The Pre-Legitimate Life Of Mobile Marketing

There is a familiar term in venture capital circles, "pre-revenue," which  designates potential ventures where revenue streams do not yet exist or value is still debatable. I found this term floating through my head this weekend while attending a conference on mobile marketing, an emerging market now truly coming into its own among media professionals.

As we  have learned, media is always emerging -- making the designation almost superfluous now. There's a pattern to the way we talk about any given "emerging" medium as it progresses and then reaches maturity. Most of us would agree that, to no longer be considered emerging, said medium should probably

-    Bear available, significant trend data.
-    Sit on a framework of bona fide standards.
-    Rely on a common language or lexicon.
-    Have taken its place in the go-to channel mix.
-    Have been monetized, with its value exchanges and flows of currency between all parties, including the consumer,  understood.

There comes a time in the life of any previously so-called emerging medium when media professionals, discussing it at conferences or in the trade press, inevitably make the  proclamation: "This [insert given medium] has become a legitimate marketing channel!"

What I find interesting about this whole legitimacy proclamation is that so much happens before a medium gets legit, as I mentioned above. A lot of good goes on during what we might call "pre-legitimacy." Among savvy marketers and adventurers, the pre-legitimacy period is anything but idle. That's when people with a penchant for moving first are figuring out their competitive position within the medium,  innovating, testing and learning, and determining whether that particular medium suits their targeting and other parameters.

The new medium may well become an industry in its own right --  with trade associations, thought leadership and a galaxy of players -- well before it's publicly pronounced "legitimate" and broadly certified. While the world is wondering whether a particular market will ever become legit, first movers are making it so. This is definitely true with mobile.

And, while a market like mobile is maturing right at our fingertips, consumers are acclimating and devices are getting more and more intelligent. This means that consumers come to expect more out of innovators. If you're a brand, they expect you to be there, and they're less forgiving of poor execution. You've got to get it right.

 Zealots speak about mobile in a dramatic way to rally market attention: it's "transformative" and will be "disruptive," changing the way that consumer do business  forever. Still, achieving real maturity doesn't have to be all that dramatic: data, standards, language, channel status, and monetization. Check, check and check. I think we're there.

No longer projecting a coming year of  mobile, advocates of this marketing channel will tell you that 2009 actually was finally the year. "Mobile is a legitimate marketing channel!" Need proof?

-    Cost-per-lead figures were exponentially better over Web-based programs for many marketers -- including  categories of purchase that usually bear a longer consideration cycle.
-    First-time mobile budgets started at six figures. Just ask the agencies handling them.
-    More marketers took 360, cross-channel approaches, aggressively integrating mobile, as seen in example after example of integrated  TV, print, Web and mobile programs.
-    Mobile commerce became a reality, thanks to an infrastructure that now can handle  sophisticated use of creative assets to make it happen.

And, all this happened while the larger market was pondering legitimacy. In a pre-legitimate sphere, the progress to maturity has been real. And, with the data, standards, infrastructure and monetization present and accounted for, the forerunners who made it so -- and for whom we are quite thankful -- are already onto the next generation.

Debating the legitimacy of something that so clearly already has legs is not a great use of time. But that's the beauty of pioneering; you don't typically wait around for a market to tell you that you're legitimate. You just go.



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