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Understanding the Mobile Marketing Ecosystem

  |  September 6, 2007   |  Comments

A look at six interconnected entities and each one's distinct partners and roles.

A recent Mediamark Research study puts the number of U.S. households with one or more cell phones at 84.5 percent -- a number higher than that of households with landline-only telephone access. A smaller, yet equally important, statistic reveals the number of cell-phone-only households is 14 percent.

Although it's less than a quarter, that statistic advances an entire ecosystem, one poised for growth again this year. As with any new media channel that emerges and takes hold, there's a parallel growth path happening. Best practices and ad standards are being established as programs are implemented. Measurement initiatives are taking form but aren't firmly rooted within each program in a consistent manner. Aggregators, enablers, and boutique mobile marketing agencies are bought, sold, or rebranded weekly -- sometimes it seems with increasing frequency.

Some label the mobile marketing ecosystem as complex. But it's really no different than previous communications platforms, or those that will come.

The challenge lies in having enough information and understanding about all the players to successfully navigate the ecosystem. In such a liquid landscape, this can seem daunting, but with a short refresher course it can be accomplished.

There are six interconnected entities within today's ecosystem, each with distinct partners, providers, and, most important, a role in the process:

  • Advertisers

  • Aggregators

  • Content publishers

  • Carriers

  • Industry organizations

  • Consumers
  • Advertisers

    Advertisers and agencies are the ecosystem's newest entrants. Brands from all industry verticals have been active in the past year, adding a new perspective to the ecosystem that entertainment brands alone cannot. More activity by a wider range of marketers has helped spur mobile-only and mobile-boutique agency growth. These agencies, along with an increased number of traditional and digital shops, have the knowledge to help plan and buy mobile marketing programs that will provide value to the end consumer, programs that are ideally integrated into a larger communications strategy.


    Aggregators, or mobile enablers, are third-party companies (technology and otherwise) that bridge the gap between content owners (brands and publishers), carriers/operators, and consumers. They are a necessary middleman with untapped experience and knowledge that can't be overlooked or undervalued. However, it's important to partner with an aggregator or enabler that fits the communication goals of the specific mobile campaign at hand. Not everyone can be a jack-of-all-trades, and that's not a bad thing when planning programs that reach consumers in one of the most personally relevant media platforms today.

    Content Providers

    Buyable mobile marketing programs are made possible via media companies turned mobile content publishers. Over the past few years, programs have evolved from exclusive partnerships and basic tests to consistent elements on many media proposals. These programs often take the guess work out of the ecosystem for individual brands and agencies. That's because the majority of legwork is wrapped up in existing vendor relationships that the media company, or content publisher, has already established.


    Thirty-two. That's the number of U.S. mobile phone companies up to D in Wikipedia's alphabetical list. Really though, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile are the key names to know. Each works with aggregators and enablers to approve marketing programs crossing their individual networks. While some compare mobile carriers/operators to cable companies, that's a mistake. Carriers and operators are increasingly becoming more like media companies than anything else.

    Industry Organizations

    Mobile is self-governing. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), CTIA.org, and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) have stepped forward to establish committees and best practices and provide an outlet for the ecosystem. The MMA is the most holistic of organizations when it comes to providing a voice and opportunity for involvement, but publicly available resources and committee opportunities for member companies can be found within all three organizations. They offer such great resources as updated stats, facts, and key guidelines and ad standards that further help define the marketplace.


    Engaging the consumer in the mobile marketing ecosystem is essential to propel the industry forward. Consumers, the intended audience for all marketing programs, control their individual mobile experience. Each and every program should provide as much value to the consumer as it does to the entities involved in making it happen.

    The number of cell-phone-only households will continue to grow. Ensuring the right partnerships to bring more mobile programs to this growing audience is a matter of dedicating time and resources to making sure your information on partners and providers is as current as possible. That's something made simpler by revisiting the players every so often.

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    Courtney Acuff

    With more than 237 million cell phone users in the U.S. alone, Courtney Jane Acuff’s charge within Denuo as director is to deliver consumer insights and innovative media solutions in the wireless space. Prior to this, Acuff stood at the helm of one of mobile marketing’s most influential media agencies, SMG Digits, where she harnessed mobile communications' power, influence, and potential. At Digits, she researched, designed, and executed the first-ever domestic, consumer-centric wireless market analysis, providing insights into the medium’s potential for relevant consumer engagement. It was the first effort by an agency to understand consumers' burgeoning use of mobile applications, the content they access, and how they want the technology to be a part of their lives.

    Acuff currently consults for clients such as Walt Disney World, Walgreens, Sprint, and Philip Morris, framing the mobile marketplace and guiding marketing initiatives. She maintains strong relationships with mobile back-end providers and is a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association. Her influence in the industry earned her coveted recognition as a “Twentysomething to Watch” in 2004 by "Advertising Age." Acuff holds B.A.s in political science and communications, both from Lake Forest College in Illinois.

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