Lost in all the industry hype and hand-wringing surrounding the mobile Web versus apps, the iPhone versus Android and whether Microsoft will make a comeback with Windows Phone 7 is the most critical factor in mobile marketing: the consumer.
This was the message that Eric Bader, chief strategy officer at Initiative, delivered Thursday to kick off MediaPost's Mobile Summit conference in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Driving home the point that simply focusing on the latest hot device can be perilous, he showed a series of slides featuring much-touted products that turned out to be duds, from the Apple Newton to the Segway to -- more recently -- Microsoft's Kin phones.
To keep from getting caught up in the fixation on mobile gear, he advised audience members to focus on creativity, consumer insights and traditional marketing methods. "My proposition is that mobile is about consumers who are mobile, not phones," he said.
To that end, marketers and agencies should focus on delivering messages that reflect the context of where and when people use mobile devices to drive actions. Bader added that too much mobile advertising today is designed to build brand awareness rather than encouraging users to make a purchase or other action depending on whether they are at the gym, in a store, commuting or on a business trip.
That's partly because agencies are not yet doing a good enough job of tapping into all parts of the mobile ecosystem. He conceded that his own agency, Initiative, is fulfilling only about a third of that ecosystem -- the media portion -- while falling short in developing the merchandising and in providing customer value through things like promotions or loyalty programs.
"One of the biggest drivers for our agency is to make sure we can fulfill more of that ecosystem than we do today. We're short-sighted; we're behind," he said. But Bader also acknowledged that pulling dollars out of digital budgets for mobile campaigns is extremely challenging because digital itself still only makes up 5% to 8% of media spending.
"Chasing digital dollars for mobile is nuts," he said. "Media planners and buyers are already dying because they don't have enough to fulfill campaign goals in display, search or social."
Instead, those who champion mobile have to look to more established but vulnerable channels like print, email and direct marketing to steal away budget by outperforming them. "Earn dollars from underperforming media," he advised. "Be prescriptive and position yourself as a solution, not just a media provider."
When asked during the Q&A session about replacing a database of millions of email addresses with a much smaller mobile customer list, Bader said it wasn't simply a matter of "rip and replace." "You can't just rip people out of a direct marketing database and put it into mobile," he said.
But brands should look at whether they can deliver more value to consumers via contextually targeted messages via mobile on social media than a piece of direct mail.