A few years back, we were meeting with mobile marketing companies, all clutching our Motorola Razrs, listening to those companies strongly advise us to redirect our clients’ money to their pockets.
They were playing to our instincts and paranoia.
Hundreds of millions of people were holding what we now call a “feature phone.” Those phones could get on the Web (sort of), fetch email (kind of) and sign you up for text messages from brands (that the customer had to pay for).
Our “instinct” was the same one that led us crashing into digital advertising before anyone knew what they were doing there: You go where the eyeballs are.
The “paranoia” was that something was happening here, but we couldn’t figure out what it was: We might be missing out on a huge opportunity for our clients.
Fortunately, our CEO, John Coleman, uttered something after one of these presentations that I was willing to bet was true: ” ‘Mobile marketing’ means the iPhone.”
Substitute “smartphone” for the iPhone (then a Category of One) and we can easily see we are deep in a mobile marketing revolution.
And while we were thinking back then of the phone as a decent platform for digital advertising (even the iPhone did not yet support apps), the opportunities to reach your customer have exploded now that everyone has a pocket-sized computer with them at all times.
So here’s some conventional wisdom about how to market with mobile phones, and where I think a lot of the focus should be for certain kinds of brands:
- Option 1 is to create more engaging interactive advertising “experiences.” This is the “advertiser as filmmaker” idea, inventing something that on its own is so entertaining and fun that people give up their time to experience it, and then share it with others. The odds of success on this are very, very long. (Just think of the audience testing and vetting that Hollywood goes through each year, and the number of blockbusters produced through that process.) This is always an expensive gamble, but the payoffs can be huge if the creation goes viral.
- Option 2 is to build branded tools that help customers. We loved a hiking/journaling app we pitched an outdoor equipment company a few years back: Buy our hiking boots and get an app that used GPS and Internet connectivity to find, track and share great hikes throughout the country or world. Problem: the app has to be truly useful, and complementary to your product. Then you have to beat an established player to the app market with it (we were literally days ahead of significant product announcements like that). When that happens, it can be magic. And with all those developers looking to unleash their talents, there is a market for sponsorship that could help everyone.
- Option 3, and my current favorite, is to use the smartphone to get closer to the point of purchase. This is an opportunity we are aggressively pursuing with some consumer packaged goods clients. Research is showing what our instincts are telling us: just as no one buys so much as an electric can opener any more without checking the Internet (searching on a desktop computer prior to a planned shopping trip), people are now using their smartphones in the aisles of big-box retailers or chain pharmacies to figure out which of six seemingly identical cold medicines to buy. This can put every marketer right at the point of purchase for the cost of a shelf tag with a QR code and some Web development.
That last one – getting closer to the point of purchase – is one of our current fronts: How can we make it painless for someone who sees products on a shelf to understand our value proposition. The thing that differentiates us from the colorful box to the right?
And how do we do it in a way that is credible, and opens the consumer up to the idea of maintaining a relationship with us?
The technologies change – rapidly – but in the end it always comes down to speaking to the customer at the right time, with the right message, about ways we can make his or her life better.
And mobile hasn’t changed that.