Interview – Peter Norman

Founder, Wireless Information Network

As the founder of technology aggregator WIN (Wireless Information Network) in 1996, Peter Norman was in at the ground floor of the mobile data industry, and has probably forgotten more about mobile marketing than most people know.
When the company floated last October, he took a step back, and is currently considering his next move, though he is still actively involved in the industry as an Executive Director of the Mobile Data  Association (MDA), within which he is Chair of the Third Party Messaging Group, which looks after the data service interests of bodies outside of the network  operators.
Mobile Marketing caught up with Norman to ask where the industry is headed, and what he might do next.

MM: Youve been involved in mobile marketing as long as just about anybody. Has the industry developed as much as you hoped it might?

PN: Clearly, it hasnt, and if you look at why it hasnt, I think there are two reasons. The first is that the networks are a drag on innovation. They are unable to roll out new technologies in a synchronised fashion, so you get stepped progression of any new technology. SMS was a stepped progression to a situation where companies could easily offer a range of different services across all of the networks in the UK market. That was not achieved until July 2003.
MMS is another classic example. The networks came out with their own individual offerings which do not offer a co-ordinated whole across the networks, with some able to offer Premium MMS and some not, for example.
The second reason is concerned with technology. There has been no control over the handset manufacturers, so although the GSM Association sets standards to be used by everyone, the number of flavours of those standards make it difficult for companies to easily adopt new technologies. With MMS, for example, you virtually have to configure content for every handset that is MMS enabled. That is a ridiculous situation.
These factors are a huge constraint, and they have acted as barrier to brands adopting mobile more rapidly. Cost is also a factor. When compared to the web, mobile is a more costly medium, and it gets more costly as go into the flasher, multimedia technologies.

MM: And yet you still have faith in mobile?

PN: Yes, against all that, mobile, I believe, is one of the most effective communications media, when it is used properly. Its a message that we have been putting out consistently since we founded WIN, and which has been adopted by the industry and accepted as common sense. It is timely, highly personal, and you can dictate exactly what want to have on your phone to your personal preference, in a way you cant with other media.
One of the problems, I think, is that brands have found it difficult to put that message into practice, as a result of which, a lot of campaigns tend to be mass broadcast and untargeted, which does not cater to the mobile medium.
If people receive a message via their mobile which they think they should not have received, there is much greater antagonism towards the brand than if that message had been received by other media. So its important to get the message right, and important to look at campaigns targeting maybe 100,000 people, more targeted and focused than trying to hit a million people.

MM: So is mobile spam a real problem then?

PN: No, I dont think spamming (on mobiles) is a major issue. People have feared spamming on the mobile, that it would have same effect as on email, that people would become so used to it that they ignore all marketing via that medium, but there is very little evidence that it is an issue, because it is much more costly to do compared to other media, and the returns are quite poor
This is not to say that there are not examples, but it has not been a big issue and it is harder (for the spammers) with the Privacy in Electronic Communications directive controlling unsolicited electronic communication, and making it clear that spam is illegal

MM: So why are you still so passionate about mobile?

PN: Mobile is a hugely exciting space to be in. The potential is enormous. If you look at paid-for services, there are something like 63 million handsets in the UK, with a population of 55 million people. Thats a staggering statistic. So its reasonable to assume that most adults now have a mobile, but there are probably less than a million people using mobile data services, so there is a huge market still to go after.
Most of the major brands are only just beginning to get mobile into their thinking as a customer care tool, a marketing tool or for paid for content. So while companies like WIN have seen dramatic growth over the last three or four years, there is an awful lot more growth to go after.

MM: And is there any sign that the networks are getting their act together in terms of a more co-ordinated approach to new technologies?

PN: 3G looks better. They still have issues of rollout and what the wholesale offerings are on 3G. But there are examples where the networks are working together, such as Codes of Practice to try and ensure that the mobile industry does not get hit by scams. This is very positive. But they are still very nervous of co-ordinated action in terms of technology and rollout, and the excuse they use is that they are nervous of being hit by cartel issues. I think this is feeble, and the networks need to work with Ofcom to explain what they are doing and ensure they are not breaching cartel rules. 

MM: So do you see any signs of mobile marketing approaching its Tipping Point?

PN: We are seeing it from enterprise. Its fair to say that financial institutions are at last adopting mobile in a serious way. We have the example of First Direct, who have been using it for a number of years, but other banks have been slow to follow that model, despite fact that First Direct have had success with it. But now Lloyds TSB, Abbey, Barclays, they all have mobile as part of their customer care offering.
We are also beginning to see a lot more being done with interactive campaigns on billboards, getting people to text in for more information. What is still lacking, however, is a holistic view towards mobile. A lot of brands are nervous and confused about the plethora of acronyms that we as an industry keep throwing out for other people to cope with. There is also a lack of expertise in the market to help brands understand these technologies and understand how they can put campaigns together to appeal to consumers, without having to worry about what technologies they are using. It may be a combination of MMS, SMS, WAP, 3G, you name it. There needs to be a tier of consultants, with expertise, advising brands on what they can do, without worrying about the technology, because they can take care of that.

MM: So are you saying that the mobile agencies failing in this respect?

PN: To a certain extent they are, and there are not enough of them with the requisite technical understanding. There are a number of mobile agencies, but they tend to have to go and seek assistance from technology  aggregators like WIN, and other companies, to understand the technologies and see how they can help put their ideas into action.

MM: So what does the mobile marketing industry need to do to move things on?

PN: The networks need to fine-tune their offerings so that we have true cross-network capability in new technology offerings and with that, brands can start running truly integrated campaigns, including audio, visual, and text. When brands can do that with a degree of comfort, so that they do not have major customer care issues with people saying they cant see how that works on their handset, then we will see a big uptake in their use of mobile.

MM: And any clues to what you will do next?

PN: At this stage, no, but I can tall you that my main area of interest are in mobile content and how mobile content can be taken forward to appeal to a much broader range of people than it currently does.

Peter Norman was interviewed by Mobile Marketing Editor, David Murphy

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