The Problem With Mobile Marketing?

Mobile is an email marketer’s dream. It offers the ability to connect with people, effectively in real time, wherever they happen to be. According to Tomi Ahonen, a former Nokia executive, the typical mobile user checks his phone 150 times each day and the average SMS is read within four minutes. The power and capability of mobile devices continues to increase at an extraordinary clip. The HTML rendering provided on smartphones now exceeds that of the most popular desktop and web-based email solutions. Today’s smartphones have high resolution screens, powerful processors, high-speed Internet, built-in cameras, and location awareness.

Given all these attractive attributes, one would think that relationship marketers would have jumped right on mobile. Email to mobile devices, SMS to email sign-ups, SMS/email alternative communication streams, cadenced messaging combining email and SMS should be our norm and we should be reaching out into app messaging, location-based messaging, and mobile-social integrations. The reality though is that most email marketers have barely even started with SMS. Why is mobile marketing still such an underserved part of the relationship marketing mix?

It seems that it’s not just the email marketers that are struggling with mobile. A recent analysis by mobile analytics company Flurry shows that mobile advertising receives a tiny proportion of spending compared to its more established competitors. The company’s conclusion was that upper middle class women are the key to this discrepancy. I believe the answer lies in the incongruity at the heart of the “email, mobile, social, web” mantra that is so widely espoused in the email world today. The conundrum is that these four items, listed sequentially, are neither a logical progression nor a set of like things.

Email and web are well-established online channels in use for over a decade. Though much has changed in that time and there are areas where email in particular is less well-utilized than it should be, they are mediums and they are well-understood as such. Social meanwhile is the new kid on the block. In many ways, little more than the latest shiny evolution of web-based services. Still and all, social is being well-served. There are a wide range of specialist providers creating tools and services to support marketers and more media experts offering advice than any one person can reasonably keep up with.

Mobile though is another beast entirely. The breadth of capabilities of mobile devices and the range of purposes to which owners put their devices are both astounding and daunting. When a marketer speaks of mobile marketing, they could be speaking about location-based services, SMS, email on a phone, apps, or mobile web pages.

The problem with thinking about mobile is that you’re thinking about mobile. During the writing of this column I took a break and read a marketing newspaper and a couple of headlines rang out for me: “Marketers must use mobile to encourage brand loyalty” and “Agencies must keep up with mobile.” That’s what they’re intended to do but the articles led to the problem that I think is befuddling marketers today – a tendency to retrofit mobile into an existing marketing strategy.

I believe that, in a nutshell, is why we struggle so much with mobile. It highlights any shortcomings of a marketing communications strategy (or lack thereof). We rely on a single word to sum up a range of increasingly sophisticated devices with multi-faceted uses in the possession of individuals who are expecting coherent and consistent messaging. All too often marketing strategies are single-faceted and ad hoc.

Despite these challenges, mobile messaging is inescapable. Just as the prediction for mobile ad spending is 82 percent year-on-year growth, I believe we’ll see rapid growth in messaging.

That means it’s time to get ready. If you’re going to do mobile it should be a natural part of your overall strategy, and of course that means having a strategy. Understanding your customers, both current and future, when, how, and where they want to interact with you is critical. From this it becomes clear which parts of the communication lifecycle may be mobile, which must be mobile, and which should not be.

This strategic approach also provides insight into the questions that arise concerning which media (web, email, SMS, apps, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, search engine, banners, location services, etc.) are appropriate and how to ensure they work together for best effect.

Creating an integrated messaging strategy is time consuming and difficult but increasingly important in a world of mobile devices.

In a future column, I’ll delve more deeply into integrated mobile strategies.

Until next time,


This column was originally published on March 15, 2012.

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