Dialing Up The Intimacy

Last column I ruminated about how mobile marketers should have as their goal making connections with their base on phones, not just exposing eyeballs. I really do believe that in some way the phone will embody and empower an important shift in the way we relate to media and brands. Consumer empowerment, user-driven marketing surely have their roots in the interactivity of the Web. But I suspect that it is the phone that will bring a lot of these trends home and really force marketers to deliver on their side of this "relationship" they say they want with consumers.

If marketers want to get into the phone's circle of friends, however, they have to leverage more of that device's intimate functions. Voice is an exceptionally powerful way to communicate personality and create a sense of human connection, but this channel is woefully under-utilized on mobile. I don't understand why we haven't seen more voice alert systems in addition to the many text alerts we see. I am appreciating the occasional alerts I get from a handful of publications and media sources, but I wonder how much more engaging they would be if they came in as voice messages.

I know, I know, who wants to get called a few times a day by a recorded voice. After all, the voice channel is where I get family connections. But if there were an easy way to manage these voice alerts, or we embraced some of the voice SMS technologies floating about out there, then mini-podcasts could essentially call us every day. How much closer would I feel to CNN if its reporters gave me the news in their own voice, even in 15- or 30-second sips?

More than just exploiting the intimacy of phone technology, mobile can also appropriate the aura of friendship and connectedness in the form of unique promotions. Last year, Vodaphone in the U.K. was looking for novel ways of promoting its Live Music service for full track downloads. It created a six-month series of secret concerts by high-profile bands like Franz Ferdinand in small clubs. Vodaphone used MMS to deliver image and video promotions that sampled the music. Every music download from the Live store was an entry into the contest. The winners received a phone message with the concert's secret location in advance, along with a mobile ticket to gain exclusive entry at the door.

The campaign produced 3 million customer interactions and raised music sales 3% over the six-month run. But, more important, it opened some clear creative paths for mobile. This campaign took the form of a secret among friends. The same device on which we gossip, reveal intimacies and share banalities was leveraged appropriately to communicate a secret between a brand and a customer. The campaign treated you like a member of the club, someone embraced within an inner circle. Sure, it is a kind of faux intimacy, but there is a real payoff: possible inclusion in an exclusive concert.

The campaign was inspired on a number of levels. First, it pulled most of the levers mobile now makes available all at once: MMS imaging and video, media sampling, texting, and mobile ticketing. More important, the campaign mimicked the core value this technology represents to most users -- connectedness.

Back in the dot-com heyday, I used to argue that the Internet was a personality-driven platform. Strong views and a strong sense of self communicated well here. The popularity of bylined columns was one clue to this trend early on, but then email publishing, and eventually, blogging, made it clear that personality and voice were important currency here.

The phone goes to the next level, perhaps, and is an intimate medium. Is intimate different from personal? I think so. A personal medium suggests ownership, control, customization. An intimate medium includes the social aspect of the phone, the fact that we are making important or heartfelt connections to the people who matter. How marketers find their way into this intimate channel without seeming intrusive, presumptuous or, worse, fake, could be the main challenge of mobile.

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