Beneath the veneer of flashy wireless campaigns is a growing body of low cost, high-ROI mobile marketing. The final installment of a two-part story.
Read part one of this story.
If you've seen any mobile marketing case studies at industry conferences, chances are they were pretty flashy. The wireless medium still occupies a science fiction-like fascination in our imaginations, and agencies are exploiting that fascination for utmost PowerPoint impact.
Robert Greenberg, chairman and CEO of R/GA Digital Studios, recently presented a mobile campaign for client Yahoo that let people use their phones to play a racing game on a billboard in Times Square. A recent campaign from Nike sent phone users on a text-enabled scavenger hunt through the streets of Manhattan.
But beneath the veneer of flashy wireless implementations is a growing body of mobile marketing campaigns that, while perhaps more mundane, are also more reliable in terms of reach and ROI than their übercool counterparts.
What's Black and White and Read All Over?
While the creative possibilities are certainly more limited with SMS than with picture messaging or branded multimedia content, it's often the best bet for marketers eager to tap the huge reach available through wireless.
"There's a lot that you can do [with rich content], but you're not going to get a very large market. The addressable market gets really small, particularly as you try to do anything fancy where you need to take advantage of specific handset features," said Avi Greengart, an analyst with Jupiter Research.
The audience for SMS, on the other hand, is vast, numbering approximately 38 million in the U.S., according to Enpocket's Mobile Media Monitor survey. Greengart encourages marketers to use it as their wireless reach channel of choice.
Plus, Enpocket CEO Jonathan Linner says, the ROI on text can't be beat: "The ROI effectiveness of SMS is greater than any other [wireless channel]. You may pay .03 per message on SMS, while you need to pay considerably more to download a video, for example."
While campaigns with wild creative ideas, such as those trialed by Nike and Yahoo, are often exciting for brands to try in the fetishized wireless space, they also tend to be complicated and lack a clear ROI.
"The results of these are very good, but the number of people who participate may be lower. Up to half of companies will choose a creative treatment in the U.S. which we will guarantee them will perform worse and be more expensive [than a tried and true campaign]," said Linner, who believes this predictable attitude is ultimately detrimental to mobile marketing, and to brands.
"People who do things that are more difficult are less likely to continue using the medium," he said. "If an agency says, 'We're going to do mobile, and we're going to do it for Coke,' they're going to want a very creative idea. They want the execs at Coke to be very excited, and they want to show the client that they're creative. When the results come back, they may not be so good. The agency will then be less likely to do something new, because Coke will want to see the previous results before signing off on something else."
Lars Becker, chairman and cofounder of Flytxt, is more accepting of the flashier campaigns.
"I think you need the fancy stuff to grab people's attention and push the envelope a little bit and consider experimenting," he said. "I think you need to keep on innovating and looking for new concepts. It's still quite a young and immature industry. Also, these campaigns help the industry from a PR perspective. They keep mobile marketing on the minds of the industry."
Whether marketers go with tried-and-true SMS or something fancier, engaging people in a conversation with a brand can be tricky. Most campaigns now are using many media to incentivize users to text in and start the relationship -- hence the proliferation of SMS sweepstakes, quizzes and voting on TV shows and product packaging.
"We're seeing a lot of cross-technology campaigns that use SMS to get in the door and from there urge people to download a graphic, ringtone or game," said Mobliss CEO Brian Levin. "We're finding the best success integrating mobile into an overall brand campaign." (Mobliss is a particularly strong presence on television, enabling voting on FOX's American Idol and The Jury.)
On-pack promos may be a familiar sight by year's end. AT&T Wireless has launched two major SMS short code promotions on Kellogg's cereal boxes and McDonald's to-go bags nationwide.
"After teaching America how to send text messages through our sponsorship of American Idol on FOX, we're turning our focus from prime time to meal time, and leading the evolution of mobile marketing in this country," an AT&T Wireless exec boldly claimed.
The emergence of five-digit short codes, which can now support cross-carrier campaigns, has also played an important part in streamlining SMS mobile campaigns. Wireless users find it easier to remember and text in to a short number that can be easily translated into word form. Universal Television, for example, launched a text-and-win promo using the number 94335 (WHEEL) during the airing of reality show "The Fifth Wheel." Mobliss and other marketers affirm short codes are getting easier to deploy, and more popular with advertisers.
List Rental and Privacy
Third party list rental is a somewhat dubious option for those desperate to advertise on phones. While it's becoming more commonplace -- mostly through user opt-ins from popular mobile communities such as Upoc -- experts say marketers are wise to doubt how well young consumers grasp what they've agreed to when they give consent to get offers from unknown vendors. Better to build an in-house list, or to build campaigns that are 100 percent user-initiated via calls-to-action in other media.
"In a lot of cases, the people who opt in to receive third party messages as part of a community service don't really understand what they're agreeing to," said Mobliss' Levin.
Indeed, privacy and permissions concerns will only grow from here.
Take the new SMS evidence in Kobe Bryant's trial: The judge last week asked AT&T Wireless to produce text messages four months after they were sent and deleted by the plaintiff in the case... and the company was able to do so. The remarkable thing here isn't that the outcome of a celebrity trial may be influenced by text messaging (though that is interesting), but rather that carriers keep data that long. If every SMS is similarly stored in a carrier database, the implications for consumer privacy are potentially huge (Though Sprint and Cingular have since said they don't keep deleted data). How is that data used? How is it protected? The answers have implications for marketers as well as basketball players.
Surprises like this one reflect how young mobile messaging is, despite recent steps forward in the marketing arena. We've only just begun to understand what works, what doesn't work, and the issues marketers may face as they look to take advantage of the medium.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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