Mobile Brings Value to Traditional Channels

Matt Lauer helped me have a great workout Monday morning. There I was, finishing up my last few steps on the StairMaster, when I looked up at the large TVs looming over the battalion of young professionals sweating off their weekend fun. On the screen displaying “The Today Show” was a shot of a mobile phone using Cellfire.

I quickly tuned my audio to the channel and heard them talking about the mobile coupon company. I ended up watching the entire segment — staying on the StairMaster much longer than I had originally planned — just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Thanks for the extra minutes, Matt.

Wouldn’t it be great if mobile programs such as couponing hit the mainstream? Mobile phones can function as a channel while bringing value to other channels.

Ad-spending growth is projected to slow down in this tough economic climate, but online advertising is still expected to gain share due to the medium’s measurability. These gains will likely be at the expense of traditionally static and less measurable media formats, such as newspapers, magazines, and radio. The ability for consumers to respond immediately to a banner or search ad — the click — persuades many marketers to shift budgets to online.

Whether click-throughs are a good method of gauging advertising effectiveness is debatable, but clicks on online banners or search ads are cheap and easy to measure, and bring the consumer closer to purchase. This still holds incredible power for many marketers. Adding a mobile component to a print ad, for example, can bring two attributes consumers and advertisers love to the traditional table: interactivity and accountability.

Although I like CellFire, marketers should first explore SMS (define). In a recent issue of “Wired,” Ford included an SMS code in an advertisement for the Ford Flex. Interested readers could send a text message reading “FLEX4” to 4FORD to receive a link to more information.

This sort of execution is great for consumers and marketers. “Wired” readers had easy access to information like car specs and pricing, and the advertiser delivered more information to interested users than they could in a print ad alone. Plus, they get a sense of how many magazine readers were interested in the Ford Flex. I could even envision Ford using multiple unique codes to compare responses from different magazines.

SMS is a widely adopted mobile technology, far ahead of application downloads and mobile Internet usage. According to research from Nielsen’s Telecom Practice Group, 77 percent of U.S. wireless phone users use text messaging. In a month, the average cell phone user sends and receives more text messages (357) than phone calls (204). The average age of those using text messaging is 35.

Nielsen also reports that text messaging usage by those over 35 has grown by almost 60 percent in the last year. This usage among adults is substantial: text-versus-call ratio leans in favor of SMS into middle age. As you move up in age groups, it isn’t until age 45 that you find consumers who call more than they text. This is “The Today Show” audience.

How do marketers incorporate SMS into their clients’ media plans?

A lot goes into an SMS campaign. An advertiser should approach creating its own program from scratch with caution. There are fees associated with purchasing a vanity short code, such as the one in the Ford example.

However, print publishers have an opportunity here. They should consider partnering with aggregators, the mobile companies that offer short-code text-message programs.

If a woman flipping through “People” magazine saw a Gap ad inviting her to text “4Gap” to PEOPL to get $10 off, I bet she’d respond. People magazine could offer participation in such a program to multiple advertisers all on its one short code. This would be a great way for the publication to differentiate itself to advertisers and consumers. It might even get Matt Lauer talking about it.

Today’s column originally ran on December 11, 2008.

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A QR code which leads to the URL for the ClickZ article about QR codes. Meta.