NEW YORK — Everyone's had high hopes for mobile. 2008, for example, was touted as The Year of Mobile...as was 2007 before it...and 2006. Suffice to say, the odds of 2009 actually being The Year of Mobile are about as good they were in any other year. And yet mobile does seem to be making significant progress, albeit torturously slow. But speed wasn't the issue during a panel discussion at the AlwaysOn OnMedia conference being held here this week, a panel at which marketing experts hashed out the current state of mobility.
In the past, major impediments of mobile marketing have been three main concerns:
- lack of reach and scalability,
- high cost, and
- an overly complicated usage model.
In the last 12 months the industry has overcome the first two, argued Lars Albright, vice president of business development at Quattro Wireless, a provider of mobile marketing solutions. Vendors are emerging in the market to resolve the third. "The things needed to support a healthy mobile landscape are coming along," Albright told the audience. The mistake that hurt mobile the most during its growth, however, is that advertisers "wanted absolute dollars to come along."
While 2008 certainly wasn't The Year of Mobile, the past 12 months produced the highest growth in mobile divisions within companies and strong initiatives to begin standardizing mobile advertising, according to Paran Johar, chief marketing officer of mobile search and advertising firm JumpTap. The challenges for 2009, Johar told the audience, will be finding a compromise between Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley. "Just because we build it," he said, "doesn't mean [advertisers] will buy it." Therefore, in order for mobile to move forward, providers of mobile solutions will need to focus on:
- developing creatives for mobile;
- better targeting;
- obtaining quality consumer data; and
- establishing a workflow and process for planning and measurement.
From a measurement standpoint, said Michael Kurtzman, managing director of mobile solutions provider Sybase 365, mobile cannot be considered independent from the other channels. In fact, marketers have to measure and plan across platforms. Moreover, the confusion behind mobile is often rooted in a basic lack of understanding of the brand's involvement with the medium. "There needs to be a lot of conversation upfront with the agency and brand managers to define the metrics they consider successful in any given campaign," said Erica Chriss, vice president of strategy and business development at Greystripe, an ad-supported distributor of mobile games and applications. "Mobile is [one of] the more measurable mediums ever. People just haven't taken time to determine…the most effective metrics to measure."
Kurtzman told the audience that a short message service (SMS) text is read, on average, within four minutes of delivery, while the average email is read within 48 hours. To capitalize on this immediate, real-time appeal, marketers can't simply dump generic SMS messages into a particular Inbox. Instead, the marketers must become even more effective.
Chriss suggests that, as consumers, mobile is in our lives for two overarching purposes:
- to save time (communication, directions, alerts); and
- to kill time (games, applications).
In other words, mobile advertisements must be more engaging than "just another banner ad." And yet display advertising seemed to be these panelists' sole topic of conversation, says Tamecca Anthony, chief marketing officer of mobile platform provider Azure Media, in a post-session conversation.
Chriss boasts that Greystripe can sell a 250x320-sized ad for the same amount on mobile as on the Web but achieve significantly better results via mobile -- because that's where people pay attention. "It's just a rectangle," Chriss says. "But a rectangle with way better results."
The great promise of mobile advertising is the notorious fable of walking by a Starbucks and immediately being alerted to a discount. Location-based advertising, however, is only one piece of a successful mobile-marketing initiative. Johar argues that demographic and behavioral data are perhaps just as, or even more, important.
Of course, no mobile conversation is complete without talk of Apple's iPhone, the device that Albright called "the single greatest educator of what's possible with a mobile device." Despite the gadget's deafening buzz, the 4.4 million Apple iPhones sold last year—no matter how impressive!—paled in comparison to the world leader, Nokia (113 million mobile devices sold last year). Chriss argued that it's not about the number of devices sold; what's more important is how each consumer is engaging with his device. The majority of consumers have a smartphone, she estimated, but only 10 percent "ever did anything with data, except SMS, on that device." As products like the iPhone gain in popularity, consumers will become increasingly interested in accessing good content—and with it, new, wide-open realms for advertising. The misconception with such an interface, Albright warned, is the temptation to treat mobile as just another PC environment.
Even after the positive developments of 2008, the North American mobile advertising market continues to lag behind its international counterparts. In Anthony's opinion, mobile is far more fragmented than any other advertising channel, with marketers forced to juggle multiple carriers, multiple platforms, and multiple devices. Even SMS shortcodes sometimes take as long as months to get approved.
What the panelists and Anthony did agree on was the need for education among consumers and advertisers around mobile. "We need to focus on relevance and [not] let mobile advertising go the same way as email," Johar said, adding that there needs to be understanding of the advertising business and the different players within the overall ecosystem -- digital, creative, mobile, search, etc.
One particular point, he said, was telling: "It's not, ‘build it and they will come.' "
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