Mobile Marketing: Look Before You Leap

When I got the email announcing a BMW mobile marketing campaign to promote the 3 series, I was pretty excited. I’ve been keeping an eye on mobile marketing for years, and see a lot of potential for the medium.

Then, I actually looked at the BMW campaign. Here’s how it works. You phone a number (703-286-BMW3) on your Internet-enabled mobile phone, and hear a recorded message. Then, you receive a text message on the phone (presumably, caller ID technology allows the company to harvest your phone number). If your phone is capable (my late model, $400 Nokia phone apparently isn’t), you can click the link in the text message to visit the mobile Web site. What I finally had to do was type the fairly lengthy URL into my phone’s Web browser.

What I saw was overwhelmingly underwhelming: several pages of text and a few images. What was missing? Meaningful interactivity, a trivia quiz, for example. Or wireless-specific features, like ringtones and wallpaper. In short, it lacked anything that would have made it appropriate for the medium.

After all these years, marketers are waking up to wireless. BMW deserves kudos for innovation. Yet now that marketer adoption is finally happening, let’s not screw it up. To succeed, mobile marketing must be a good, rewarding consumer experience. It also needs to achieve success for marketers. Mobile marketing has been around a while now, particularly in Europe and Asia. Let’s learn from that and move ahead.

Even a fan like me must admit there are good reasons marketers have, for years, shied away from mobile. According to a JupiterResearch survey conducted in December, only 6 percent of online adults have received an SMS from a business. More promising, are figures from the same survey showing 38 percent of online adults have sent or received SMS messages from friends. When you break it down to those aged 18 to 24, the number climbs to 75 percent.

Consumer adoption of mobile messaging, especially among attractive youth demographics, is certainly attracting interest from marketers of late. Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Executive Director Peter Fuller tells me the group (formed through the merger of two organizations in 2002) has grown accustomed to signing up about one new member a quarter. Last quarter, 10 new members joined. While most members listed on the MMA’s site are technology vendors, Procter & Gamble is prominently involved, as are agencies like Starcom MediaVest Group and Carat Interactive.

“It’s such an exciting medium that advertisers are diving into because it allows instant access to people wherever they are,” Fuller told me.

The key terms there are “instant access” and “wherever they are.” For mobile marketing to work, there must be a compelling reason to reach people instantly, wherever they are. If BMW were to put its opt-in phone number on all print marketing collateral, on billboards, on TV ads, etc., the campaign would make more sense. The company would capitalize on that instant when consumers saw the offline ads and entice them to begin an interactive relationship. As it is, BMW reportedly plans to post the phone number only on its Web site. Hello..? If you’re only offering text and pictures, why not do it on a Web site in the first place? I would have asked BMW this myself, but the company didn’t respond to an inquiry about the campaign.

Key things to think about as you launch your first mobile marketing effort:

  • Capitalize on the impulse. Think about occasions or locations at which you’d like to engage a consumer when they’re unlikely to have PC access. Do you want to put a short code on your cereal box and invite consumers to enter a contest? Do you want to invite people to get more information when they see a billboard?
  • Make it interactive. There’s a good reason why games are popular mobile phone applications — they’re fun. Your marketing should be fun, too. What better way to inform people about your product than to engage them in a trivia quiz? (Warner Brothers and Yahoo did something like this recently for “Oceans 12”.)
  • Make it unique to mobile. Elements like ringtones and phone wallpaper are conducive to carrying brand messaging. They fulfill people’s need to change their phones’ look and sound every once in a while. If they do and express a preference for your brand, so much the better.

    Jim Manis, global chairman of the MMA and senior VP of industry development at m-Qube, thinks we’ll be seeing some campaigns that embody these principles in 2005. “Integration of mobile with television and radio and print is occurring at quite a rapid clip right now,” he told me. “The last three months have seen a significant bump, and my guess is over the next quarter you’ll see an increase in the sophistication of the programs.”

    BMW’s campaign got on my nerves because mobile marketing has so much potential. In this case, it felt wasted. JupiterResearch wireless and automotive analyst Julie Ask wasn’t as negative about the effort. She points out mobile phones are more ubiquitous than PCs, and young people (the 3 series’ target audience) are the ones interested in trying out mobile data technologies. Julie added the promotion will provide BMW with valuable data that will ultimately help it conduct better mobile marketing in the future.

    She has some good points. I fervently hope it’s just BMW’s first, tentative foray into U.S. mobile marketing, and I hope results are positive enough to encourage the automaker to do more experimentation. It’s just the beginning. There’s so much more to be explored. Don’t screw it up before it even gets started.

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