Who’s Responsible for Creating Mobile Content?

In recent years, U.S. wireless service providers have invested millions of dollars to roll out advanced, 3G (define) network services. You’ve probably seen mentions of language and acronyms (e.g., 3G HSDPA/HSUPA) in industry trade publications. They describe the continued advancement of the network infrastructure abroad, a model that will one day make up elements of our 4G networks. (That seems far off, considering close relatives of mine in rural Nebraska still call every so often to ask when they’ll be able to use their phones “like they do in the commercials.”)

All this talk about 3G and 4G networks raises a question: how soon will the mobile content environment resemble today’s Web environment and shed the shackled, walled garden? Depending on whom you ask, the question stirs up a great amount of debate.

U.S. carriers have taken a very reserved approach to programming their WAP (define) decks. Years ago, each carrier brokered relationships with publisher partners (broadcast and otherwise) to provide high-level category links to content and assets accessible to customers; customers or subscribers who carriers fiercely proclaim are theirs first and foremost. Each has gone to great lengths to carve out niche areas. Music and sports, for instance, have been leveraged as a means of content differentiation. In nearly each case, these partnerships require a significant investment from the content provider to ensure its content has a well-positioned deck space. However, more spectrum currently exists than content. This issue is further compounded by smaller mobile developers and application providers that look to navigate the channels necessary to create a broader distribution for their offerings.

Publishers have also begun to populate mobile content both on and off deck. Entertainment, news, and sports publishers were among the first to repurpose content and now, more commonly, produce it specifically for mobile. Still, many reputable publishers are just beginning to explore channel and sales extensions into mobile. First, these publishers must internally cultivate new skill sets and learn as an organization how best to navigate the mobile ecosystem.

During lunch last week with one of my favorite print/digital publishers, I was shocked to learn the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is an unknown entity for some in our industry. For content publishers, large and small, MMA membership is an absolute must. The industry associations that broadly speak to more traditional or digital trade groups shouldn’t be the main source of mobile information or contacts; they don’t have the full ecosystem represented, nor do they have carriers’ involvement.

As mobile marketing continues to gain emphasis and legitimacy, MMA participation by large agencies and big brands will be crucial. It’s an untapped resource that can aid in marketplace education and relationship development, two key areas that should be explored by brands and agencies in the coming year. Why? Because an interesting little fact recently reported by eMarketer highlights a big shortfall of branded mobile content from the most obvious places. Roughly 92 percent of the top 1,000 U.S. brands don’t have a mobile Web presence of any kind. I don’t advocate repurposing a digital Web site into the mobile space, but I strongly encourage brands and their agencies to look into developing road maps to bring this content to bear. As more consumers actively and consistently use the mobile Web, they’ll expect to be able to browse their favorite sites anytime they want.

Web sites aren’t the only play that brands have in the mobile space. As I bounce from meeting to meeting within the walls of my Chicago office, I’m constantly reminded of the iconic brand imagery and association created through the years by successive creative teams. These assets, in the form of downloadables and exclusive information via sponsorship rights, have a place within a mobile communication strategy plan. It’s not just about advertising, WAP, banners, and text alert sponsorships in the mobile space. It’s also about extending the audience dialogue further from a marketing standpoint.

I’ve been in the space long enough to know not to hold my breath and wait for immediate action by any one party, just as I’ve learned there’s is no crystal ball to predict the future. I have, however, developed a firm belief that advancement and growth can be achieved when all parties in the ecosystem work together. It’s the only way to truly satisfy the diverse content demand of mobile consumers today.

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