance todays business objectives with tomorrows strategy (and hands up anyone not in this category!), they are key.