Walkie-Talkie Marketing

You know the irritating drill. You are in the food store and the person with the cart in front of you is on the cell phone loudly consulting with someone at home about what to buy. They are narrating ingredients, asking whether little Johnny likes this or that ridiculously over-sugared cereal, or trying to get a recalcitrant teen to go downstairs and check the fridge to see whether they are all out of Velveeta. Ultimately some family scab is pulled and the conversation veers off into an "issue" of obvious gravity to all concerned -- but entirely irrelevant to those of us trying to get to the whipped cream cheese in aisle 18.

Irritating as this new American habit may be, it tells us a lot about how marketers themselves might start talking to consumers -- on the fly, in real time, and in the kind of immediate walkie-talkie fashion that we ourselves now use these phones.

Tools are coming to market that may enable this kind of intimate, real-time discourse on a very local level.

I just set up an SMS system for myself so that anyone who texts in a given keyword to MSGME's 67463 number will get a reply with a phone number and a Web link. It took all of five minutes from start to finish to set up at Waterfall Mobile's ingenious site (www.msgme.com). Not surprisingly, this concept for fully automating a mobile messaging campaign that usually takes months of planning comes from a couple of guys who worked for years at E*Trade. "We looked at the market and asked, why not a self-service, real-time platform that allows media owners to do mobile sales," says cofounder Matt Silk. "Take what E*Trade did for brokerage into mobile marketing sales."

The company has already handled campaigns for New Line Cinema and Vagrant Records. Part of the model also is to partner with agencies and let them resell the service. The main sacrifice a brand has to make here is they must use MSGME's short code rather than a dedicated number. All you need to do is take a unique keyword XXX, and when your marketing target texts it to 67463 they get back your custom program. MSGME has templates for offering coupons and ringtones, anything from a simple message to a poll or an m-commerce offer. The system has a billing back end for letting even the smallest of vendors, garage bands, etc. sell their wares.

There are pretty cool reporting tools in the service's dashboard as well. It lets you track incoming messages across your various keywords, their geographic distribution, time of day, etc. Much like AdMob's excellent self-serve platform, this has a real-time vibe that puts your finger on the pulse of your customers' interactions.

I have no idea whether this particular platform will catch on with marketers or whether the technical implementation is defensible against copycats. I am intrigued, however, by the basic notion of Google-izing mobile marketing, automating the process so that literally anyone can set up a test account and get into the game.

The phone is a personal, immediate and very local device, and yet most of its marketing solutions are complex, take too long to implement and get triggered by national media. Imagine a system where a local shop owner can decide on the fly to offer a Blue Light Special to customers coming in the door. A voice announcement or a stand-up sign can instruct people in the store to send an SMS for the current deals -- and, bang, you've started a relationship. Just about any media outlet could turn an audio snipped into a ringtone on the fly and offer it up to the audience.

While the self-serve piece of this model may be most appealing to marketers wanting to dabble in mobile, I am more interested in the real-time content programming. Even at the lowest level of replying to an SMS query with a simple text response, you can change the messaging daily or hourly. Hell, I could set up a real-time personal SMS status message for myself that my text-happy daughter could check. Well, that would assume that my daughter was ever inclined to check in with me; but, you know, technology is built on utopian dreams.

We spend a lot of time talking about legitimizing mobile by luring the big brands to spend big money here. I have to wonder whether ultimately the biggest promise for mobile marketing could come at the local and highly personal level. If merchants, even national merchants with small storefronts, can reach out to people over their phones as if they were calling them person to person to answer an immediate, situational need or desire, then you would really have a marketing model that maps correctly against the highly intimate ethos of the technology.

And maybe my daughter will call me. If you see her, tell her to text "popeyesm" to 67463, OK?

Tags: mobile
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