Quick course in the rules of wireless marketing

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Wireless e-mail may be more important in a b-to-b marketing strategy than in consumer markets. But you must approach it the right way.

The time is right for b-to-b wireless e-mail because key elements for building a market are in place. International Data Corp. estimates there are about 10 million Palm users; other estimates run as high as 12 million, with most users at businesses.

While Palm is the market leader, devices running Microsoft Windows CE are catching up, though IDC estimates they will not match Palm sales until 2005. Blackberry, from Research In Motion Inc., also sells well. And next year, Handspring will launch Treo, a PDA, phone and text pager in one.

Still, the economy has killed some high-profile attempts at mass marketing via wireless e-mail.

Avantgo Inc., Hayward, Calif., was spearheading a highly publicized wireless e-marketing
effort featuring a
"channel" from American Express just last summera method that was projected by many to be the next big thing in wireless. An AmEx spokesman told BtoB this month that the company was no longer involved in it.

Some marketers think they should hold off on wireless marketing efforts until a clear leaderwhether its Windows or Palmemerges. Still, waiting would be a mistake, said Barry Peters, director of emerging media for Lot21 Inc., an interactive agency in San Francisco.

The device you use isnt nearly as important as how you use it. Wireless efforts must be permission-based and customer-service oriented. Learning what to say and how often can be the key to b-to-b e-marketing success, Peters said.

Bob Henrick, senior partner for pervasive applications at Ogilvy Interactive Inc., New York, a unit of Ogilvy & Mather, agreed. "Its a very personal device," he said. Its also time and place relevant, "so message broadcasts must be done carefully. Its also two-way."

All this means you need to know the rules of wireless e-mail marketing before proceeding, Henrick and Peters said.

The first rule? "One-to-one marketing," Peters said, "is practical in the b-to-b space because the value of the customer is high."

Also remember that wireless e-mail marketing is not about moving messages from you to customers. Getting messages from customers so you can respond quickly, and moving messages between the home office and the sales force are far more important, Peters said. The cost of deploying wireless content to the sales force so they can send quotes, bids and product information at any moment is an investment that can now be justified, Peters said.

Shipping companies such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service of America have already gotten value from their wireless data investments, said Andy Fessel, VP-wireless Internet intelligence with Telephia Inc., a San Francisco-based market research firm. "Ive seen applications in inventory control, in terms of work flow, in terms of communication from outside the office, so you can update orders and understand turnarounds, reducing or short-cutting a lot of telephone steps and sales support," he said.

In many applications, marketing messages may just piggyback on these efforts, Fessel said, and many of your most valuable communications wont look like marketing at all.

When extending your network to the remote sales force with wireless e-mail, Fessel added, platform compatibility isnt an issue. "But if it works with your own employees, should you buy your customers the same device?"

For many businesses, this may be the key to success, Peters said. Large companies can give select customers wireless devices for free, and in return have a highly targeted, very dedicated group constantly using their customized applications. "Its a very good way to get into the customers hip pocket," he said.

Private trade shows represent the "low-hanging fruit" in this effort, Henrick of Ogilvy Interactive said, meaning that user conferences are the perfect opportunity to give such a device away.

Measurement matters, but what you measure matters more, Peters said. Rather than gross message traffic, look for quality of service and customer satisfaction measurements. Boosting these totals will mean more to final sales than the volume of messages sent with your system.

The final, most important rule may be that clients must be allowed to define the e-mail marketing relationship, Peters said. Even if your company is giving away hardware and software, clients must define what, when and how to communicate with you if theyre to remain satisfied.

"Its an enterprise solution and a CRM solution," Peters concluded.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues. He is publisher of the Web site

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