Globalizing Mobile Marketing

Is North American mobile marketing behind or ahead of the European mobile marketing industry? I’ve sat in many presentations about the state of the global mobile marketing environment. Some of the numbers used to communicate the lag between North America and Europe are 18 months, 9 months, 3 years, and 2 months. Is North America really that far behind, or are we in fact ahead?

In the past, technology differences held up mobile marketing and wireless data adoption in North America. Though Europe had a “calling party pays” model, which made text messaging more attractive and cost-effective than voice, North America created the bucket voice plans, which encouraged consumers to participate in voice-over-data chat.

Europe also had a single mobile air interface, GSM (define), which allowed seamless communications across borders and among consumers. North America was faced with the challenge of three competing air interfaces and limited communication among consumers for wireless data. In 2002, North America launched data interoperability and cost-effective data bundling strategies that resolved these issues and encouraged cross-carrier data communications for both P2P (define) and application-to-person (A2P) wireless data.

European consumers do participate more frequently in text-based campaigns and have a higher tolerance to participate in text-based campaigns, but North American adoption rates are growing quickly. Image-based campaigns, including mobile Web, video, and mobile search, are top of mind for North American consumers and will help drive adoption for mobile marketing. Globally, brands are looking for initiatives that will bring their brands to life. Image-based campaigns facilitate this for them. Consumer education will be key to encouraging all consumers to adopt, worldwide.

Then there are the applications. Europe and North America both offer similar campaigns and applications. European companies have long been recognized for success in mobile initiatives. Does success within the established European market translate well to North America?

Companies such as NeoMedia Technologies are betting the solutions and case studies in Europe will translate to North American success, which will, in turn, encourage brands and agencies to adopt mobile in full force. Over the last few months, NeoMedia has acquired four companies in the mobile marketing space, three in Europe and one in North America. These acquisitions allow NeoMedia, a new entrant to mobile marketing, to offer an end-to-end solution for brands and content providers.

Chas Fritz, founder and chairman of NeoMedia, told me, “Our combined company has now done over 4.5 billion on-pack promotions since 2001. We have won four Cannes Lions awards dedicated to success in mobile via 12Snap. We are bringing this expertise to North America.”

Other companies in the mobile marketing space, mBlox, Mobile Media, Buongiorno, and Bango, to name a few, already conduct business and campaigns on both continents. Is it a seamless transition? It really depends on your business model and your understanding and openness toward consumer differences across markets. Fritz believes consumer education has a lot to do with the adoption of mobile marketing. Consumer adoption is ramping aggressively in the U.S., as shown by the text messaging growth rates, but consumers must still be educated about the power of the mobile channel and mobile technologies.

What will help drive adoption in North America? In the U.S., carriers, aggregators, and content providers have adopted the Consumer Best Practices Guidelines for Cross-Carrier Mobile Content Services, published by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), which helps expedite mobile marketing campaigns by creating a baseline for short code campaigns. In essence, it’s a level playing field for campaign deployment to ensure consumer privacy and publisher integrity. Common best practices, across all mobile media, will help shorten campaign deployment schedules for all players in the ecosystem.

So how far behind is North America? In terms of overall brand participation and consumer awareness, North America may lag, but it’s catching up quickly with new applications and campaigns launching every week. And North America has a leadership position in mobile search, mobile advertising, and mobile video initiatives. The gap is closing… quickly!

This isn’t a discussion about competition or who leads whom, however. It’s a question about growth on both sides of the ocean in the mobile marketing space. As seen from the recent acquisitions of companies such as Omnicom, VeriSign, and NeoMedia, we’re experiencing tremendous growth and investment in the mobile marketing industry. Regardless of which side of the ocean leads, our mobile marketing space is growing in leaps and bounds in a collaborative global fashion.

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