Commentary

Tackling The Real Problems

The courageous woman who escaped oppressive China to revolutionize 3D printing for the good of mankind and the surfer-looking gentleman who runs Not Impossible Labs and puts arms on children’s war-torn bodies are the ones who are changing the world.

What about the rest of us, who attended this week’s CEO/CMO Summit put on by the Mobile Marketing Association?

We’re tackling “problems” such as scale, attribution, privacy and the marketing spend mix.

Talk about a reality check.

Sure, what we’re doing is important. Billions, eventually trillions, of dollars hang in the balance. As marketers, we need to get this mobile thing right.

But we are not Ping Fu, who co-founded Geomagic, a revolutionary 3D software company. Ping knows a level of resilience that is off the charts. Nor are we Mick Ebeling, who won’t leave a room until a seemingly insurmountable challenge is solved — like creating affordable and nearly instant prosthetics for kids.

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The talks by Ping and Ebeling hushed a room of more than 200 marketers, publishers and others. Their stories are etched in our minds.

Around them, we batted around ways to get “closer to the consumer” via mobile.

Here’s some of what I found interesting:

*My belief going into the conference is that we’re in the first inning of one-to-one marketing. At best, we are doing one-to-a-list of opt-ins. Same offer to everyone. But what if I don’t like meatball sandwiches and realize that you don’t know or care about me if you send me deals on those.

Where personal got off the track at the event in Hilton Head is when xAd showed a new tool that can tell marketers when a mobile user is at the dentist. The idea is to be able to send a toothpaste ad at the right time and place. Even the more hardened marketers in the room were taken aback by the perceived invasion of privacy.

*On a similar note, we lamented the lack of cookies in mobile. Cameron Clayton of The Weather Company (formerly The Weather Channel) said that location is “like a mobile cookie.”.But he admitted that many consumers appreciate the absence of cookies and don’t believe that giving up one’s location to get local weather gives license to advertisers. The company gets thousands of complaints a day from those offended by ads tied to location.

*The MMA opened the conference by teasing the notion that a 16% share of marketing spend for mobile could bring companies like Coca-Cola an additional $1 billion in market cap. Most brands spend in the single digits and have yet to be convinced that more is justified.

*Addressing questions about the ROI on mobile, Andrew Flack, Hilton Worldwide’s vice president - product marketing and customer insights, said that just as Hilton knewwhen it was time to put TVs and air conditioning in rooms, it knows that “now is the time for mobile.” Flack’s advice? “Be prepared to not be perfect. In a year, three or four things will work. One will be OK. One will be a learning.”

*Contrary to what you might expect, there was extensive talk about success through text messaging (Perry Ellis and Cosi were the most vocal) and nary a mention of beacons.

*Long considered a hot sector, it was brought up investment banker Tim Kawaja of Luma Partners that only seven of the last 110 mobile acquisitions were deals of  $100 million or more: “It has been a horrific investment category — a disaster.” Kawaja brought frowns to the mobile ad crowd in the audience by saying that marketing and content, not advertising on the small screen, is what’s meaningful.

Despite Kawaja’s words — it’s not the first time that many of us have heard sobering comments from a banker — no one left the event feeling defeated. Ping and Ebeling equipped us with lessons that while nothing is easy, anything is possible.

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