• January 3, 2011
  • By Juan Martinez, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

No Longer The Text-Best Thing

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Marketing may not always get consumers going, but at least one local television station found a way to light a real fire under its mobile messaging.

While wildfires devastated southern California in 2007, KNBC, the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, teamed with its San Diego counterpart to build an alert system that would allow mobile users to receive information on fire updates, evacuation routes, and affected counties. Viewers of the TV stations were encouraged to text in the word “fire” to receive the crucial alerts. Over the course of one day 18,518 viewers opted in. Within the program’s first week nearly 247,000 messages were sent.

The fire, which burned for 19 days and was visible from outer space, left a path of devastation in its wake: 1 million homes were evacuated, 1,500 homes were destroyed, 500,000 acres of land were burned, and 85 people were injured, including nine who lost their lives. While the destructive emotional impact of the fire can never be undone, neither can the lessons learned from the actions of companies like KNBC and citizen journalists Nate Ritter and Dan Tentler of San Diego.

Ritter and Tentler used Twitter and Flickr to spread information assembled from television, radio, streaming video, instant messages, email, and text messages. To reach the maximum number of people, a campaign—whether it saves lives or connects clubbers on spring break—must take a multichannel approach and reach consumers regardless of where they are and what type of media they’re consuming.

For marketers, the ability to engage with mobile consumers, in real time, on an ostensibly one-to-one basis is a dream come true.
The most popular forms of mobile marketing available today are SMS, MMS, mobile Web, and location-based campaigns, all of which represent unique ways to connect with customers via cell phone, smartphone, and tablet. SMS, which stands for short message service, is your typical text message campaign. MMS, or multimedia message service, contains a combination of text, photo, audio, and video. Mobile Web advertisements are placed on Web pages that are accessed on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, Droid, and BlackBerry. Location-based services are targeted campaigns that send ads, coupons, and product information to consumers based on their current location, which is rendered from the phone’s global positioning system.

Typically, mobile campaigns are geared toward driving a direct sale. Unlike television and radio campaigns, which require consumers to leave the medium and head to the nearest retail location, mobile campaigns allow consumers to click from a mobile Web banner ad straight to a corporate Web site, or to use a coupon displayed in a message to purchase an item online without ever looking up from their touch screens. Although the convenience of the ad-to-sale process was previously possible with email and social media marketing, consumers had to be at their desk, in a library, or lugging a laptop to receive the marketers’ messages. Today, you could potentially be on a beach in Tahiti when you click on a banner ad that advertises snow boots for 20 percent off.

Another added benefit of the mobile campaign is that it allows marketers to easily measure return on investment (ROI), click rates, and most, if not all, of the other metrics that are difficult to calculate from traditional marketing campaigns. “Marketers have limited budgets so most advertisers are looking for things that do well in a down economy,” says David Cooperstein, Forrester Research vice president. “This is what we’re seeing in location-based services and advertising…[which are] hypertargeted and hyperlocal. You can engage with consumers with quick response. This is part of the power of mobile but it’s not the only thing.”

With a simple ad-to-sale cycle, and with numbers that can precisely measure whether campaigns lead to sales, will we ever see a mobile campaign focused more on branding than selling? Is it possible for companies to build brand affinity and loyalty by sending text messages and coupons to their customers?

John Thomson, president and CEO of Saepio, a provider of marketing technology, contends that mobile marketing is simply an extension of how a brand would market itself in other ways. The companies that understand how to build loyalty with their customers will be able to do it through any channel. With mobile, however, Thomson says businesses now have the luxury of being “more connected, more often, in more of a dialogue than you otherwise would be.”

The ability for customers to naturally and immediately respond to messages is something Thomson argues marketers couldn’t do with billboards and magazine spreads. The mobile device now allows companies and customers to engage each other directly, which will only help strengthen the brand-consumer bond.

