Cell phones may be a pervasive piece of business equipment, used daily by tens of millions of workers, but they have yet to emerge as a platform for business advertising.
"I have not seen too many examples yet," said Julie Ask, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch who focuses on mobile marketing. "The b-to-b space is certainly lagging the consumer mobile marketing efforts so far. B-to-b is more in the experimentation phase and `let's see what works.' "
"It's primarily a consumer-based marketing channel today," agreed Tom Burgess, CEO of Third Screen Media, a mobile ad network.
Nevertheless, proponents such as Burgess say b-to-b advertising on mobile devices could prove an important component in strengthening relationships with valuable corporate customers. Third Screen has distributed some b-to-b campaigns in the past year for companies, including hotel chain Ramada Worldwide.
Complex sales slow growth
One reason for the slow growth may be the complex sales cycle typical in b-to-b. "A sale won't be triggered by a marketing message pushed out to a cell phone," Ask said.
But others disagree. Take Dave Whetstone, VP-director of mobile marketing at Publicis & Hal Riney. Whetstone was appointed at the end of May to create the mobile marketing practice. While he concedes "the whole industry is in its early days," Whetstone said all marketers need to be thinking about mobile.
According to the Shosteck Group, a research firm, mobile advertising represents a huge opportunity. The researcher predicts the channel, now at $1 billion in annual ad spending, will generate close to $10 billion a year by 2010.
There's no doubt advertisers are interested in and curious about the new, mobile channel. A survey by MarketingSherpa of ad:tech attendees published in January found mobile advertising tied for the top spot with video in a list of tactics advertisers would like to experiment with if they had an extra $100,000 to spend.
Mobile and video both garnered 9.6% of the tally. That's ahead of RSS, blogs and podcasting, which were cited third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on advertisers' wish lists of experimental tactics.
"Every company should be thinking about its capabilities on the mobile platform," Whetstone said. "In the b-to-b space, it is a great CRM tool." Whetstone added that mobile is an effective way to "connect with users and prospects as they use, evaluate or purchase your product."
Whetstone pointed to one b-to-b company-Salesforce.com-that made its sales automation system accessible by mobile platforms. "Mobile marketing is more than just mobile advertising," he said. "For the people who use Salesforce.com, does it increase retention for Salesforce.com? Does it encourage prospects to buy Salesforce.com?" Whetstone said the answer to both questions is "yes."
Ask said the mobile marketing space is growing. "Spending is certainly increasing. More companies are interested in it. Where people were spending tens of thousands [of dollars] last year, they are spending hundreds of thousands this year," she said.
Mobile advertising may also be an effective channel to communicate with hard-to-reach C-level executives, many of whom tend to be tech-savvy. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. executives in an Ipsos Group survey said they have adopted mobile devices for media and communications, putting them ahead of their European and Asian counterparts.
"Mobile devices like BlackBerrys have a much higher penetration here than they do in the U.K., Europe and Asia," said David Lucas, director of international media at Ipsos Group.
New companies and new technologies continue to populate the mobile landscape. One such company, Mozes Inc., markets a text advertising service it hopes will take off in the conference and exhibition industry.
Mozes' service enables marketers to distribute text messages to prospective customers. Its first major client was Microsoft Corp., which in April exhibited several consumer products at the Makers Faire in San Mateo, Calif.
In Microsoft's exhibit booths, attendees who were interested in learning more about a particular product were given keywords they could send from their phones as a text message to a Mozes' phone number. Their message triggered a reply text message containing a URL. The URL directed them to a landing page where they could log in and get additional details about the product.
"Instead of passing out brochures, we'd have them text the keyword to Mozes and, when they had time, they could go home, get onto their PC and log in to the Mozes Web site," said Jacqueline Russell, product manager for Visual Studios Express Editions at Microsoft.
While that promotion was primarily targeted to consumers, Russell said, based on the early success, there has been some interest by Microsoft's enterprise product marketers in using the service at future events.
"I think [Microsoft marketing] people are keeping it in mind for the next conference," she said. "They are definitely looking at it as a possible service to use next time."
Associations are responding to the recent surge of interest in mobile advertising by educating their member companies. For example, the Direct Marketing Association and the Mobile Marketing Association last week held a one-hour online seminar called Customer Marketing and Retention Through the Mobile Phone. The seminar was designed to help constituents better understand the benefits and opportunities in the hot area of mobile marketing.
Ad agencies offer services
Ad agencies are getting in on the act as well. In addition to Publicis & Hal Riney's new practice, PinPoint Interactive Media, a small interactive advertising agency, announced May 22 that it has created a mobile advertising division within the agency. PinPoint Mobile services will include SMS text marketing, mobile Web site development and mobile marketing campaigns.
Carlson Hotels, a PinPoint client, ran a mobile campaign for its Radisson brand in April targeted to business professionals.
"The offer was about giving free Internet access in Radisson hotel rooms," agency president Adam Kaufman said. "We made the recommendations on where to run the campaign, we developed the creative and did the tracking for click-throughs and calls." The ads ran onmobile sites for USA Today and The Weather Channel.
Kaufman said launching the new division was driven by client demand. "It's been a push from our clients to provide them with mobile services," he said.