Mobile Marketing: When Words Aren’t Enough

You go camping with a friend. She’s forgotten the marshmallows. While she pops down to the store to complete the inventory, you put up the tent. Then, it happens. A bear invades your tent! A few miles away, your friend happens to run into your favorite soccer star at the grocery store.

Both of you want the other to come quickly. How to get the message across in a fast, persuasive way? Mobile device makers and operators reason you won’t succeed with words. Instead, use your cell phone’s integrated camera to snap a photo and send a visually convincing multimedia message.

Communicating via images, logos, color, and moving pictures is the heart of what brand advertisers practice. It’s understandable that advertisers have long been frustrated with the low creative potential of SMS. Now, there’s a trendy form of communication in the palm of your hand that enables you to reach consumers directly, anywhere, at any time. Many belong to that desirable audience so hard to reach elsewhere (over 70 percent of 15-24 year olds in western Europe use SMS). So why should messages be restricted to a mere 160 text characters?

A bright solution called MMS has appeared. Imaging is facilitated. Marketers can use logos and display products. It enables animation, sound, and video — all advantageous for conveying brand messages. The message space is not as restricted as with SMS, so more complex ideas can be expressed. Small wonder many brand advertisers long to test a mobile MMS campaign.

Sorry, words are still your best shot. My creative passion longs for MMS, too. My rational side believes the day I’ll see a full-scale MMS campaign that’s exciting for consumers and delivers results for marketers is a few years away. Here’s why:

  • SMS users won’t immediately convert to MMS. An investment in a new handset is required. The replacement cycle doesn’t occur overnight. Not all new devices are MMS enabled. I believe 2004 will come and go before 10 percent of Europeans actively use MMS.

  • The cost of an MMS campaign will initially be high. Aside from a bill for more complex rich media production, you’re likely to be charged a significant premium above a text campaign’s €200 CPM for media and distribution.
  • High consumer pricing is likely to impact marketing efficiency. The efficiency of a mobile messaging campaign often depends on consumer involvement and viral distribution. Spending 10 or 15 cents to forward a text message isn’t an issue for most users. Spending 40 to 50 cents to send a standard size multimedia message is a cost consideration. Users will think twice before forwarding a game or video promotion to a friend.

This doesn’t mean you should shelve your mobile initiatives. Although conversion of mainstream consumers to active MMS users will take time, rapidly growing consumer awareness and curiosity creates opportunities. One option is to position your brand on Web-based MMS applications offered by portals youngsters visit to try the service out. Another, as Coke did in Austria, is to create your own branded Web-based MMS service to be directly associated with this innovative communication form and to capture consumer data.

If you’re launching a mobile messaging campaign, text is still your best shot. Don’t underestimate the impact of a text message. Open rates are sky-high compared to email. The time it takes the recipient to absorb the full message is minimal, and recall rates aren’t bad at all. Right now, it’s about being creative without all those visual aids.

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