I'm With the Band

For years now, mobile marketing executives have been telling me that clients always come to them asking to "get into mobile" without really knowing why. Portraying themselves as heroes saving befuddled, unhip brands still dusty with Stone Age media ash, the narrative plays out the same way every time. The mobile-wise guru helps these Neanderthals determine their real "marketing goals," and implement "innovative solutions" that "leverage the unique properties of mobile." Within weeks they have taken Trog the hairy-toed brand manager from his "Gotta get me some of that mobile stuff" ignorance into hip young text-to-win campaigns that place him on the bleeding edge of tomorrow.

In other words, they lead the client from one set of broad clichés into a much narrower and tightly focused set of, well, marketing clichés. Or at least so they say, because I'll be damned if I see a ton of these "innovative solutions" out there bravely reimagining the mobile terrain.

While I know there is now some real talent from online and traditional marketing flowing into the mobile world, let's face it, this is still a tech industry growing up to be a media entity. Like the carriers around which the mobile marketing eco-system is evolving, the core competency has been in making the damn technology work and then making it relatively accessible to marketers who might want to use it. It is understandable at this early stage that we have few marketing boutiques that specialize in particular marketing verticals or that have a special understanding of a particular market. Those companies are only now emerging for the Web. In new media, the tendency is to come up with generic technology solutions that evolve over time into more granular marketing products that can serve specific needs.

So it was refreshing and interesting to speak with Teddy Goldstein, founder of mobile music club provider Broadtexter. Teddy is first a traveling musician and a veteran of the music industry, and second a mobile marketer. His small company came at it backwards. It started with a perceived, specific need in the market, a mobile channel for small bands to communicate with their fans, and then built around that need a simple, straightforward solution that was customized to the frustrations of that niche.

Goldstein says he saw a lot of small, local bands presuming that creating a mobile club was too complex and costly or required partnering with an established SMS provider. "Musicians don't spend money on anything," he says. "It is a tough audience to make money off of. They need gas in the car but not much beyond that." And so Broadtexter lets bands create mobile clubs via widgets on their respective MySpace pages or Web sites for free. Bands can broadcast announcements for upcoming gigs, or same-day reminders of a show, notices of new songs available online, etc. Instead of a common short code, the company uses the email-to-SMS gateway available free from most carriers, so his cost is nil as the company plays around with different ways of monetizing the traffic.

I have already seen a number of similar solutions for small bands. And as someone who gets his ass handed to him regularly by his daughter in "Guitar Hero" ("Dad, you know the buttons are color-coded, don't you?"), I ca not speak to how well any of these products serve their market. But what interests me about Teddy is the way his experience with bands, road life and the music industry informed the specific shape of Broadtexter. The business started with garage bands and regional touring bands, and their MySpace widgets helped other groups discover the service.

But then Teddy started hearing from other, bigger acts in the music industry that had a similar set of laments. "They already had a mobile campaign but they didn't know how to use it," he recalls hearing again and again. Someone at the label was supposed to be handling this part of the business -- but no one knew where all those aggregated phone numbers were. "Music labels are so fractured and hands-off," he says. "They are giving some huge fee to run a campaign but it's not really working and no one is checking up." Broadtexter emailed managers and directed them to the self-serve interface, and they started doing an end run around labels that supposedly already had mobile programs.

There are a lot of do-it-yourself text messaging companies out there, and in many respects, Broadtexter is a lot like them. And I am sure there are many more sophisticated marketing firms that can deliver a range of back-end metrics, elaborate messaging reply trees, etc. But the question becomes whether someone in the group's organization is making use of the tools.

What interests me most here is how a very simple and straightforward feature set evolves out of direct experience with a specific business. For instance, a priority for the product was making the widget highly customizable in color and messaging so it didn't stick out like a commercial sore thumb on a band's MySpace page. Not looking like someone else's marketing tool is important to a band.

Knowing the basic frustrations of musicians on the road lets Teddy and co. focus on the two or three features that will matter to traveling musicians. Creating set-and-forget pre-scheduled alerts recognizes how managers work, how they are indisposed and preoccupied during a tour and need to do certain things in advance. Making it easy to contact a fan base by region was another key feature, because Teddy recalled trying to navigate the limitations of his own email database. "I would have wanted to send a quick update to my fans, but fans were missing my show because my email list wasn't regionalized, and I didn't want to bombard the whole country for one show."

Whether a Broadtexter or other targeted solutions have the ability to monetize properly or achieve necessary scale to make a business of it all is another question. Regardless, I suspect that Teddy found a soft underbelly to the mobile marketing world right now. There are a lot of generic self-serve technologies out there that look like just that, technologies. They are daunting and make it hard for small business owners to imagine how it might work best for them. They need simplicity, templates or just a couple of core features on which to focus their imagination. Having an elaborate feature set is not much use if it is too daunting for a client to imagine how best to use it, or it requires the persistent management of a third party that a manager or a label may or may not remember to contact. Sometimes more limited products that are simple and targeted are the ones that may actually get used.

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