But Thomson doesn’t believe a simple SMS campaign is going to serve as enough of an engagement to deliver the potential ROI mobile can deliver. “Your basic SMS isn’t where it’s at,” he says, adding that Saepio focuses on delivering branded content to devices. “If you’re talking about building brand affinity, I don’t know if a text message does that.” If simple text could build affinity, Thomson speculates, wouldn’t all commercials be just words on a screen? “Who really responds emotionally to a bunch of bullet points on a Power Point screen?” he asks. “That’s essentially what a text message on a phone is. It’s just so limiting. Building brand at the highest level is about building an emotional connection.”

Bryce Marshall, director of strategic services at Knotice, a direct digital marketing automation software provider, says SMS still leads the way for the campaigns he helps his clients create. “To a large degree our technique hasn’t changed that much,” he says. “Three years ago our point of emphasis was on SMS, which it still is to a certain degree.” But what has changed in that time is the emergence of the iPhone and what Marshall refers to as “app envy.”

He claims advertisers have become fixated on iPhone apps as their entire marketing strategy rather than as one tactical play in a broad spectrum. He predicts that this is changing and will continue to change due to the emergence and improvement of the mobile Web and mobile browsers. “More and more consumers are getting more and more comfortable using the browser on their smartphone,” Marshall says. “The mobile Web will soon be the center of everything from the mobile marketing standpoint.”

With Knotice’s help, Canon is rolling out a mobile Web solution that’s focused on the in-store shopping experience. Canon’s mobile Web site will contain an optimized version of the content on the online site that is focused on the information consumers need to make Canon purchases in retail sites like Walmart or Best Buy. “They see the printers on the shelf, but they don’t see much information in the store and they can’t find a knowledgeable salesman,” Marshall explains. They’re overwhelmed by choice, he notes, and underwhelmed by the in-store information. “The mobile site will prevent people from walking out of the store,” he says, “and it will sway them toward making a decision.”

Marketers must remember that the mobile Web serves different purposes than the Internet. “Companies need to understand the needs and priorities of the mobile user, who is a different animal altogether,” Marshall claims. Mobile users are looking to accomplish smaller tasks in a much quicker fashion. Screen size, browser capabilities, the lack of broadband Internet capabilities, and a small keyboard limit how consumers access and consume content.

When Knotice creates the mobile version of a corporate site the mobile version streamlines the online site. “If there are 300 pages online there should be 12 on the mobile site,” Marshall says. “We have at most three minutes of the consumer’s attention with the mobile Web solution. We need to get them the best information to make an informed decision about that product. That’s a mistake a lot of brands make when they enter the mobile environment. They fail to recognize the content and use cases of the mobile user.”

“Branding and direct response seem diametrically opposed,” Cooperstein says, “yet I think there’s a lot of crossover.”

Cooperstein jokes that all marketers should be involved in SMS, but instead of short message service, Cooperstein says SMS should stand for “sell more stuff.” While he doesn’t believe branding and selling should be mutually exclusive on mobile devices, he recognizes that someone who is doing a branding campaign might also ultimately need to show his CEO some kind of measurable lift.

Successful mobile campaigns build awareness, Cooperstein says, but they should also tie into an actionable goal. In 2008, for example, as part of the campaign behind the Ford Motor Co.’s introduction of its full-sized crossover Flex, mobile-advertising firm MoVoxx (which has since been acquired by  mobile marketing and media provider Adenyo) developed an opt-in SMS campaign.

Fittingly, “flex” applied to the nature of the ad content as well. According to MobileMarketer.com, Ford’s ads appeared at the bottom of alerts from Dow Jones’ MarketWatch, where customized ad units dynamically adapted to conform to whatever type of mobile phone accessed the content. Users who clicked through to the Ford site could view photos, find the nearest dealership, and request product brochures.

When trade-book giant Wiley Publishing wanted to drive awareness and sales for its “For Dummies” series, Hipcricket helped it achieve this goal by building an SMS campaign, a Wiley mobile Web site, ad banners, and inserts. Wiley saw a 1.4 percent click-through rate on its mobile advertising buys; it also saw a 34 percent database opt-in rate for future marketing opportunities. More than a third of the people surveyed about the campaign said they’d like to have an ongoing engaged relationship with the For Dummies series.

