The Real Power of Wireless

Let’s try out a couple of scenarios. As you read, think about what kind of world you would want to live in.

Scenario 1. Fast forward: December 2001. You get off the plane in a new city. You’re probably going to be late to that client meeting you came for… air delays as usual. You walk out of the gate into the terminal toward baggage claim. You turn on your cell phone and, as you pass the vending machines in the hallway, it rings. It could be the client, so you rush to answer it.

“Happy Holidays!” an overly chipper voice announces, “and welcome to BWI! Don’t pass us by! Why not stop and grab a snack? To your right you’ll notice we’ve got Crispy Chips, Nacho Cheese Doodads, and tasty, yummy…”

You slam the phone shut. Damn! You’ve gotta get your bags and get out of the airport… the last thing you need is the local vending machines calling you. You press on to the baggage claim.

As you wait for your bag, you notice your pager vibrating in your pocket. The client? You dig in your pockets, spilling keys and change on the tile floor and grab your pager to check your messages.

“Luggage looking ragged? Start the new year off right with Samsonite!” Errghhh! You shove the pager back into your pocket, grab your bag, and head out to catch a cab.

Luckily, you grab one right away and settle back for the ride downtown. You get your papers out to prepare for your meeting when the cabbie leans toward you. You noticed that he had been consulting a screen on the dashboard, but you didn’t think anything of it.

“So mister,” he smirks, “I see you haven’t been here since October. Did you know that MacBennigans is having a SuperSpeedy Lunch Special? Wanna stop and grab a bite on the way out?”

Dang! You ate there on your way out of town the last time you were here and your stomach hasn’t been the same since. You never should have paid with your credit card! You bark a curt “No!” and try to concentrate. As you pass the convention center, your phone rings… Not again!

Scenario 2. Same place. Same time. You run out of the plane, already late for that client meeting. Rushing down the terminal to the baggage claim, you grab your bag and head out the door. Your cab is waiting.

“I saw you were going to be late,” says the cabbie as he opens the door for you, “so I circled around a few times. Still staying at the Hilton?”

You nod “Yes” and get in. You open your PDA and confirm that your reservation is still in place. You pick your check-in time from a scrolling list and settle back for the ride. When you arrive at the hotel, you get out and thankfully grab your key from the doorman, who recognizes you immediately as he glances up from his terminal at the door stand. You rush up to your room.

As you ride the elevator, you open your cell phone and hit the speed-dial for your client. She quickly answers.

“I see you’re in town. Are we still meeting at noon?” she asks.

“Yes,” you say, “Le Restaurant at noon. I don’t think I’ll make it in time, though.”

“No problem,” she says, “I called ahead when your PDA alerted me to your late arrival. The reservation’s now set for 12:30.”

You smile. Situation under control. You say your goodbye and head out to get another cab. As you settle in for the short ride, you decide to check the project status on your cell phone calendar. A few quick button pushes and you see that production’s on track. You quickly use the m-calculator to check the new production figures based on some new parameters, push a button, and smile. The price of paper has come down and your client will be pleased to hear that the cost of her mailing is going to be less. Ain’t mobile commerce wonderful?

Back to the present day. Which scenario sounds better to you? If you said the first one, you’re obviously some sort of marketing masochist who needs some serious therapy. But the scary thing is that first scenario is exactly what many proponents of mobile e-commerce and marketing think the world wants… an advertising-supported dystopia where everyone knows your every move and can market to you at all times.

In this version of hell your cell phone reports your location constantly to a whole hungry horde of machines ready to grab your attention at every chance. Vending machines know who you are and what you buy, local restaurants beam offers to you as you drive by, and your phone and pager are constantly bombarded by ads delivered via nifty new wireless technology. I don’t know about you, but I’d throw the damn thing out the window and move to a compound in Oregon with some other survivalist-minded cultural separatists if that’s what we’re coming to.

A lot of people think the future will be ad supported, and that might be true. But if you’re constantly flushing gajillions of supposed “opt-in” messages from your inbox, you know what a fallacy all that bogus “permission marketing” talk really is for most of us. And it’s one thing when it’s in your email; imagine what’s going to happen when wireless technology that reports your location (already in the works by AirFlash.com and GeePS.com) starts to hone ad engines in on your location. Not a pretty future.

Luckily, some heavy hitters are willing to learn from the past. Last week, Ad Force, Media Metrix, Motorola, OmniSky, and more than ten other companies formed the Wireless Advertising Industry Association in order to put together industry-wide policies for the wireless future that’s rapidly approaching.

And it’s not that far off: Cap Gemini America recently predicted that 78 percent of Net users will move to wireless by the end of next year, and IDC predicts over 1 billion wireless Net users by the end of 2004… more than those using PCs. It’s important that we as marketers figure out how to use this tech to our customers’ advantage now rather than making everyone’s lives an always-connected living hell. The WAIA is a step in the right direction.

Why? Because the power of wireless isn’t that it can deliver ads to us everywhere. The power and the promise is that it lets us access the rich resources of the web when we need to.

As marketers we can take the easy road now and pursue the short-term brand-busting vision that email has taken by alienating customers through un-targeted, un-welcome messages. Or we can work harder and figure out how to use the tech to add value and build customer loyalty over the long term… something that many e-tailers haven’t done and are now suffering the consequences of.

As you think about moving your company into the wireless marketing realm, think about this: If you can target others, you’ll probably be a target yourself. What kind of future do you want?

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