This column was originally intended to be split into two installments to explain the basics of mobile marketing, lessons we've learned, and how to choose a partner. But after conversations with many brands and agencies, I've determined that choosing a partner is a complex process for many marketers. It deserves its own column -- and quickly!
If you're unfamiliar with the mobile space's players and ecosystem, selecting the ideal mobile partner can be daunting. This column will explain the mobile value chain and provides some questions for you -- the brand or agency -- to ask your prospective mobile partners, prior to making any selection decisions.
Although many players in the space are integrating across the value chain, there are four main elements:
Products and services. Includes brands, agencies, and third-party content providers. These are the companies seeking collaboration and partnership with others within the value chain. We also see the emergence of mobile agencies and the creation of mobile divisions within larger agencies, which help with the end-to-end decisions around the mobile campaign. Depending on your needs, the mobile agencies may be what you're looking for.
Mobile ASPs(define). Includes application and technology providers, along with the MASP. The MASP is the mobile partner that can provide a complete, one-stop solution for a mobile campaign, including mobile storefronts, campaign planning, and connectivity.
Connection. Includes aggregators and wireless operators. Many players in the mobile space are focused on connection only. Many MASPs are partnered with these companies, and thus connection players don't need to be contacted directly (although, again, it depends on your needs).
Media and retail. Includes brick-and-mortar, e-tail, and so on.
Many brands are baffled. With so many companies to choose from, and so many differences between the companies, how can you possibly find the right partner? It's best to first determine the capabilities you're looking for, then develop a checklist so you can narrow the selections and determine the partner that's right for you. According to Nihal Mehta, CEO of ipsh!, finding the right partner is one of the most important decisions you can make when choosing to integrate mobile into your cross media campaign. "Finding the right partner in the mobile marketing space makes the difference between a successful campaign and a complete flop," says Nihal.
Develop a checklist that includes the elements important to you and your company. Also ensure you include the following:
How many campaigns has your mobile company launched? With which companies and brands? The number of campaigns and the size of the brands a company's worked with helps you understand its level of expertise. A partner should provide you with a list of contact companies and brands it's worked with, along with references.
What are your company's customer care resources? Do I receive a dedicated account manager or support person? This should include number of support individuals, response times, levels of care (SLAs), and so forth. For those who appreciate personalized service, understanding if the same individual will be involved throughout your campaign may be important.
Does your company provide proactive monitoring and reporting on my campaign? For example, does the company provide statistics and information throughout the campaign, or only at the end? Is this information available via a client extranet or must you depend on the agency to supply this data? Answers to these questions are important as ongoing feedback will help you understand and tweak the campaign throughout (iterative feedback and refinement).
To what extent is the mobile company focused on your particular niche? If you're a player in the business-to-business (B2B) space, does the mobile partner understand how you do business? If you're a nonprofit, does your mobile partner understand the intricate nature of grassroots fundraising and donor management? If you're a large brand marketer, does your mobile partner understand all the channels you speak through and can it help augment them with a mobile program that works in concert?
What types of services are offered? Is the partner company a mobile agency, an aggregator, other? Can you provide Web-related development that brings a mobile program to life or help to guide this process? How does its services match to your specific needs? For example, will you look to the partner company to execute creative and strategic direction in addition to connectivity?
In this case, developing a needs checklist is important in assessing a potential partner company. Be honest about which services you need and which you don't. If you're looking for creative input, ensure you pick a company that values creativity and personalization.
Can the mobile partner help determine the campaign objectives through an ROI (define) calculation or other quantitative or qualitative means? This will help you determine if your mobile partner understands what your needs and priorities are prior to the campaign launch. Some mobile companies specialize in certain vertical segments. If you're looking for expertise for your vertical, ask around.
What wireless carriers do you have direct or indirect connectivity to? Depending on your campaign, this is an important question if you're planning to launch nationwide or global campaigns across all carriers, or only with one carrier, standard or premium rate.
How stable is the partner company? What are the funding and employee count, and how long has the company been in operation? What's its core focus and competencies (e.g., aggregation, licensing, creative, etc.)? If you're considering a long-term partnership for your mobile initiatives, these are important questions to ask. There are a large number of both established and new entrants in the space.
Though not exhaustive, these questions should help to narrow the partner-selection process. Remember, your mobile partner is the expert in mobile marketing and will help guide and assist you. There are lots of options to choose from, so choose the partner that's right for you and your business.
Still lost? The Mobile Marketing Association Web site contains information on successful mobile case studies, mobile marketing basics, and general information that will help educate you prior to approaching prospective partners.
In part three, we'll focus on what we've learned from U.S. mobile marketing campaigns.
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Laura Marriott is executive director of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), which works to clear obstacles to market development, to establish standards and best practices for sustainable growth, and to evangelize the mobile channel for use by brands and third-party content providers. The MMA has over 250 members worldwide, representing over 16 countries. Laura has over 14 years' experience in the high-tech industry. Prior to joining the MMA, she served as Intrado's director of marketing, where she was responsible for the development and delivery of Intrado's mobility products and service. Laura previously served as director of business development at Cyneta Networks and Cell-Loc Inc.