Hipcricket President and CEO Eric Harper says he’s a huge proponent of SMS—in part because campaigns without a text component reach fewer consumers. “As you add richer engagement from mobile Web sites and applications you reach less people because most people still don’t have access to these devices,” he says. “So you have to have a blended mix of engagements.”

Hugh Park Jedwill, executive director of the Heartland Mobile Council and founder and CEO of mobile solution provider Mobile Anthem, agrees with Harper’s assertion that more complex mobile interactions still don’t have enough market reach. “Everyone is rushing to do an iPhone or Android app,” Jedwill says, “and that’s fine if you’re looking to reach only 8 percent of people with phones…. Certainly that’s a good segment of people to reach. But if you’re interested in reaching a different market, you need to fashion what you do to whom you are speaking to.”

Working with Procter & Gamble to spread awareness and affinity for its Venus Razors brand, Jedwill established a campaign in Panama City Beach, Fla., and South Padre Island, Texas, during spring break. The campaign included Internet, experiential entertainment, sampling, and mobile. With their mobile phones, people on the beaches took pictures of friends that they sent into the company. A week after spring break, Venus sent a reminder to the mobile users to come pick up their pictures, and the company offered to put frames with Venus logos on the photos.

“Here is an experience that was being brought to them by Venus and it was a good way to commemorate their trip,” Jedwill says. “We also did activities inside some of the largest night clubs, where we did a text-to-screen that we called Textual Flirting.”

With the Textual Flirting campaign, partygoers who opted into the program got VIP nametags that were displayed on a giant screen inside the club. Other partygoers could text the nametag’s number onto the club’s screen, allowing mobile users to send messages to one another. In between the messages was Venus branding. “In both cases we weren’t driving anyone to purchase a product,” Jedwill explains, “we were facilitating something they wanted to do already, which was have a good time with their friends and [interact] with other people.”

“There’s a lot you can do on a mobile beyond text messaging,” says Neil Strother, practice director at ABI Research. “You can use mobile browsers, apps, location awareness, mobile social, which you see in companies like Foursquare, and with Facebook Places.” (See CRM’s August 2010 issue for more on Foursquare, which was named a Rising Star in the 2010 CRM Market Awards.) Strother argues that, regardless of the type of campaign, the question marketers have to ask themselves remains the same: Have you engaged customers with your brand in a way that’s not obviously advertising?

“Marketers have to deal with mobile as another major channel,” Strother says, “and they need to think about it differently than they do Web [marketing]. The Web is immersive and content-rich and there’s a lot of real estate. On mobile, you have to be discreet, action-oriented, and much more personal.”

 This personal touch can be dangerous for marketers who don’t use the power of mobile properly. All of the analysts interviewed for this piece agree that SMS campaigns should be opt-in only and that users should have the right to decide how much correspondence they receive at the beginning of their relationships with the company. Produce an annoying commercial and it’s possible that viewers might forget who you are. Send too many mobile messages and you’ll live forever in infamy.

“The best mobile marketers do not over-spam you or hit you too many times in a given day, week, or month,” Forrester’s Cooperstein says. “The smart marketer says, ‘I’ve got this database of 50,000 people and they’ve opted into my company. What were the terms of that agreement? Weekly updates? Can I send them updates every day?’ It really depends. That part of the opt-in process depends on the content. If you’re going to send me coupons, it might be once a week or once a month. Most marketers have been fairly careful to not overdo the frequency.”

Because the market for mobile applications is still so immature, the future of mobile commerce has yet to be defined. Cool approaches are emerging with location-based and image-recognition services—such as the ability for consumers to send a cameraphone picture of a product’s barcode to a company, and for the company to send back a link to more information—but until more of the population is active and comfortable with smartphones we won’t know how much marketers can leverage this technology to build their brands.

What we do know is that a properly executed multichannel approach might not only improve a campaign’s ability to spark a consumer’s interest, but also provide a more compelling call to action that will get that consumer to text a reply or view a mobile Web site.
The ability to make marketing more actionable? That might just be the irresistible force that finally makes the immobile laggards get moving.

Email the editors at editors@destinationCRM.com.

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