Commentary

Why Turn To Mobile In A Down Economy?

With the economy continuing its downward spiral, marketers, brand managers and their agencies are looking for ways to cut budgets for the remainder of 2008 and into 2009.

Some industry pundits have brought to light the fact that technologies such as mobile, virtual worlds and widgets--often referred to as experimental media or emerging advertising technologies--will be hit hard by the downturn.

Looking at mobile in particular, eMarketer reports that U.S. advertisers spent $878 million dollars last year on mobile advertising, and that figure is expected to jump to $1.7 billion in 2008. Although this number is still relatively small compared to online ad spending, which reached $21.1 billion in the U.S. in 2007, it represents a great opportunity for mobile marketing companies that clearly understand the market and best practices associated with this medium.

A recent report from AdMob indicates that mobile ad inventory is not keeping up with demand. Whether this is due to advertisers cutting back on mobile spending, or simply a faster growth rate of mobile publishers with space to sell, is debatable. But what many fail to recognize is that there are some clear differences between mobile advertising and mobile marketing. Mobile ads typically consist of SMS advertising and banners delivered via the mobile Web. While this is a component of mobile marketing, it is not--and should not be--an advertiser's complete mobile strategy.

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Mobile marketing offers an interactive experience for consumers and allows them to interact with a brand or advertiser at their convenience, with urgency and spontaneity. Think of those times when you've seen an ad on TV or a billboard, thinking "I need to remember to go to that Web site or make that phone call," but then you forget once you're back in front of your computer. If there was a mobile call-to-action in those ads, you could have reacted to it instantly because your mobile phone is almost always guaranteed to be within reach.

For example, The National Guard recently launched a nationwide theater advertising campaign featuring "Warrior," a two-and-a-half-minute video spot with music by Kid Rock and an appearance by NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. As part of the campaign, a mobile Internet site was created using 2ergo's Swift mobile marketing platform that allows movie watchers to access and interact with the "Warrior" site on their mobile phones while sitting in the theater.

Warrior appeared for a two-month period before PG-13 and R-rated movies in 3,117 theaters on 27,079 screens nationwide. The mobile portion of the campaign drove thousands of unique visitors to the mobile site and saw more than 9,000 MP3s, 2,600 videos and 600 wallpaper images downloaded.

Some of the key elements that make mobile marketing campaigns successful are:

1. The ubiquitous nature of the cell phone. There are more than four times as many mobile phones sold as PCs, and more than 80% of the U.S. population owns one.

2. Mobile programs can be easily tied into an overall media plan and integrated alongside traditional media to make existing campaigns more effective.

3. Customer response is typically instantaneous, since many people always carry mobile phones with them.

4. The direct-response element of mobile campaigns is trackable, contrary to some reports.

As many marketers will need to defend their advertising spend, smart marketing teams will likely move away from generic branding campaigns toward trackable, direct-response channels--one of which is mobile. Mobile marketing campaigns have better success when leveraged as lead-generation and customer acquisition tools rather than a transactional sales channel.

Some key examples include campaigns from Scripps Networks and Chevrolet. Scripps Networks' HGTV added a mobile voting component to its popular Design Star reality show and included an advertiser's message on the bottom of each SMS vote reply. Seven percent of voters who received the sponsored text message requested more information from that sponsor--an excellent response rate for any medium. In the Chevrolet example, the car company created a custom mobile microsite to support its mobile ads on the Yahoo mobile portal that prompted consumers to download branded wallpapers and request a test drive. In the short campaign window, hundreds of customers expressed an interest in a test drive and submitted their contact information.

With more than 80% mobile phone penetration in the U.S. alone, brand marketers are finally beginning to recognize the true value that this so-called "experimental" medium delivers.

Some key things to keep in mind as you move forward in the development of a mobile campaign:

• Combine the program with other media channels. Use television, print, direct mail, online and/or other media to prompt consumers to take action through their mobile phones. Whether you include an SMS keyword or a mobile URL, make sure that mobile elements are included in your traditional media channels to extend reach and allow instant interaction.

• Make it simple and focus on the consumer experience. Mobile users expect instant gratification, and do not want to jump through hoops to get the information they need. Complicated processes, improperly formatted mobile sites and other roadblocks will frustrate consumers who will ultimately abandon the experience altogether, driving down response rates and ROI. Simplicity and utility are important things to keep in mind.

• Offer an incentive or benefit for the consumer. Give them a reason to text for more information or log on to your mobile Web site. The best call-to-action includes an incentive or promise of relevant and timely information.

In summary, mobile marketing is so much more than just banner ads and text messages, and it should not be the first thing to get cut in a tough economy. While some companies call mobile "experimental," smart marketers are integrating mobile components within campaigns to extend their reach and increase efficacy.

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