Chasing New Mobile Technology May Not Lead to the Best Ad Campaigns

Having been in the mobile marketing industry for five years, we have experienced a lot of changes in the mobile marketing technology landscape.

In 2006, there were only 40 million mobile Internet users in China. The mobile phones available during this time were only able to support SMS, MMS, and basic mobile WAP (mostly WAP 1.0 version and WAP 2.0 on some advanced mobile phones). As you can imagine, technology-wise, there weren’t many options for clients to consider in terms of mobile marketing.

Following that, Bluetooth became broadly equipped on most mobile phones, leading to a wave of Bluetooth-oriented marketing campaigns. Bluetooth became the rage. In 2007, Nike’s Zoom campaign used Bluetooth emitters installed at various lightboxes outside its flagship stores to drive foot traffic and measure the speed at which a consumer could run from one location to its stores. The campaign generated significant buzz among online sports BBS and Nike fans, and won “Campaign of the Year” at the media festival of Venice. At the same time as this campaign, a swarm of other Bluetooth enabled campaigns were deployed. For example, a lot of Bluetooth advertising networks began installing Bluetooth emitters in bars and restaurants, hoping consumers would turn on their mobile phone’s Bluetooth to receive commercials. Unfortunately, many of these campaigns did not tie the technology to the campaign objectives as Nike had accomplished. As a result, most of them faded away just as quickly as they started.

With the growth of 3G and smartphone penetration, mobile functionality has surpassed PCs in many ways. Content-wise, HTML-enabled browsers bring consumers a much better mobile website experience that is very similar to the fixed Internet. Campaigns can now have a richer look and feel than simple text and icons. Besides mobile portal sites, the traffic to social network sites has increased significantly. And functionally, mobile applications have created all kinds of possibilities, from the practical to the innovative. Starting in 2009, mobile augmented reality campaigns became very popular. (As you can see from the number of mobile augmented reality demos and videos posted on YouTube by that time.)

As a mobile marketing solution provider, I have always been keen to share the most cutting-edge technology to our clients and their agencies. But sometimes I’m worried how the use of new technology (for technology’s sake) may overshadow the basics of a successful campaign.

What would be the benefit if a marketing campaign didn’t start with consumer insights and brand equity, but with a new technology instead?

In our previous issues, we discussed mobile apps and mobile in-app ads, which are the two new ‘must try’ technologies for advertisers. Especially with the broad penetration of iPhone users in the creative industry, many marketers are very comfortable with the potential of these new technologies. But we have to remind them that the iPhone and Android phone penetration in China is currently less than 5 percent (DCCI 2011). Hence, it might not be the right time for every advertiser to use app marketing yet.

Penetration and reach is one of the key concerns when applying new mobile technology. Another concern is consumer’s comfort level with technology. There are many technology savvy people, but there are also many around us carrying U.S.$500 mobile phones but only use the most basic functions. They are not mobile technology experts, and don’t expect them to read a thick manual before participating in your campaign.

So, the point is not about applying the latest mobile technology, but to:

1. Think of the marketing objective instead of the technology
Being creative has nothing to do with applying the newest technology. For your campaign objective to be visible, consider ad network reach and a campaign design that allows the most people to view and interact. Simple tactics such as SMS interaction followed with an IVR call sometimes create great impact and emotional connection between the brand and the consumers. Starbucks has launched an innovative Yunnan coffee bean campaign in its own stores. Customers could text the code of the different Yunnan art paintings hanging on the wall. Once they do so, they immediately received a pre-recorded phone call by the painter to tell the story of how she creates this piece of artwork and how Yunnan coffee inspired them. This is a great example of how simple technology can be used to drive deep customer connection. (Everyone knows how to text a message and answer a phone call.)

2. Understand mobile usage and behaviour of target audience, then select the most suitable mobile marketing approach
It’s not fun if a consumer feels frustrated trying to follow your campaign but doesn’t know how, or gets confused because it is too complicated. Being cool is one thing, but being too cool for your customer is another story. Understanding what kind of mobile device your target audience uses and how they would use it is very important.

Not everyone welcomes new tricks. I would always suggest keeping it as simple as can be for users on mobile screens.

It’s natural for advertisers and agencies to go after the hottest mobile trends, but we sometimes need to step back and ask the basic question: What makes a campaign sexy and where should the creative idea really focus on?

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