MMA's New Boss: The Next Steps

As the Mobile Marketing Association announced yesterday, its long search to replace outgoing President/CEO Laura Marriott ends with the appointment of former Nuance Communications Vice President Mike Wehrs. Wehrs steps into an organization that is growing rapidly in domestic membership and overseas expansion. He was good enough to spend some phone time with me last week to discuss the priorities for him and the MMA in the next year. One major change he mentioned is the relocation of the group's main office from Colorado to Manhattan, which brings the MMA into the heart of media and agency worlds. Now, what will it take to bring mobile into the heart of their media plans?

Q: One of the things Laura had been doing in the last year was expanding the MMA internationally. What is the state of your reach now and immediate plans for expansion?

Mike Wehrs: Latin American is up and running right now. That has been a very significant improvement in our footprint and reach. Going forward, there's a focus on local chapters that I think is critical to us because we can't have an infinite number of boards of directors. You need to start to get into local community. In a regional footprint in some areas we may not be hitting every one of the countries. Putting a local chapter in each of the countries where it is relevant is a way of expanding, so I expect to see that happen in Asia and Latin America this year.

Q: How has the composition of membership evolved in the last year or so? Do the rolls suggest an evolution of interest in mobile?

Wehrs: We are starting to see growth in the number of consultants and content companies who are expressing interest. There are a number of case studies that have been done that show the return on investment [of mobile], once you get over the initial cost component and logistical challenges... are still very good. Mobile banking is another example where we are seeing some of the banks coming to us and asking what can be done for their set of applications. Financial institutions in general are mobilizing.

Q: In the next year, what do you anticipate as the biggest challenge for mobile marketing as a field? Is it the immediate economic downturn?

Wehr: The mobile channel has some benefits that tend to transcend the economy in many ways, but not all. The conversion rate is much higher in the mobile channel than it is when marketed to other channels. That remains attractive regardless of the economy. What doesn't remain attractive is the friction component, how much manpower, how much technical work and cost are going to be involved in deploying a campaign in the mobile networks to be able to capitalize on that better rate of return. That is generally the area of focus with the MMA now -- the reduction in that friction component. So clearly [we are] identifying the areas that are the inhibitors to mass adoption in mass use of mobile marketing channels and doing something about it.

Q: Even after solutions are found to longstanding complaints about digital and media and mobile, it takes a long time to get the reservations out of the pipeline. What can the MMA do to alleviate the logistical friction but also communicate to the marketing community that solutions are there?

Wehrs: Let's use [the MMA's] 'Consumer Best Practices' as a historical example -- coming out with an agreed-upon set of rules that the carriers are going to live by, that the content guys will provision, and that the marketers are going to use as the benchmarking components of how you do certain things and not do other things. That reduced a significant amount of friction in the contract negotiations. Now you don't design anything you want, and the lawyers have to review every single copy. I can say that I adhere to 'Consumer Best Practices' and you generally get things through much more quickly.

Going forward, you can look at content rendering. How many different versions of a particular piece of content are required to get ubiquitous coverage of a campaign? That is a very big problem. We are not a standards organization per se, so we won't solve it with technical standards you need to adhere to. However, we certainly can come up with some guidelines in collaboration with the standards groups that should be working on some of these things. We can help their specification process to get it all kick-started and get it down to a manageable number of formats that align with how the advertisers produce materials that actually have to go out to these networks.

Q: Mobile metrics continues to be the source of persistent complaints. Will there be any work on this?

Wehrs: Yes. Metrics is an area that the industry has not done a particularly good job on. I would say that MMA in bandwidth has not put the necessary resources against working that problem. We definitely are looking at that. I have looked at some early plans from our committee group, and they have some things I consider thought leadership. I am reviewing those and will probably be discussing them by the end of the first quarter in terms of what kind of metrics we can help with. We are in a unique position to help solve this problem.

Q: Your organization is unique in the digital media space, since members like the carriers have a special power to enforce guidelines in ways the online ISPs or portals never had. Do you think this collaboration will continue even as the carriers open up to the mobile Web?

Wehr: Yes, I do, because they are starting to see through their own actions that the collaboration among industries is also necessary. This isn't just a carrier issue. There's a content issue, a provisioning issue, a billing and metrics issue. There's the IT component, because you do want to blend online with mobile at times. Some, of the larger companies are saying we have to work in this collaborative fashion. The MMA has done collaborations with some industry associations, but that is a significant background I bring to it. How do you work between the different constituencies and set up relationships with other trade associations so there is more of a collaborative approach instead of crashing into each other in a market approach?

Q: And getting outside of their own silo. How does the mobile marketing world stop just talking to itself about itself and get in front of the larger media buying community and at the agency level?

Wehrs: There is s a significant opportunity for measuring the ad shift in ad dollars spent. And that is what attracts most of the ad companies to want to participate here. There is opportunity, once we figure out how to do this at a scalable way, and is that going to just represent a share shift from one type of distribution channel to another or is that a net increase they will see in terms of ad dollars spent? They don't want to give up on what they are doing in other channels. And that is an interesting discussion.

At the MMA the important point is you have to unlock it first. You have to get to the point where your Adidases and Coca-Colas and other major brand advertisers view the mobile channel and say, I understand how to use this. I can do this cost-effectively. And I can get to market in a very scalable way from a global perspective. I understand the metrics and the return I am going to get on it.

The pieces that are in place that make them feel comfortable spending those kinds of dollars in television or radio -- when those pieces are in place in the mobile marketplace, then they will of course shift a significant amount of dollars there. Whether it is net or a gross increase, that is an interesting topic and I would love to be in a position where we are talking about that.

1 comment about "MMA's New Boss: The Next Steps ".
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  1. Susan Marshall from ExactTarget, January 13, 2009 at 1:15 p.m.

    RE: Mobile metrics continues to be the source of persistent complaints. Will there be any work on this?

    At ChaCha, we are seeing amazing engagement and click throughs on our text-based mobile ads. Clients have been happy. But what we really need is an industry sponsored study that shows metrics across all media types and how mobile can drive direct response and conversions when integrated into the overall media mix.

    It was good to hear that Wehrs is looking at some early plans from their committee group on this.. it would be interesting to know what those are.

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