If done artfully and well, mobile media and technology is capable of reversing a century-old model of selling -- where salespeople went to people's homes or waited for interested consumers to come to them. In some ways, mobile replaces the traveling and in-store salesmen with the newer (albeit slightly creepy) model of the "following salesman."
To wit, one of the more interesting new mobile marketing companies is LocalResponse, a "social advertising" model that aggregates publicly posted check-ins and messages regarding locations and retailers to identify people who are in a specific venue.
Mobile media veteran Nihal Mehta is the company's CEO and co-founder and was on a panel at this week's OMMA AdNets in Los Angeles. He said that on a monthly basis, LocalResponse is already processing over 1 billion public postings by consumers that contain locations or references to brands and places. LocalResponse scours postings from Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Flickr, Instagram and many more to understand who is where.
What does the company do with that knowledge? On behalf of a brand marketer, it can send that user a real-time message and offer. For an energy drink, for instance, when a user checks in at a chain of fitness centers, the fitness center chain can send a tweet directly to the user with an offer to discount the drink.
The system has been up and running for several months and the first case studies are in. For an auto manufacturer, LocalResponse found postings made to locations around places where the brand was hosting some events. The idea was interception: co-opt people checking in at competitors' locations and events, and push those users via direct Twitter messages to the auto maker's own local events or to the brand's mobile Web site. According to LocalResponse, the messaging resulted in a 22% click-through rate and a 10% increase in Twitter followers for the brand over the three-day campaign.
For a CPG manufacturer, LocalResponse sniffed out brand enthusiasts and those checking in at grocery stores. The campaign sent recipes and coupon offers to the targets and saw a 15% CTR on the direct message to users via Twitter and then got a 60% coupon redemption rate.
The potential here is for the seller to follow the user who is engaging in public social conversation already. Arguably, leveraging location postings in this way blunts the creepiness we might associate with anonymous offers that somehow know where you are at any given moment. The consumer is broadcasting sentiment about a brand or his location, so he or she can't be too shocked if a brand marketer with a relevant offer responds instead of a friend.
LocalResponse's case studies show encouraging early results of a genuinely novel way of tracking and directly addressing marketing offers in response to a consumer's movement behaviors. On one hand, this is an example of the kind of one-to-one marketing that mobile makes available. It might be hyper-targeted and granular but the ROI comes from fairly high responses to incredibly relevant offers.
Does it scale? Mehta tells me that the 1 billion posts LocalResponse is finding represents a reach of over 100 million potentially.
Finding a way to leverage movement behaviors via mobile without alienating consumers is going to be one of the great "oppor-challenges" of the mobilized era. Cracking the code has an amazing upside, however. For a decade, behavioral targeting segmented audience according to who was "in-market" to buy. Mobile adds the more immediate layer of finding people who are "in place" to buy.
Just as the traveling salesman had to perfect a tone, mood, pitch that got his foot into your door or caught your attention and trust on a busy street, so, too, the "following salesman" will need to be a very different voice and persona.