The New Battle for Hearts and Minds Begins

As the debris from the dot-com carnage settles, the potential of wireless devices seems suddenly so clear. Wireless, m-business, and the mobile Internet race toward us, offering another wave of boundless promise for marketers, VCs, and entrepreneurs of all ages.

This Time We’ll Get It Right

What’s even better is that we’ve all been here before. We’ve accumulated years of experience with evolving technologies and consumer-controlled media. The consumer appeal of wireless devices (cell phones, PDAs, pagers) has already been proven here in the U.S. and even more resoundingly in other technologically advanced societies. We have permission to skip right over early Internet marketing’s Hesitancy and Doubt Stage.

We might even begin to relax as we recognize the mobile marketing model seems so similar to traditional direct mail. This is one-to-one marketing — taken several steps beyond ZIP code. Now we have individuals wherever they are, and we have the capability of knowing exactly where where is. This beats just dropping some mail on the dining room table or loading up the phone banks. Better, yet close enough to traditional marketing to quell the nausea of needing to rethink our models one more time with feeling, and no ROI.

Integrating wireless into our marketing programs and media plans won’t undermine the No. 1 moneymaker: TV. We can recommend wireless as a tactical, promotional adjunct to the core brand message with a clear conscience. The type of message and format offer no competition to the big box in the middle of the living room and the revenue streams it feeds.

So after we push aside some concerns with satellite versus cell and other minor bumps that will undoubtedly appear in the technology road, we can sit back and smile. And maybe that is the promise of wireless for marketers: the reassurance that everything new is old again.

Key Words: Adage, History, Ignore, Doomed, Repeat

Unfortunately, all of these assumptions about wireless are overshadowed by the one undisputed truth learned on the battlefields of the Internet Revolution: Nothing will be the same again, ever.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in consumers’ changing attitudes toward media, most particularly in their attitudes toward those wireless devices we marketers are plotting to infiltrate.

It doesn’t take a month of focus groups to know that the average American consumer is overstimulated, sleep deprived, and time starved — and hates advertising anywhere and everywhere. If you do take the time to do the nights of staring through that one-way glass, you can also find out the role wireless devices and the Internet play in helping these same consumers get through their over-scheduled lives.

Consumers across target groups know that all the technology attached to their lives is now a necessity. They are technology dependent because their lifestyles require it, for better or worse. And while we can argue whether the technology created these lifestyles or just makes them bearable, the point remains clear: Cell phones, pagers, and increasingly PDAs are tools for living.

This makes the implications for inserting advertising into these personal necessities huge. Go ahead and tell consumers that advertising is coming to the cell phones on their hips or the PDAs in their briefcases. Guaranteed the reaction will be nothing short of primal. Even when told about or shown a value-added message, the very suggestion invokes battle cries: Not here! Not my phone! Invading consumers’ PDAs and cell phones could be as bloody as those first 24 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”

After the Screaming Dies Down

But a little blood or inefficiency has never stopped ambitious marketers, especially when confronted with such lucrative targets. So how do we minimize the bleeding? Can we create effective marketing messages that are integrated into the wireless lives of consumers without leaving brand relationships and budgets bloody?

There is only one accurate map for this beachhead: The online consumers are the wireless consumers. And they understand and can articulate the benefits their wireless devices deliver: “I’m more in control.” Forget that and die.

So here’s how I recommend we start:

  1. Three-dimensional customization. This is messaging unique to the person at a particular moment in a particular place. Change any of the three variables — person, place, or moment — and the message changes. Hard? Yep. Impossible? No!

  2. Beyond opt out. Customers must be able to turn the messaging on and off even after they opt in. This is going to make measurement even trickier, but it will increase the value of the contact when it occurs. Of course, we can’t control that.
  3. The enemy. You can’t take this beach alone: Advertisers and marketers are hated on principle. Send messages that reflect the needs of any one marketer, and you invite wrath. A service that alerts consumers to delayed flights for one airline will be perceived as “a marketing gimmick,” while a service that alerts consumers about all airline delays is received with: “Hey, they are trying to help me.”

All hail the conquering heroes? Well, no, not for quite a while and not without continual learning. There are too many landmines. But we at least are beginning to understand the consumer a little better than we did after that last battle. Or was it a revolution?

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