Shifting Sands in the Mobile Marketing Arena

U.S. media coverage of the presidential election has subsided from its fervor pitch on election night to a low hum this week. But President-Elect Barack Obama isn’t the only example of today’s shifting sands.

A handful of mobile announcements rose above the din this past week — two specific to devices and handset manufacturing, and one related to messaging. These rocked my world a bit more, frankly, than last Tuesday night’s election outcome. I wasn’t surprised either by the election results or to learn of the spike in messaging on November 5.

Sybase 365, a mobile messaging service provider, reported that the volume of messaging traffic tripled between 8 and 8:10 PM PST on November 4, the 10-minute window after the 44th U.S. president was named. Usage between 8 and 9 PM PST was nine percent greater than the same hour one day earlier. Sybase further estimated that between late afternoon and evening (4 to 9 PM PST), 1.2 billion SMS (define) messages were sent nationwide.

Texting is suited for real-time communication where few words are needed to express delight, relief, or disbelief (depending on your political affiliation). On election night, mobile was a deeply personal, personally relevant, and timely communication tool for mobile consumers across the U.S.

On top of that, many consumers appear to be moving to advanced mobile devices, as noted in the latest release from wireless market research leader NPD. The Apple 3G iPhone unseated the Mortorola RAZR as the most purchased handset (by adult mobile consumers) during the three-month period ended September 30, 2008.

True, the market has recently taken a bit of a hit with overall handset sales declining by 15 percent year-over-year, but nonetheless the news has big ramifications. The RAZR was the top-ranked device in the NPD report for the last 12 quarters — that’s a three-year domination overturned by the 3G device, which Apple launched in July.

For anyone in mobile advertising or marketing, the tides have turned. No longer is program strategy only about the standard pixel screen of 128×160 or based on a simplistic definition of a mobile consumer. Expectations for form and function have been forever altered by the iPhone. When mobile marketers realize this, they will be able to engage and create a lasting dialogue on the mobile platform.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at what NPD said it its release: “The displacement of the RAZR by the iPhone 3G represents a watershed shift in handset design from fashion to fashionable functionality,” said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for NPD. “Four of the five best-selling handsets in the third quarter were optimized for messaging and other advanced Internet features.”

Unfortunately, the news for Motorola doesn’t get better. Samsung Electronics is now the leading vendor of mobile devices/handsets in the U.S., according to Strategy Analytics Inc. Samsung captured 22.4 percent of the market share compared with Motorola’s 21.1 percent, by offering a full suite (basic to touch-screen) of devices to carrier partners domestically.

While Motorola’s woes in the marketplace have been heavily documented, this is big news in the mobile world. It’s further compounded by Apple outselling RIM’s BlackBerry in the most recent quarter too.

Marketers planning and executing mobile campaigns must be aware of these shifts in the mobile sector.

Speaking of shifts, it’s with a measure of sadness that I work to conclude this article, as it is my last as a ClickZ Expert columnist. It has been a pleasure to share my perspective and opinions with you. And since I rarely hold my tongue, I leave you with a few thoughts:

  • Passion is what makes the world go round. Find passionate marketing and advertising people to work for and with.
  • Integrate the mobile platform into the planning process. Do this early on. It’s a compliment, rather than a competitor, to the media mix.
  • The landscape is shifting rapidly. Never be afraid to stir the pot a bit and instigate some change of your own.

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