Reality Check

David Murphy

Jon Wade, Director of Digital Strategy for direct/digital agency Wunderman, argues that this is no time for marketers to experiment with mobile

John Wade WundermanMobile is not the place to be in the UK this year. Marketers are not going to experimenting with mobile in such tough economic conditions, apart from in emerging markets.
Almost without exception, every mobile marketing presentation I have ever watched or participated in begins with hyperbole: 

There are predicted to be 4,000,000,000 mobile phone subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2009

  • More people in China have a mobile phone than live in the USA

24% of people would rather sacrifice their first-born child than contemplate an evening without their mobile 

Whilst these things are undoubtedly true (apart from the last one, I made that up) and very impressive on the surface, those same presentations usually end with is this the year mobile marketing goes mainstream? Err, no. Not this year, definitely not this year.
Hidden, usually in the middle of the presentation, are the mobile Internet usage stats. Whilst mobile phones are ubiquitous, online usage via mobile in the UK is not. The latest whitepaper from comScore, December 2008s U.K. PC & Mobile Internet Usage Report, makes interesting reading. As of July 2008, total PC internet users stood at 35.2 million people, representing 70% of the total population aged 15 or more. Mobile Internet usage stood at 12.9 million, a comparatively measly 25% of the UK population, even after they extended that population to include everyone aged 13 or more. This number also belies a distinct tailing off in this usage rate since May 2008. Compare this to the positively ever-forward-marching PC Internet usage, which is unrelenting in its push upward, showing an 11% year-on-year growth. It gets worse though for some marketers.
There is a distinct skew toward younger demographics using this medium, in common with early adopter patterns with other technologies. 56% are aged 34 or less, whereas the PC Internet usage sees a much more even spread of demographics. And what are they doing? Search, email and social networking are the applications with the highest growth profiles.

Reasons to be fearful
The reasons for this lack of adoption are actually, common-sense for anyone who has gone online on mobile to any degree. Speed of content loading is cited by the younger demographic as a key issue. Usability is the bug-bear of the older demographic. Cost afflicts both. Smartphones dont solve any of these issues.
So, Generation Y are all over it (comparatively speaking). But, unless you are actively targeting Gen Y with a product that leverages temporal or geographic relevance, is a specific mobile marketing strategy the way to go? It could be argued that if search, email and social networking are the killer apps for mobile, your strategic approach for mobile should be nothing more than ensuring platform agnosticism in your strategies for those other disciplines.
To the subject of a global recession. In these tough economic times, there are much happier hunting grounds than making experimental forays into mobile marketing. Theres the good old, accountable, dependable regular internet for a start. Usage continues to rise, measurement continues to become easier and more accurate and return-on-investment continues to be proven. 
And lets face it - marketing budgets are being slashed left, right and centre in this economic downturn. We all trot out the spend now, benefit when we come out of the recession argument but it doesnt cut it with the FD does it?  Benefit later? What if there is no later?

No time to experiment
Its therefore my conjecture that 2009 is not the year to be spending what little marketing budget youve got left by experimenting in the mobile marketing space in the UK. Thats not to say that all brands should not do any mobile marketing at all, far from it. Mobile marketing can be very effective when used in a relevant and smart way. That is to say, when your target audience and product lends itself to it. However, my advice to brands would be to do so only if you already know what type of return you are going to get from it (to make that difficult FD conversation a little easier).
Those brands that have done their experimentation during happier times should crank up their investment in the medium where they can prove return-on-investment but if you havent, now is not the time to be dipping your toe in the water. Better, look to regular PC-based Internet marketing that can demonstrate reach and return.
The exception to this advice, and there is always an exception (just like the mobile marketing presentation always has a number with at least nine zeros after it) is where you are marketing into emerging markets. There we are seeing rapid growth in the online population, fuelled largely through mobile Internet usage. In these markets, now is definitely the time to be experimentingas long as you can convince the FD.