Marketing’s Meeting of the Waters

One of the most unusual sights and impressive natural phenomenon’s in South America is the junction of the Amazon River and its Rio Negro tributary, also known as the “meeting of waters.” The two rivers, the coffee-colored Amazon and the inky Rio Negro, actually do not merge immediately upon meeting due to the fact that they are flowing at different speeds, temperatures, and densities; rather, they co-exist side by side in the same riverbed for nearly four miles before finally merging and becoming one river that has taken on elements of both rivers.

This phenomenon is a good analogy for what’s happening in marketing today, where traditional media and marketing practices are meeting their new digital marketing counterparts (Web, e-mail, and social media), with mobile marketing being the catalyst that is bringing them together. And, like the Amazon and Rio Negro at their initial juncture, digital and traditional marketing domains have met, but haven’t yet immediately merged since they are clearly and fundamentally different. For example:

  • Traditional and digital marketing practices exist in the physical vs. virtual world
  • We use different materials, strategies, and tactics to create and execute them
  • There is a different time expectation in terms of engagement between the two practices
  • We measure them and the results for consumer engagement differently
  • Consumers and marketers alike have an expectation of immediacy, contextual relevance, and interactive engagement with digital media where as with traditional media, they do not

Like the two rivers in the Amazon, digital and traditional marketing practices coexist in the general stream of marketing activity, and, like in the Amazon, the two rivers of marketing will eventually merge and become one; however, that time is not yet upon us.

A key catalyst that is bringing us to the eventual unified merge of traditional and digital marketing is mobile marketing. Mobile marketing is playing a key role in uniting the digital and traditional domains because it’s the only marketing practice that coexists in both traditional and digital worlds, in real time. For example, brands can engage consumers “through” mobile marketing by sending them a text message, triggering an application alert, or providing consumers with a mobile website or application. But they can also engage customers “with” mobile marketing by providing a call-to-action to traditional media (flyers, billboards, digital displays, radio and television spots, magazine and newspaper articles, taxicab doors, packaging, point-of-sale displays and terminals, and so much more) via the mobile device (text message, mobile Web application download, IVR, or barcodes) that invites consumers to engage the marketer in branding, awareness, loyalty, customer care, social media, and any number of different marketing programs. Again, mobile is the connective tissue between traditional and digital marketing, and once we have more experience with both, it will eventually bring the two practices of marketing together into one unified practice.

Illustrating the Power of Mobile

Mobile devices (feature phones, smartphones, tablets, etc.) have gone mass market. A recent Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) study on “The Future of Mobile Advertising,” commissioned by Microsoft, found that smartphones are significantly changing consumers’ relationships with digital media. Consumers are already spending an average of 13.1 hours per week using their mobile phone, a figure that doesn’t include time spent talking on it. That’s second only to their Internet and TV usage – and probably not for long: half of the consumers surveyed in the study said they expect their mobile Internet usage to increase in the next six months. Moreover, because the mobile phone is a highly personal device that consumers carry nearly everywhere, marketers and consumers alike have a highly effective – in terms of both reach and cost – tool for engaging each other (see the Trailer Park video “A Day in the Life“). For example:

  • In a store, a shelf-mounted sign could include a QR code that consumers can scan with their smartphone’s camera to instantly get more information about a product, such as reviews from other consumers, and as noted above this is just one of many possibilities.
  • The ARF-Microsoft study found that 46 percent of consumers already use their mobile phone to compare prices while they’re in the store. That usage sets up opportunities for brands to offer shoppers promotional information and e-coupons they can redeem at checkout. Sixty-one percent of the consumers who ARF surveyed said they’re interested in receiving e-coupons and other discounts based on their location.
  • In a recent presentation by Andrew Koven, we learned that for Steve Madden in the last part of 2010 they were seeing increased sales directly through mobile devices, but they were also seeing a greater number of sales through mobile-influenced sales; that is, consumers were using their mobile phone to make an informed purchase at traditional retail outlets.

Addressing the Challenge of Media Fragmentation

Due to the consumer adoption rate of mobile devices, the leaders in marketing are beginning to realize that mobile is the bridge between digital and traditional media. This could not have come at a better time since consumers are increasingly dividing their time across multiple screens and venues: mobile phones, TVs, tablets, and computers, along with digital signage in public places. Consumers’ variety of options in accessing media, goods, and services is creating a sea of disparate and fragmented channels for marketers to engage consumers, and increasingly the mobile phone is the one constant that can be found in all situations. The mobile phone is the unifying engagement tool.

Seizing Attention and Stimulating Engagement

As the example above shows, mobile marketing is not just about shopping, as it also creates opportunities for brands to capitalize on an individual’s interest in nearly any situation. For example, by putting a short code in a TV commercial or a QR code in a magazine ad, brands make it easy for consumers to get more information on the spot. That strategy increases the ad or commercial’s effectiveness because now the brand doesn’t have to hope that the consumer will remember what they saw the next time they’re at a computer. With their mobile device, they can get the information they want right at the moment something grabs their attention.

This isn’t wishful thinking, either. The ARF-Microsoft study found that half of consumers turn to their mobile phone after seeing an ad in another medium. For example, more than one in three consumers use their mobile phone to get more information about something they’ve heard advertised on the radio or read in a newspaper.

In many verticals, mobile phones also can facilitate impulse sales when a consumer is enamored by the advertised product. For example, 34 percent of the people in the ARF-Microsoft survey said they’re very or extremely comfortable buying entertainment products such as movie tickets directly from their phone, while 27 percent said the same for travel-related products.

All of this feedback suggests a bright future for brands and agencies that understand the value of cross-media advertising that leverages the ubiquity of mobile marketing. Mobile marketing should not simply coexist with their digital and traditional marketing practices, instead it should merge them into a unified practice that provides optimal results and value to their customers.

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