Digital Marketing Guide: Mobile

Thanks to Newer Smartphones, You Can Erase the Line Between 'Online Marketing' and 'Mobile Marketing'

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I haven't been doing any mobile marketing so far. How hard will it be to catch up?
The mobile landscape is at a tipping point right now, switching from a very old approach to an edgy new one. The difference between newer smartphones vs. feature (or non-smart) phones, or even older smartphones, is dramatic. Consumer behavior is transitioning from mostly using the phone for voice and text communication to using it as a secondary or even primary computing device. For this subset of wireless subscribers, their pocket-size computer is used for browsing the web, watching videos, reading e-mails, listening to personalized radio stations, downloading eBooks -- heck, even filing taxes.

Just as the behaviors on the devices are vastly different, the marketing tactics and strategies are night and day between feature phones and newer smartphones. Where promotions and light engagement were the status quo for older phones, the cutting edge is all about features and utility. In most cases, these consumers care most about how useful it will be to engage, rather than just how entertaining.

This shift has created an ideal opportunity for marketers that have barely dabbled in mobile so far to jump in and lead the pack. It's a whole new ballgame, and while the old one was able to score a few home runs, this new game has the potential to erase the barriers between the terms "online marketing" and "mobile marketing."

How urgent is it for me to start?
To put this question in perspective, know that more than 60% of U.S. wireless subscribers have a phone that's under 12 months old. Because of how the carriers subsidize handsets and lock users into contracts, consumers are able to buy an iPhone 3G for under $100 today, and will then be encouraged to get a new phone in two years. This accelerates technology adoption faster than any other tech segment today.

Behavior changes are matching the technology changes. With a feature phone, about 15% of consumers would browse the web. With an iPhone or Android device, it's over 80%. While an impressive jump, these numbers only tell part of the story. The truly amazing stats are the degree to which the devices are being used. A joint AdMob and ComScore survey found over 40% of iPhone users reporting that they browse the web more on their phone than they do on their PCs. That's a pretty significant shift in behavior.

The final obstacle to total transformation has been cost. While the price of the smartphones themselves have come down to the same level as feature phones, the additional cost for data has been prohibitive for a number of users. However, with 4G networks, that will change. By the end of 2010, Verizon will be launching a 4G network in about 30 cities capable of speeds 20 times faster than the average U.S. home broadband connection. AT&T will be starting their rollout in 2011. On these networks, the idea of voice as a separate channel will go away. Everything will just be data.

As these three forces collide (technology adoption, consumer behavior and network upgrades), a wave of change is going to hit the country. If marketers aren't riding this wave now while it's relatively small, they are going to be paddling furiously to catch up when it's 10 times the size.

Oh. So do I need an app to stay afloat?
Need is a strong word. Remember that apps are about "utility." There's a really powerful concept there. For almost every product or service, there are barriers that prevent people from buying. A mobile app is an opportunity to deliver functionality that removes or smoothes those barriers and eases the path to purchase. When considered that way, the real question is: Don't you want an app?

Almost every marketer should be able to come up with an app that solves a consumer need related to their product. This is an extremely worthwhile exercise. The question then remains as to whether building that app will be cost-effective. So no, you don't "need" an app, but you should at least take the time to determine what the app would be if you were to build one. This will help inform all your other efforts in the space.

mobile data
The iPhone is only a fraction of the overall handset market. How important is it really?
As a phone, yes, it's a drop in the bucket (albeit a big drop). But as a generic consumer-electronic device, it's extremely popular. It's sold more units faster than the Nintendo Wii despite the console's year head start. Keep in mind that the reach of marketing efforts on the iPhone extend in most cases to the iPod Touch, so we're really talking about over 75 million global devices.

The other consideration is behavior. While the iPhone is a fraction of the total mobile handsets, the usage skews much higher, so there are more potential impressions on Apple's devices than most other phones. As an example, while AdMob serves ads across all phones, in December of 2009, 40% of their ad requests came from Apple devices.

Are there other platforms I need to account for?
Absolutely. Android is a major up-and-comer. While no one Android phone sells as well as the iPhone (though the Motorola Droid came close last quarter), Android's power is in the number of handsets set to be released. Nearly every manufacturer has dedicated half or more of its 2010 lineup to Android devices. RIM's Blackberry is still the dominant smartphone manufacturer in the U.S., and needs to be considered. Microsoft may also make considerable headway with its operating system as things play out.

Luckily, the prospect of supporting these many platforms is less daunting in 2010 than it was in years prior. A number of solutions has popped up that allow cross-platform app development for the iPhone and other devices. Adobe might be one of the more interesting as it allows exporting a Flash program as an iPhone app in its latest software, and will be supporting AIR apps on Android phones by the end of second quarter 2010, with other phones to follow.

I don't have the resources for an app right now, what else can I do?
The most interesting developments in mobile marketing are taking place within in-app ads. There are a number of ad networks that place ads inside smartphone applications. The CPMs are very reasonable, the quality of the ads are continuously increasing, and the promise of location relevance for mobile display advertising is an exciting prospect. Playing around with buys on these networks can be a great place to start.

For in-app ads to be most effective, you'll need a site that's optimized for mobile navigation.

We already have a WAP site -- we're safe, right?
Not quite. A WAP-formatted site is good to have, but is really meant for older phones. The new breed of phones can render HTML as well as a desktop web browser, and in many cases will use that version of the site rather than a WAP version. Creating a version of your full website that looks correct on a smaller screen is a great investment, especially considering how heavily mobile browsing is trending.

The best practice is to have only one URL and have your site detect the user agent from the browser, and based on that deliver a WAP site for older phones, a small-screen-optimized full site for smartphones and the normal site for PCs. Keep in mind that Flash doesn't work in mobile browsers, though the smartphones besides the iPhone will be getting it over the next year.

What can mobile do that my other media can't?
Mobile presents the opportunity to deliver more relevant content than any other medium. It allows marketers to target individuals no matter where they are, even at a point of purchase.

As the platform develops, the potential for in-app commerce will further eclipse other media. Already users can take a photo of a book with their phone, buy it, and have it shipped out to them within minutes.

Mobile is the portable extension of online media -- from video, to display to social.

Josh Lovison is the gaming and mobile lead at IPG's Emerging Media Lab.
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