Conversation Piece

Mobile World Congress has been running for so many years that any marketer could be forgiven for relying on what has worked in previous years. Today, however, we are operating in a very different environment, where so much of the noise and marketing potential around an event like MWC is in the build-up, and now, more than ever, that noise is taking place online. Added to this is the fact that in general, the world of business just seems to be moving increasingly quickly.

The upshot is that unless marketers have a very close watch on the online conversation – not just around their own brand, but debate drivers, competitor activity and who the leading influencers in any particular week are – then they could be missing out on valuable opportunities to increase their return on investment in an event like MWC. 

Onalytica tracked the online conversation around MWC from November through to several days after the event. Our findings may surprise some marketers, and provide clues that may contribute to their thinking around the strategy of future events.

Fluctuating influencers
For instance, the most influential stakeholders (in other words, sources of information, such as online editorial, bloggers, news services) varied hugely not just month-by-month, but week-by-week and even day-by-day. The top ten stakeholders in December were dramatically different to February, with only a few remaining in the top ten. engadget.com held the top slot throughout the entire build-up and indeed, increased in influence over time, as it was increasingly used as a reference for the latest news and opinion on MWC. Articles on the site were often syndicated, word for word, by other stakeholders.

Of course, it is also important to look at relative influence, which is not the same as volume-of-noise or popularity. Stakeholders with high relative influence represent the optimum engagement opportunity to spread messages regarding products and services, in this instance, in relation to MWC. Their influence is higher than their popularity would indicate (and they may themselves not even realise how influential they are in absolute terms).  These relative influencers often focus on very specific niches: in the case of MWC, these were typically sites focused around brands, such as websites dedicated to or owned by Intel, Microsoft, Google, though some non-brand specific sites such as silicon.com made appearances in February’s top 10. 

These findings raise the question of whether the marketing and PR department should be reviewing who they are engaging with – journalists, analysts, bloggers and social media – in a more dynamic way, in reaction to the shifting sands of influence. 

Timing
Timing was one of the most intriguing findings. Most marketers know that historically, the online buzz around MWC is fairly minor in the run-up to Christmas, and that it builds in January and early February, culminating in the show itself. The sharpest incline in 2011 was the two weeks prior to the event’s start, with the biggest peak of online noise on the opening day. So far, so obvious, but after day one, the level of interest fell sharply. On the second day of the event, the volume of discussion dropped by 11 per cent, compared to the previous day and on day three, there was a further drop of 32 per cent. When looking at influential stakeholders, the drop was 47 per cent day-on-day.

So, while some marketers may have felt that it was best to avoid the over-crowding of announcements on day one, in favour of potentially getting more attention on days two, three and four, it is arguable that the potential audience commenting on MWC – and therefore disseminating the news, would have been reduced. 

There is also the timing of the build-up months to consider: too early and the message becomes old news by the time the event arrives; too late and it could be sidelined, as other messages have taken hold. For instance, Sony Ericsson got lots of attention early on in the run-up – which would have been good for its pre-event marketing – but that share of noise declined thereafter. LG and HTC saw the biggest shifts, starting with fairly small shares of the debate in December, then becoming two of the most dominant brands in the three weeks before the event.  The most mentioned brand of the 45 monitored across December – January  was Samsung.

Lucky leaks

The launch of new tablets and handsets was hotly anticipated in the run-up to 2011’s event, which led to considerable online speculation among technology and gadget enthusiasts. Such was the hunger to be first to reveal product news that this audience did not always wait to discover whether the sources were substantiated.

Indeed, teasers and leaks proved a highly effective marketing mechanism for generating huge peaks in visibility for brands, whether intentional or not. More traditional marketing campaigns fell flat in comparison, and while we would prefer not to name names, it does raise the question of whether expensive at-show gimmicks or sponsorships can be guaranteed to reap the same, or better results as other tactics that are more in tune with the event’s micro-zeitgeist.

The winners
So who got it right? LG has to be singled out for leading the online discussion at the crucial peak of discussion during 14 Feb, though HTC took the top spot the following day. HTC also managed to leverage the excitement already present online about its new Facebook-integrated phones, the Salsa and ChaCha. And while the reaction was mixed, Nokia’s announcement that it was partnering with Microsoft certainly boosted its overall visibility in the final stages of MWC.

Of course, next year’s MWC could present quite a different picture yet again, which underlines why an increasing number of mobile brands are investigating continuous online monitoring and analysis, as a means to stay on top of what is being said online. Probably the only thing that is certain is change.

Flemming Madsen is founder and executive chairman of Onalytica. For a copy of Onalytica’s summary report, please email sophie.hill@onalytica.com