Eleven Lessons Mobile Marketers Can Learn From Search

Have you ever thrown a really, really great house party? You know, the really legendary kind of party mentioned by your friends years later? If it was really successful everyone might not remember exactly every detail (ahem!), but they just know they had a good time.

From a marketing perspective, mobile advertising seems like it might be turning into the next big party. With sales of smart phones booming and iPhones becoming ubiquitous enough that they’ve lost their hip cache (truly a mark of mass acceptance when it comes to technology), opportunities for advertisers are exploding. Bigger screens, Internet access, and (perhaps most importantly) location-awareness capabilities are making the dream of effective mobile advertising a reality. In fact, the Kelsey Group recently predicted that the mobile ad market is set to jump from $160 million in 2008 to as much as $3.1 billion in 2013. While those numbers are open to debate (like any prediction), anyone who looks around in a public place with an eye toward people whipping out their mobiles can’t help but believe that we’re in for some big changes.

What kinds of mobile advertisements will work? There have been plenty of proposed models and experiments. Anyone who’s encountered some of those ads on our smart phones tend to dislike them, especially display ads that get in the way of what we’re doing. What’s going to work?

Probably the best advice I’ve come across is in this TechCrunch article that summarizes a recent analyst report from Citigroup’s Mark Mahaney. Bottom line? Effective mobile advertising is going to be about search.

It only makes sense. When people are on the go and have devices that let them pull up information on where to eat, play, or shop, they’re going to use those devices. Sure, they’re still going to use their phones to actually talk once in a while or send some messages. In the past few years, the biggest innovation is the ability to access information about just about anything no matter where you are.

What does this have to do with parties? From an advertising and revenue standpoint, the biggest party on the Internet is Google. It dominates the ad market because it understands that advertising doesn’t have to be about jumping in people’s faces and interrupting them with marketing messages. Google realizes that by tapping into the stream of consumer behavior that already existed — wanting to find information on the Web — and turning advertising into a benefit to consumers, it could make loads of money while providing a high-value service to advertisers.

So if the mobile ad market is going to look a lot like search, what can we learn from Google? Surprisingly, most of the best lessons from Google are the same lessons learned by anyone who has ever thrown a good party. Here are 11 lessons:

  1. Don’t charge admission. Unless you’re a cash-strapped college kid collecting beer money from your friends, one of the quickest ways to turn people away from your party is to make them pay to get in. Ditto for providing a search service. If you charge people for basic listings, they’re not going to sign up and your service will be useless to consumers. People are only going to use search engines that are going to return a lot of results.
  2. Don’t trick your guests. Sure, sometimes it’s fun to surprise people, but for the most part asking your friends to come to a “party” that really turns out to be a sales pitch doesn’t engender a lot of good will (or repeat parties). Similarly, if you’re going to have paid listings in your search results, make sure that people know that the top listings are there because someone paid for the position. Once you lose trust, your search product is doomed.
  3. Give your guests choices. Unless you’re a youngin who drools when someone mentions “beer” (and doesn’t care what kind), people like to have choices. Advertisers aren’t any different. For search marketing to work, advertisers must have a whole range of choices so they can match their goals to the product being offered.
  4. Have good security. Okay, I’m not saying you need big hulking bodyguards standing around to have a good time, but if people don’t feel safe they’re probably not going to come to your party. While it’s an ongoing battle, one of the most important things that Google does is constantly fight spammers and scammers. If they didn’t, nobody would use its service.
  5. Tailor your food and drink to your guests. It’s probably not a good idea to invite your vegan friends to your barbeque unless you offer them an alternative. People are happy when they have choices and can eat and drink what they like. Search is not different: better targeting means happier advertisers.
  6. Don’t make your guests think too much. Keep it simple. Nobody wants to have to figure out complicated interfaces just to get a drink — or get a search result. Google’s simplicity (as opposed to some of its competitors) continues to be one of its strongest draws.
  7. Let people have the kind of fun they want to have — within limits. Good parties don’t force everyone to do the same thing. They might have themes, but they’re open and flexible so that people can have a good time. Good search is the same: Google’s open API (define) for many of its services has allowed it to expand far beyond its boundaries and has lead to innovations that may never have happened had they kept things closed.
  8. Similarly, if your friends want to help, let them! People like to get involved — especially people who like you and who might enjoy some side benefits by helping out. Again, look at what Google’s done with AdWords and bloggers for a perfect example of this principle. Search marketing that’s going to work must expand out beyond the search engine.
  9. Don’t be evil. Nobody likes scammy, backstabbing “frenemies” with secret agendas. While Google hasn’t always lived up to its “don’t be evil” mantra, you have to give it credit for trying. For mobile search advertising to work, it must respect its users and its advertisers and deal with them fairly and openly.
  10. Remember: People are at your party to have fun. Duh, right? Of course, respecting your guests and the reason that they’re at your shindig is one of the surest ways of making sure they have a good time. Mobile advertisers (and carriers and search providers) must remember the context of mobile search, serving people on the go who need quick and useful information. It’s why mobile users hate display ads; these ads get in the way of what they’re trying to do. Heck, it’s why most of us are annoyed by display ads especially the ones that pop up, hover over content we’re trying to read, or start playing loudly when we hop on a page. We’re there for the content, not the ads.
  11. Be helpful, considerate, and don’t interrupt. See No. 10. It’s worth repeating.

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