Marketing Unplugged

When we think of using technology in marketing, most of us think about the Web. That’s where we spend most of our time. “Internet marketing” is probably somewhere in your job title.

What lies beyond the Web? Email, of course, but what can you do if you want to expand the reach of your brand off the desktop and into the lives of your target audiences?

Mobile marketing.

Whoah! Hold on a minute. Before you start shouting at the screen, notice that I didn’t say “mobile advertising.” Advertising on mobile devices (particularly cell phones) has gotten a pretty bad rap since it was first touted as the Next Big Thing a year ago — for good reason. Most mobile advertising being pushed was nothing more than intrusive cell spam guaranteed to tick off your customers or irritate your client. Following some tests, many have questioned the value of pushing short text “ads” to phones and mobile devices. They’ve abandoned the practice or gone back to the drawing board for a better solution.

The reason cell-phone-based advertising has had a hard time is because we’ve considered it advertising — intrusive messages thrust in front of viewers in an effort to elicit an immediate response or build brand recognition. This method has worked well in free, broadcast media for a long time and had some success on the Web. But the personal nature of mobile devices coupled with the limitations of the technology have presented new difficulties for advertisers.

Is there a better way? Yes, if you think more broadly about advertising and marketing. That’s where mobile comes in.

Cell phones are personal devices and, unlike desktop computers, technology that becomes part of the lives of people who use them. Custom ring tones, interchangeable faceplates, and personalized cases are things we get for our phones to make them personal, uniquely ours. We want them to reflect our personalities. Any kind of marketing on these devices must recognize that personal nature. Good mobile marketing uses personality to build affinity and brand exposure in a way that makes the brand part of the target audiences’ lives.

How? Probably the best place to find examples of killer mobile marketing is the entertainment industry. Film buffs and music lovers identify with stars, products, and other fans. Just look at the Web’s gazillions of fan sites to see this in action. Smart film marketers have tapped into this online fan base, creating viral campaigns that take advantage of their willingness to swap sounds, clips, images, and other fun stuff. Check out the Austin Powers Web site to see how New Line combined the Web with email, multimedia, and traditional advertising to create a powerful brand that touched its audience at nearly every place in their lives.

Now, mobile technology makes brands even more immersible and viral. By bringing the brand to users on their cell phones in compelling ways, companies expose customers to the brand everywhere… and they happily accept the content because it’s stuff they’re interested in as part of their lifestyle.

Sony teamed with wireless community-maker Upoc to accomplish this. Though Sony created a Web site to promote the film “Ali,” the site can only accomplish its goal online. Upoc stepped in to created a mobile “Ali” community where fans can receive trivia, messages, and news about the film, all while on the go. A brand that could only reach its audience through broadcast or the Web now reaches out to fans everywhere they are, building buzz and affinity.

Upoc has used this tactic to promote artists in the music business. Hip-hop artist Lil Bow Wow’s site keeps deskbound fans in the know with news of upcoming releases and other items while engaging them with downloadable pictures, AOL buddy icons, and online games. The mobile messaging system (created with Upoc) allows fans to sign up for text and voicemail messages from the rapper. Now the cool kids don’t only have a new CD to impress their friends with, they can let their friends listen in to a voicemail message left just for them. Talk about building brand!

How can you employ these tactics in your marketing efforts if you don’t happen to work in the entertainment industry? Think beyond ads. Imagine ways you can employ mobile marketing to provide real value to your customers. Perhaps you can send them sponsored market updates as voicemail messages. You can notify them via short message service (SMS) messaging when their order’s shipped so they know immediately, not when they check their email. Mobile technology could be used to engage users with polls or quizzes, allowing real-time gauging of customer opinion.

There’s literally no limit to the applications — as long as they take advantage of the medium to provide value. If there’s one lesson we’ve learned from the Web, it’s that you can’t simply repurpose ads from one medium to another. Create them with the technology in mind.

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