The Dawn of a Totally New Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing — sending ads to people’s mobile phones — has long been both a promise and a challenge. The absolute explosion of mobile devices over the last several years means the audience has grown fantastically. As well, the phone is unlike any other consumer electronic device. Just about any other media channel we may use to advertise must be encountered by consumers: they turn on their televisions, computers, and radios. They decide to go the movies. They drive down the freeway and see a billboard.

The phone is clearly different. It is, for most of us, always with us and always turned on. The increase in smart phone ownership just makes this all the more true. The more features we are able to access with our phones and the more of our messages we are able to get through the phone, the more crucial it becomes. Mobile should be an absolute marketer’s paradise.

Growth in this sector, though, hasn’t always come easily, and the right models have been often elusive. We recognize instinctively that consumers are a bit reticent about getting ads on their phones. Plus, there has been some confusion among marketers about the right way to send an ad. Marketers have tried to learn a new dialogue (WAP decks, short codes), but not always successfully.

All that is about to change. In fact, the Mobile Marketing Association is anticipating a 26 percent jump in mobile marketing spending this year. Remember, this is a year where overall spending on advertising is expected to be either flat or declining. I think the association is dead-on accurate with its projection, thanks to massive evolution in both services and the hardware itself.

New Services for Mobile

If you ever want to predict the near future for technology, look at what young coders are getting excited about. Years ago, search was the cool thing to get into. Before that, it was Java apps, and before that it was operating systems. Right now, the best programmers want to try mobile applications, particularly for the iPhone, but also for Google’s Android operating system.

Developing for mobile phones gives programmers an amazing new set of tools and data sources they can use to ramp up functionality. Consider that phones not only have computing power on them but also significant personal data, from contacts to photos to current location. That’s a lot of stuff for a programmer to play with, not even considering the ability to tap into thousands of databases and services over live Internet connections.

This means that the hottest hotbed of app development is for the phone. And this creates two new paths for advertisers to connect with consumers. The first is in the actual development of a branded application for the mobile phone. The best brands have never been satisfied to just put up ads online. Instead, they stretch and innovate and provide real value and real functionality as a part of their advertising. At last, this is a viable approach for mobile marketing.

The second is that these applications can provide a layer where advertising can comfortably fit in. No one really wants to see an ad taking over her phone. It’s too much in a space that consumers want to be theirs and theirs alone. But inside an application, advertisers may find a space to provide messages within a context that’s a bit more natural.

New Devices

This is the really big deal in mobile marketing. We are on the cusp of seeing a new sort of device that will defy categorization in the near term. Already we have Amazon’s Kindle, which is certainly not a computer and definitely not a phone. However, it has a large screen and a wireless data connection. Apple is expected to soon release news about a different kind of iPod that has a much larger screen, is able to download applications, and contains (at least) a Wi-Fi antenna. Acer recently announced plans to build a laptop that uses Android, the operating system designed for mobile phones.

Clearly, there is belief that consumers are ready to introduce a new device into their lives. This is somewhere between a mobile phone (or an MP3 player) and a full-fledged notebook computer. The idea of this device is so new that no one really knows precisely what to call it. Sometimes it’s called a netbook (though sometimes “netbook” refers to a notebook computer), sometimes a tablet. Whatever it is, it shows promise to be a Next Big Thing.

This will introduce new opportunities for advertisers to connect with users. In addition to reaching consumers through your Web site or online ad, you can reach them through services available to a mobile app. New generations of location-aware advertising could be possible or the chance to interact with an experience at a deep level. Think of what you might be able to do if someone were to have one of these devices at a mall, cinema, or sporting event.

This is why we will see significant growth from the mobile advertising sector. It’s not — as it never is — because people will just spontaneously start spending more for the same stuff. Rather it’s because we’ll see discontinuous leaps in the space, prompting new thinking and new energy.

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