In the nascent field of mobile-phone marketing, most of the early experiments have come from consumer marketers like Pepsi and Visa. But software giant Microsoft recently proved that mobile phones, iPhones and BlackBerrys can bring tremendous payoff in business-to-business campaigns, with exponentially higher engagement rates than online alone.
Although mobile advertising has traditionally been general consumer focused, the business consumer is an obvious target because they've been using smartphones longer than any other group. In 2008, Microsoft fired off a series of mobile campaigns to reach executives and technical professionals with information about three different Microsoft products for the business market. Most of the messaging centered on driving awareness and leads and using the mobile medium to move potential buyers further along the purchase funnel. Some were stand-alone campaigns and some ran in tandem with larger buys.
The results speak for themselves: Microsoft generated click-through rates on mobile phones as high as nine times the rates online. Microsoft targeted and tailored the campaigns for specific business goals, tweaking the marketing in real time. The company's work in the mobile field underscores some best practices for the medium that other advertisers can adopt as they explore business-to-business opportunities with mobile ads.
"We are a $60 billion company who does the majority of its business through B-to-B channels," says John Cosley, Microsoft's digital marketing lead. "We are finding ways to reach out to audiences that are uncluttered, where we can reach them at the right time with the right method, and mobile is one of them."
By all indications, mobile is poised to grow quickly as an ad vehicle. Because it's an uncluttered medium, it's an attractive bet for marketers eager to reach buyers in new ways. For now, marketers don't face much competition in the mobile medium. Then there's that oft-cited benefit of mobile: People have their cell phones with them a majority of their waking hours.
"Mobile is an emerging medium starting to become mainstream, and it can be used for different consumer segments," says Niles Lichtenstein, director of strategy and integration at Ansible, the mobile division of advertising holding company ipg. "Mobile is also opt-in marketing, so you have someone's full and undivided attention for a short period of time."
Sell On Wheels
To explore the impact of mobile marketing, Microsoft, with its agencies McCann Worldgroup and Ansible, developed a series of campaigns for its Dynamics CRM Online, SharePoint server and SQL server.
More than 15 million executives, IT professionals and business decision-makers use their phones for email, Internet, downloads and video, among other tools, Cosley says. That kind of fluency in the bells and whistles of today's smartphones makes the business audience a good fit with a mobile campaign.
For the CRM product, Microsoft hyper-targeted the ads during commuting hours and by the type of cell phone a user had. "We wanted to target business decision-makers and technical decision-makers on their CRM software decision, and it was about getting them at opportune times to sign up for more information," Lichtenstein says. "The goal was to engage them and get them to know Microsoft has this CRM software, and sign up for a trial and learn more about our case studies."
For their campaign, the creative was able to self-correct for different devices - important in a medium in which there are many competing and incompatible platforms: "If anyone accessed the Web site with a mobile-enabled phone, we send the right campaign to them based on the phone they have," Lichtenstein says.
The name of the game in this case was email registrations. The creative needed to be designed with simple and minimal content to reach the goal of collecting the most addresses. Microsoft repurposed some existing online assets to reduce the cost of the creative for the mobile campaign. The upshot was a campaign that delivered the astounding nine times increase in click-through rates compared to the Web that we mentioned before.
With the SharePoint campaign, Microsoft wanted to test whether uniquely developed audio and video assets would drive leads from mobile devices. Microsoft worked with Mike Gannotti, a blogger and Microsoft employee whose shtick is to blog about SharePoint from his car. The campaign featured videos of Gannotti driving and chatting about the product.
In addition, the campaign included targeted keyword searches on mobile devices. For example, if a mobile-phone user entered certain keywords on the sites of CNET or TechCrunch, they could be served an ad for Microsoft's SharePoint server. Registrations for the campaign rose four times compared to online campaigns.
There were surprises with the campaign, too. Microsoft opted to request more rather than less data on the mobile-phone forms, but nearly all consumers still filled out the fields, says Nick Hayes, account director at McCann. "It was great learning that if the content is compelling enough and the value proportion strong enough, people will overcome the barrier," Hayes says.
For its final mobile campaign, Microsoft offered case studies on the sql server product that consumers could request through mobile sites. "We want to get people into the sales pipeline, and the first taste is simple awareness of the product to make sure they know what it was," Hayes says.
Microsoft saw a three-times increase in requests for the case studies from a mobile call-to-action in the print ads.
To succeed in mobile marketing, an advertiser must know its audience, Cosley says. "Who are you trying to target? What are their usage habits? It's different than online so you need to build a campaign to target appropriately."