The Marketing of Mobile Content

Mobile phones have a whole life beyond voice. Consumers are after content to personalize their phones, and entertain them when they have a moment to spare. Demand for premium mobile content including ringtones, wallpapers, music, games, graphics, video, and adult content is expected to reach $20 billion in 2007, and surpass $44 billion in 2011, according to a recent report by research firm iSuppli.

Making all that content discoverable via powerful search and ad products is starting to become a big business, and an area of fierce competition.

While pure play companies like JumpTap and Medio have long offered search platforms both on and off the carrier decks, Web search companies are now eyeing the space. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Google is working with mobile content firms to build and index its mobile content search platform. Google declined to comment on the launch, but ClickZ spoke with several mobile marketers and content sellers — some close to the project, some not — about what the new search product will look like, how the marketers of mobile content will likely be able to leverage it, and how the business of marketing mobile content is evolving in general.

At a very macro level, some wireless marketing executives feel a content search play from Google would draw more advertisers to mobile and bolster mobile Web use in general, which until recently has seen only incremental adoption.

“Search is a no-brainer for mobile content companies,” said Enpocket CEO Michael Baker. “Google’s entering the market is good, both in terms of validating the category and also attracting new advertisers to the medium. What Google will do is bring more reach, bring the Google audience who wasn’t using the search bar on AT&T or Verizon. It’s good for the market and its incremental unique reach.”

Others say not so fast, since Google’s going up against competitors who have years experience making such content discoverable and established relationships with mobile operators. “Google is playing catch-up, which is something they aren’t used to,” Mark Donovan, VP of products and senior analyst at M:Metrics told ClickZ.

Companies like Motricity, a mobile content management company, have worked with Google for as long as 18 months to index and test the new search product. “They are going to be indexing all the mobile content sites,” said Motricity CTO and GM Jud Bowman. He added Google is “creating a much more integrated approach; it will work from the PC or the Google browser on the phone.”

Google would likely not take a cut of sales based on organic search results. Rather, Bowman expects the integration and behavior of a mobile content search from Google to take a form similar to that of Froogle, which became Google Product Search.

“At least out of the gate, we’re going to use our existing payment methods,” said Bowman. Motricity connects to carrier’s billing systems to charge customers. That means carriers will still get a cut of all revenues generated – even perhaps those sourced with Google. Content purchased through any advertising, however, could still use a different payment method.

Improving the mobile search experience would help solve one of the biggest problems for content owners, as well as any WAP site publisher: driving traffic to the site. But there are other ways of achieving the same goal, including by advertising in other channels. “We are seeing a proliferation of mobile calls-to-action on non-mobile advertisements,” said M;Metrics’ Donovan. “Everybody’s familiar with the dial-this-number to vote for ‘American Idol,’ but we’re seeing some part of those formats in other brands and products.”

Companies like “MTV and BET leverage their strength,” to market their mobile content across channels, according to Bowman. “Millions of people are watching TV every day. When you watch a music video on MTV, and other channels, they have a pop-up screen to text in to get the ringtone.”

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