Who Owns Mobile Marketing Strategies?

The question of who owns mobile marketing strategies has been on my mind a lot. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how my company should work with mobile specialty agencies.

A few months ago, I attended a mobile marketing workshop where various speakers represented a diverse, cross-section of companies involved in mobile marketing: advertisers, media and creative agencies, mobile marketing firms, publishers, and even public relations and carriers.

One standout presentation by a public relations firm covered how to create a mobile strategy. Clearly, the presenter had thought through how marketing on mobile devices fits into a brand’s communications strategy. This firm was happy to share some of its thinking and it was great.

Next up was a presentation by a mobile marketing specialty firm. The presentation, which purported to tell the audience the key things they needed to know to begin marketing in the mobile space, started with a very simple and provocative recommendation: hire a mobile marketing specialty firm. According to this company, the full-service media and creative agencies were cellularly clueless and only specialists could properly implement and execute a mobile campaign.

The rest of the specialist’s recommendations were hardly groundbreaking. Many of them were covered by the PR guy.

Do mobile marketing specialists truly dominate the marketplace? To gauge who’s leading the mobile marketing charge, I informally polled my contacts at the top mobile Web properties. I asked them where their buys were coming from: full-service media agencies or mobile specialists?

Their answers were fairly consistent: the lion’s share of buying was coming from general media agencies and that share is increasing. I came to this breakdown: the generalist agencies account for about 70 percent of mobile media purchases, mobile specialty agencies buy 15 percent, and the remaining portion comes directly from advertisers.

Consumer Adoption of the Mobile Web Makes It Easier

As more consumers use the mobile Web, it’s getting easier to reach them. According to a report from JP Morgan that used CTIA and Nielsen Mobile reports, there were about 56 million mobile Internet users in the United States. They project this number to grow to 77 million this year and 105 million in 2010. Smarter devices, better connectivity, and friendlier interfaces will fuel this growth.

The growth of the mobile Web means reaching consumers on their phones can take the form of simply extending an online buy. After all, the top mobile Web sites are very similar to the top PC-based Web sites — Yahoo, Google, MSN, ESPN, CNN, and Facebook are among the top 10 mobile Web sites.

Creative units are the same (palm-sized banners and text links) and the currencies are the same — impressions, clicks, CPMs (define), and CPCs (define). The firms that do Internet media and creative well can do mobile Internet media and creative well.

Specialists Are Pioneers

Mobile specialty agencies have the advantage of focus and perspective. Focusing exclusively on one media means the ability to dig a little deeper and spend time with mobile technologies that aren’t yet widely adopted in the United States.

Many mobile specialty agencies are global, so they’ve executed campaigns in the more mobile savvy markets of Europe and Asia. Technologies such as bar code scanning, mobile video, mobile payments, and “augmented reality” have much wider adoption in other countries.

Some of these things will soon be as big in the United States as they are abroad. Others will be like David Hasselhoff’s successful European music career — a mystery to Americans. Regardless, technically oriented executions are where the specialist’s focus and global perspective shine.

The Insight Leads

A smart strategy flows from an insight about consumers without any prejudice toward a particular device and media generalists own the insights. At the same time, once it’s been decided that mobile is part of the mix (and of course it will be) there are technical considerations involved in executing a mobile campaign, particularly on the creative side, that mobile specialists can help with.

Therefore, partnerships between the mobile-focused specialty agency and the consumer-focused full-service agencies are inevitable. Corporate acquisition and industry consolidation will be a factor as advertising holding companies bring mobile specialists in-house. In many cases, specialists and generalists will recognize the unique things each brings to the table and smart ideas will drive a shared client’s business forward.

Now isn’t that a nice thought? Maybe I’ll make “Kumbaya” my ringtone.

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