Sensible strategies for mobile marketers

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Last month, Interpublic Group of Cos. announced the formation of a dedicated mobile marketing agency, Ansible, formed through a joint venture with mobile technology provider Velti.

The agency is led by CEO Vladimir Edelman, a mobile marketing veteran who most recently served as CEO of Soapbox Mobile, a full-service provider of mobile marketing solutions.

Edelman was also previously VP-general manager of Mobile ESPN Publishing Worldwide, and he has held marketing positions at such media companies as CBS, Fox, MSNBC and Time Warner.

In the following interview with BtoB, Edelman discusses the opportunities for mobile marketing and the challenges still facing the industry.

BtoB: Why did the formation of Ansible make sense for Interpublic?

Edelman: We are the first standalone mobile marketing agency within the Interpublic network whose sole focus is on mobile. There have been some mobile initiatives within the network. For example, [interactive agency] R/GA has really done a great job with mobile marketing. However, the complexities of mobile marketing are significant enough that we believe it requires doing a larger initiative. We are partnering with Velti, a really killer technology company that has been doing this for a long time. Through the joint venture, we have the tools and the technologies to execute on the planning and development.

BtoB: How will you work with other agencies within the agency network and also with clients?

Edelman: There has been a lot of pent-up demand for mobile, and there is a lot of hype. To actually do it right takes a little bit of effort. Mobile marketing is the ultimate CRM tool, and it is most similar to direct marketing. A lot of our clients have been excited about mobile and have heard a lot about mobile and are interested in trying stuff. We'll be working with existing Interpublic agencies to develop mobile marketing initiatives that leverage creative and traditional media to continue the conversation with customers. It is really a symbiotic relationship. Mobility doesn't work as a standalone medium. It also requires traditional media in order to be effective.

BtoB: What kinds of mobile marketing applications will you be developing?

Edelman: Half of what we do is talking clients down off the ledge. A lot of our clients are excited about mobile, especially applications like mobile video and bluecasting, such as flashing coupons to mobile phones using Bluetooth technology. People get really excited about this stuff. However, in today's world, there are a limited number of markets where this works well. In certain markets, such as Korea, you can wave a phone in front of a reader at a newsstand and have content downloaded to your phone. But we're not there yet. Part of what we do is help clients understand where the biggest bang for the buck will be. Right now, the most saturated applications are text messaging and WAP [wireless application protocol]. You also have to look at building a list of qualified people, then you can do some of the cooler, sizzle stuff and work on building longer-term programs.

BtoB: Have Interpublic's clients been doing much with mobile marketing?

Edelman: There have been some agencies and brands that have dabbled in it. Most of the work has been in the realm of "trialing" stuff. One of the challenges is that failures live for a really long time in our industry. I have seen some really cool stuff and some cataclysmically bad stuff. I think the more interesting executions of mobile marketing are in the near future.

BtoB: What are some of the most promising applications for mobile?

Edelman: I'm a big believer in retail as a big driver for mobile. We have worked with some of the larger retailers and larger consumer packaged goods companies. One of the most promising applications is a call to action to drive response. For example, large retailers could create in-stock alerts to send to mobile loyalty customers and alert them with coupons when they are not in the retail location.

BtoB: What about reaching business customers?

Edelman: I think there have been a lot of categories that have been unexplored—everything from real estate agents to libraries. Any place where there is a larger, distributed network of information is tailor-made for mobile. We are looking at products that could be useful to those categories and will be pushing them out in the first two quarters of '08.

BtoB: What are the biggest challenges for mobile marketing?

Edelman: One of the biggest is treating mobile not as a novelty but as a medium. Very few companies give mobile the respect and attention it deserves. This is common with new technology. People think it's cool and exciting, but they really need to think out their strategy. It deserves the same kind of attention to creative, planning and metrics that are subscribed to other media. What is my strategy, what am I trying to achieve and how do I build out the strategy?

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