From ‘I’ to ‘E’ to ‘M’ (for Mobile)

Remember a few years ago, when the Web was called the “Information Super Highway”? Businesses and sites sprouted “i’s” in front of their names willy-nilly. How many pure-play interactive shops, sites, and portals were called i-something? i-FRONTIER, i-traffic, and iVillage spring to mind. I-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. Then, a couple years ago, “e’s” were suddenly everywhere as e-business became the new buzzword.

Perhaps we’re running low on vowels. Now it’s about “m.” The consonant may be the broadest prefix yet. “M” will soon evolve from business jargon to consumer-speak. It represents mobile business or a mobile economy.

I just read a book called “M-Business: The Race to Mobility” by Ravi Kalakota and Marcia Robinson. Their premise is intriguing: Knowing change is one thing; predicting its shape and form is something else entirely. This hit home because my job as a media buyer and planner is devising strategies to propel clients ahead of the curve. The task can become a duel. Hesitancy often equals safety. Being first (or among the first) is a risk clients don’t always want to take.

Wireless advertising can look a bit hokey on handheld devices, especially compared to the sophisticated variety of rich media technologies and ad unit formats commonplace in today’s market. But if your target is using wireless devices, what’s stopping you? Still hesitating? To ease your mind, I’ll let you in on a secret: You’re not the first. Someone has probably beaten you to the punch by now.

The book claims that users demand mobility. The culture has shifted. What once were nice-to-have devices are now near-ubiquitous must-haves. The Internet, wireless technology, and e-commerce are a sizzling, inextricably meshed threesome. A study released yesterday by Nokia found that 88 percent of consumers say they are receptive to receiving marketing messages on their mobile devices.

That 88 percent of consumers with mobile devices is growing rapidly. A study conducted by Accenture last year found wireless devices spread from geek-chic to mainstream at warp speed — worldwide. Findings indicate the global market for wireless, Internet-capable devices will grow 630 percent within the next three years. There will be 1.7 billion mobile connections. M-commerce will be worth $20 billion in the U.S. alone.

According to Cahners In-Stat/MDR, “The worldwide market for Internet Access Devices (personal computers, mobile telephones, Internet set-top boxes, and Internet and smart appliances) will grow at an overall annual rate of 41.6 percent in unit terms between 2000 and 2005… The PC and mobile phone segments currently comprise [sic] just over 93 percent of the industry and will continue to represent the majority throughout the forecast period.” Cindy Wolf, an In-Stat/MDR analyst, said, “Many of these product segments will face increased competition from each other as device functionality converges.”

Kalakota and Robinson find the industry not only broader but also healthier as a result of five key elements: huge advances in both infrastructure and software; abundant capital, a more interested consumer, and burgeoning demands of real-time business. Finally, desktops are no longer the be-all, end-all of interactive advertising.

It’s time for media buyers to go wireless.

For more information, check out the Mobile Marketing Association. This organization was born from the merger of the Wireless Advertising Association (WAA) and the Wireless Marketing Association (WMA). As the leading bodies in mobile marketing and advertising standards, the new organization consolidates efforts and resources in the common goal of fostering the mobile marketing industry while protecting consumers’ interests. The group brings together the WAA’s global members, such as Unilever, AOL, Ogilvy Interactive, DoubleClick, and Nokia, with the WMA’s strong U.K. member base, which includes network operators Orange, BT Cellnet, and Vodafone; media owners; content providers News International, Freeserve, and Lycos; and consumer brand owners, such as drinks manufacturer Diageo.

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