A Mobile Connection to the Real World

When we think of mobile, for many of us the first thought is of smartphones and how they connect us to the Internet. But new business models are exploring how our phones can connect us to experiences both online and offline.

In May, comScore reported 234 million U.S. mobile subscribers while Nielsen just released a study that predicts that smartphones will account for more than half of the U.S. mobile market by 2011. Clearly, a lot of us are on mobile devices, smart or dumb, and more brands have noted and responded. EMarketer predicts increased momentum in mobile advertising of all sorts as marketers watch consumer adoption and fit mobile into integrated plans.

Phones are the ubiquitous, always on, always handy device, and while we mostly use these increasingly powerful and sophisticated devices as a convenient extension of our online lives, remember that one of the first and most disruptive mobile technologies has been texting, which was purely phone to phone. Marketers are increasingly using innovative mobile offerings to reach consumers where they live.

Zoove is a 5-year-old company started by mobile veterans including Dov Cohn. I spoke with Cohn last week to get some insights into its new offering dubbed StarStar Codes.

Zoove has created a central, cross-carrier registration of special, memorable dialing codes preceded by ** for its StarStar dialing service. StarStar Codes connect users to another experience on their phone. It need not be a smartphone and the experience need not be online.

The user’s impetus to dial might have come from a print ad that’s tagged with the StarStar Code, but that code might also be found through a tweet, in a radio ad, in an e-mail, on a banner or billboard, or any number of online and offline promotional vehicles. The branded nature of these codes makes them easy to remember and quite versatile. Think of the applications for short dialing options like **Coke or **Nike, as well as category coverage like **taxi or **pizza that will have geographic licensing implications.

A marketer’s desired result of that dial might be a coupon download, an e-mail registration, a voice or text conversation with a sales or customer service person, a link to a video or additional information, or any activity supported by the phone. So, the consumer experience starts with their phone, online or off, and it might end online or off.

This is direct response across the spectrum. Brands will have the flexibility of varying the consumer experience based on their marketing plans and current needs while keeping the same code, as long as they continue to license the code. They also pay a per-dial charge that varies with volume.

Marci Weisler, digital business director of Time Out New York, was an early adopter of this service to gain awareness and spur downloads of the company’s iPhone app. Time Out New York has been promoting the StarStar dial code for about a month using its own publication muscle to promote it within print and online ads, on its website, and in editorial content.

While it’s early for results, Weisler reported an impressive 85 percent completion rate of those who start the process. She credits the StarStar Dialing approach with removing a lot of the barriers from the download process.

Zoove has partnered with all the major wireless carriers, making it simple for both the brands and carriers to create a unified experience for consumers and a one-stop shop for brands.

Stephanie Bauer, manager of mobile advertising at Verizon, believes that the adoption of this approach by marketers and the acceptance by consumers will be fast and strong. “Short codes took off quickly and paved the way educationally for new mobile efforts like StarStar Dialing,” she said.

From the marketers’ perspective the leap should be short.

Bauer is expecting that when brands see and experience the first StarStar Codes they will immediately understand the usage and implications. It will likely help adoption that Zoove offers a single, integrated, Web-based interface to lease codes across carriers, configure the direct response required, and get performance reporting.

Analytics can include metrics like the number of dials, dials by time and geography, and follow on activities like CTRs (define), page views, messages, and other key metrics. Phase two marketing applications may one day include turnkey marketing applications to support marketing efforts like couponing, lead generation, or eventually even support micro-payments.

While Facebook may want to be the consumer’s hub on the Internet, the phone itself will be home base. Devising ways for consumers and brands to connect more efficiently through their handset is a smart play.

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