Projections of mobile ad spending are hard to come by, but author Ira Brodsky and co. say that U.S. revenues stand at about $100 million for this year and will grow 250% next year, to finally crack $1 billion in 2010. Worldwide mobile ad sales will be $4.4 billion by then, with both Asian and European markets still ahead of the fast-growing U.S.
But he wisely warns that advertising is simply one piece of this very promising market. We should not let the novelty and sexiness of explicit appeals on phones obscure the many other more subtle ways marketers should explore mobility. Brodsky writes, "Mobile phone-based customer relationships can be leveraged to increase sales, shorten the sales cycle, reduce customer churn, enhance customer satisfaction, facilitate peer-to-peer recommendations, and construct feedback loops that can be used to develop new products, improve existing products, and boost customer service."
Even short-form mobile advertising (i.e. pre-rolls) interrupt already-tiny media experiences and could be less valuable in the end than offering up a link users can tap when they like. Engaging the user with value, and starting an ongoing conversation, could be a better use of the mobile space than plopping clever pre- and post-rolls into streams.
For openers, merchants may want to focus on a specific phase of their marketing cycle to test first on mobile: pre-sale (via advertising and promotions); sales (catalogs, billing); or post-sales (product tips and loyalty programs). I have seen much more energy around the first phase of marketing, advertising, than I have the other two. Arguably, mobile could be a much more powerful CRM tool than an ad vehicle. Once a brand gets permission to address a customer by mobile phone it has an opportunity/obligation to add real value to the relationship.
There are only so many brands a user can tolerate online--let alone on a phone. Brodsky suggests that the competition for mindshare and mobile brand loyalty could be won or lost early in the game. For certain categories like news providers or travel providers, the company that extends itself first and best on mobile will help pre-empt the competition on a platform where users may not extend their Web behaviors. Online we dance among multiple brands to assemble our own media and e-commerce experiences, but that is impractical on a handset. This may be the place where a merchant or media provider could establish a unique beachhead on our consciousness that could then inform our online loyalties. For some brands, mobile may be less of an opportunity and more of a necessity: what you might lose by not being there in time for your customers.
Brodsky has a good point, and there may be something to the way in which brands like the Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, Reuters, Elle, and NYTimes.com brands are just pouring themselves onto WAP. None of their mobile products leaves a strong brand impression in my mind yet, because each feels like a placeholder for something more mobile-centric to come.
I have tried only a few cross-platform applications that actually make a case for their brand. Bravo's "Project Runway" WAP production was quite rich in its offerings, and it had a number of ways to nail down viewer loyalty. The USAToday mobile Sudoko game was actually one of the best extensions of a newspaper brand I have seen. It not only offered the puzzle in a handsome interactive format but even gave you access to weeks of previous puzzles and other bits and pieces of fun for Sudoko addicts. It communicated to users that USAToday takes the format seriously and understands what users want and need to execute their daily puzzle fix well.
But hands down the best CRM I have seen yet is from eBay. I continue to be floored by how deft its mobile application is in recreating for a handset the essentials of the selling and bidding experience. It produces search results for items that let you opt into product images, save previous queries, and coordinate with your personalized online eBay account. It is truly a fully realized eBay experience that does not try to over-deliver and is seamlessly connected to the Web experience. EBay Mobile is perfectly tuned to what a mobile auction fan wants and needs from a remote device. It makes it possible to bid more, order more and sell more on the system. EBay has leveraged mobile to effectively address all phases of its marketing cycle (pre-sell, sales, post-sales) in a way that doesn't just extend a brand, but truly enhances it. Not to sound maudlin or overstate their simple pleasures, as a user I have some kind of affection and appreciation for both USAToday and eBay because their mobile extensions anticipate so well what I would want a mobile version of their product to do. They have enhanced their brands in my mind, and that can only encourage me to use them more.
If we extrapolate from Brodsky's good reminder that marketers need to embrace the Full Monty of marketing touch points via mobile, then we also come to another interesting point. The personal nature of the mobile phone offers marketers a unique opportunity to weave their way into a user's life and consciousness. Way beyond advertising, there are subtler ways to make a brand feel more than welcome, more than valued, but actually indispensable.