Mobile marketing has been the “next big thing” long enough that it almost seems like old news. Mobile advertising is projected to reach $55 billion in 2012, and has the distinction of being the fastest medium to reach $1 billion in spending; it took only five years, versus 16 years for the Internet to hit that level of investment.
Unfortunately, that speed of growth isn’t really indicative of the effectiveness of mobile marketing. While virtually everyone carries a mobile device, and roughly half of us carry a smartphone, the difficulties of effective marketing on these devices are many.
The technical hurdles are daunting, to be sure. In addition to two platforms (feature phone and smartphone), there is no standard for advertising or how it is delivered. And the personal nature of the phones themselves make users much more sensitive to advertising on these devices. When the consumer is paying for the phone (or at least the non-subsidized portion of it), as well as paying for the monthly service, receiving an ad on that device tends to be viewed as intrusive.
Some of these hurdles will work themselves out over time; standards will be developed, and consumers will become more accepting of advertising. But the major hurdle for mobile lies not with the device or the software; the biggest problem for mobile advertising is how marketers see and use this medium.
In today’s world of technology, we’re all enamored with the latest gizmos and gadgets. We speculate on what new magic Apple will deliver next, and line up to buy the latest and greatest. Marketers are no different; we look at the latest crop of shiny things and think how much more effective we can be with the newest technology.
Our tendency is to glom onto the state-of-the-art and force it into our current strategy, or worse, see that new gizmo as the holy grail of marketing. Retailers are jumping aboard the mobile train as quickly as they can, developing mobile apps with shopping lists and store locators, rolling out mobile coupon programs to shoppers, and even experimenting with augmented reality technology to tie the phone together with the in-store experience.
In all the focus on mobile, some critical components are too often left at the door, specifically strategy, consistency, and relevance. The percentage of U.S. retailers claiming to have a mobile strategy in place or in development exceeds 80%, but the percentage of retailers with a mobile-optimized website is somewhere below 50%. Proof of that disconnect is only a QR code away as more often than not scanning one of these codes links to some site that is not mobile-optimized, with little or no obvious value for the user.
The beauty of mobile lies in its consumer-led growth. People everywhere have adopted mobile as a necessity in their lives at a pace both unforeseen and unprecedented. Never in history have we been so connected, to one another and to the vast knowledge base that is the Internet.
There are two prevailing views of mobile in retail today: one is the view that it’s an always-on, always-connected medium that can serve up messaging to a captive audience. The second view is of mobile as a new way to deliver what was once relegated to paper. Neither of these is accurate.
Mobile users are anything but captive. The quick touch of a fingertip to a screen ends the conversation, and it is the marketer’s challenge to keep the viewer engaged. Trying to do so simply by replacing paper coupons with barcodes – as in “mobile coupons” – isn’t the answer either. The primary benefit of mobile is its connectivity, and that should be the primary goal for marketers -- keeping the user connected.
The true value of mobile in a marketing sense is its ability to gather data and return it. Putting a barcode on a smartphone misses the point entirely. The missing link for mobile remains one of strategy, and how the available information can be used to make campaigns more relevant, more effective, and less intrusive.
What is needed then, is not a mobile strategy per se, but a marketing strategy that makes use of mobile and the unique benefits it offers to marketers. This is the challenge that continues to confound many, and until we approach mobile as a functional element of a broader strategy, the mobile promise will go unrealized.
Jeff Weidauer is VP marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.vestcom.com.