Wireless b-to-b ads still not finding connection

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The use of mobile devices for marketing applications has long been touted as an exciting new frontier for marketers, giving them a chance to reach an increasingly mobile audience of customers and prospects.

However, while some marketers are using mobile devices such as Internet-enabled cell phones and handheld personal digital assistants for advertising, the bulk of the mobile business on the b-to-b side is still limited to sales force automation and marketing support functions, according to industry reports.

With the rapid adoption of Internet-enabled cell phones in the U.S.—129 million at the beginning of this year, according to Darien, Conn.-based Jupitermedia Corp.—wireless advertising has been viewed as a potentially lucrative subset of the mobile market. Marketers have envisioned a day when they’d be able to send offers and product information to busy executives on the go, and advertise on mobile devices as remote users surf the Internet.

But that day has been slow to arrive. According to an August report from Strategy Analytics, mobile advertising will reach $1 billion by 2007, a figure achieved by the Internet advertising industry in 1999. By 2007, wireless marketing will still make up less than 1% of total cellular service revenues, according to Strategy Analytics. The major obstacle, the report found, is getting users to opt in to wireless marketing.

While U.S. marketers struggle to find mobile marketing models that work, marketers in other regions such as Europe and Asia are making strides with newer technologies, including 3G, a next-generation wireless network that allows high-speed delivery of graphics, audio and even video.

Last month, Sprint Corp., became the first major wireless carrier in the U.S. to introduce 3G technology with the nationwide launch of PCS Vision, a network that will let customers receive pictures, check e-mail, play games and browse the Internet wirelessly with their cell phones.

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Sprint PCS Vision will launch without advertising, said Dan Wilinsky, a Sprint spokesman. He said the company is, however, exploring advertising opportunities for the new service. "If we did, it would be opt-in," he said.

When it comes to wireless advertising on the b-to-b side, "We’re still seeing relatively little," said Dylan Brooks, senior wireless analyst at Jupitermedia.

He pointed to obstacles such as closed systems for corporate wireless deployments, limited screen size and lack of standards on the devices, and the prohibitive cost of downloading data, particularly graphics.

According to a February report from Jupitermedia, more than two-thirds of U.S. companies said they had rolled out some form of mobile applications.

The key applications for wireless on the b-to-b side are field force automation and remote e-mail, Brooks said.

Mobile device manufacturers and application providers agree that marketing support, rather than advertising, continues to dominate applications in b-to-b.

"Mobile marketing is falling into one of two areas—sales force automation or consumer advertising," said Ojas Rege, VP-applications at AvantGo Inc., a developer of mobile enterprise software that runs on Palm OS devices, Microsoft Pocket PCs and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry wireless handheld devices.

In March, AvantGo launched AvantGo Mobile Pharma, a mobile application that enables pharmaceutical sales reps to access corporate data, clinical trial data and other information to help them sell to physicians and hospitals.

Palm Inc. is advancing into the wireless market, in addition to providing mobile devices that can connect to corporate data through beaming at short range or syncing to an office network.

In July, Palm signed a deal with IBM Corp. to provide wireless access to enterprise data through IBM’s WebSphere Everyplace Access.

In January, Palm introduced the i705, a handheld product that provides secure wireless access to corporate e-mail and Web browsing.

Michael Buhr, senior director of enterprise marketing at Palm, said that for business customers, "Advertising on handhelds is still a nascent industry."

The real marketing opportunity for mobile devices, he said, is providing access to data, whether linking sales reps to corporate data, or providing businesses an opportunity to send information to their customers and prospects.

For example, under agreements with major airlines, Palm can deliver travel information to users on the i705.

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