Mobile Marketing: 'App-y New Year? Hardly

Ten 2010 Resolutions the Mobile Industry Should Make -- and Why Brands Should Stop Building Vanity Apps

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As the first ever (yawn) "year of mobile" draws to a close, I'd like to ask those of us in media and marketing to put down our smartphones and take a breather from the hype that threatens to deflate a nascent industry like a chocolate soufflé taken out of the oven too soon. I have attended and spoken at more mobile events than I care to think about during 2010, conducted dozens of interviews with mobile leaders on behalf of Ad Age and I am now engrossed in reviewing dozens of top campaigns submitted for a prestigious global mobile marketing awards program. Here's what I think we in the U.S. need to understand in order to move forward:

  1. Don't build a branded app and believe you've got mobile covered: I was glad to hear the word "discovery" used in relation to the app stores where it's a bit crowded these days. Now let's change discovery to "marketing." If you are going to launch an app, it had better have a reason to be, relate to the brand and actually do something consumers want and want to do repeatedly. And at the same time you are developing, think about marketing the app as a product. I've gotten too many calls from companies that plead "we spent $100K building this beautiful, cool app and after the first week we got no downloads." It's also not enough to think that throwing money at a PR firm is going to do much. Sure you could get some on some "we like this app" lists but...The top way to get people to download your app is through the medium itself, where it is a one click process. Ads for app downloads work. Use them.
  2. Understand who uses what devices: One of my favorite mobile geek outs is to look at the monthly comScore OEM (original equipment manufacturer) report. It's an ongoing drama of adoption, one hit wonders and evolving usage among major mobile devices and tells marketers a lot about what platforms to develop apps for and how to target advertising by device to reach specific audiences. Who knew that the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl are hot phones among girl teens? Kind of counterintuitive, but when you realize that their parents are on BlackBerries, BlackBerry gave them a sweet deal to add on to their own plans and those girls they do like to text on buttons...
  3. Don't overestimate smart phone penetration and limit your mobile marketing to smartphones: Smartphone users are a brilliant audience for marketers but when comScore pegs them at 23% of the total mobile market you're leaving a whole lot of mobile users out. There are over 233 million people in the US with mobile devices -- that's penetration higher than the internet -- yet most marketers are talking to the 60 million or so who are on smartphones and use their phones as media. SMS marketing programs are relatively easy to set up and will maximize your reach.
  4. Don't assume that everyone on a mobile device uses it for media: This is a myth perpetrated by those who want to believe it and, yes, at some point it may come true. Be wary of stats like eMarketer's recent one: people spend more time per day with mobile media than with newspapers: 50 minutes per day as compared to 30 minutes. That stat includes all usage on mobile phones including their primary function: talking. I don't really consider talking to be media consumption -- and it's kind of unfair to poor old newspapers. Besides, if I talk out loud to The New York Times, will Paul Krugman talk back?
  5. Make sure functionality fits the brand, not the inverse. If there is one functionality I would kill from apps it would be the accelerometer. It all started with a shakable Dockers ad. I've also seen executions for a multinational jeans company. Not sure why anyone would shake their pants other than to see if you left your keys there, but what is the value of that shake? Does it relate to the brand? Does it sell pants? Or, as Wallace and Gromit would say, is that mobile strategy a "case of the wrong trousers?"
  6. Social is not a marketing strategy in mobile -- it's but one tactic: This is more a note to those trying to get mass adoption of various types of services on mobile phones. The "if we build it they will come and they will share" argument isn't enough. In researching myriad location-based services launched over the past two years for an Ad Age report I'm working on, almost all believe people will naturally find them. The largest of the services has only been downloaded by 5 million people. A little advertising with that VC funding might be in order. Hey, advertising worked brilliantly for Apple. It might for you, too. And wait, this publication is called Advertising Age... not social media news.
  7. If you're going to market mobile, please use the mobile medium: In judging an international competition for mobile campaigns, I found a shocking number of them relying solely on print and television. They are making the same mistake internet companies did in the dot-com era: they created something the CEO could understand and was pretty, but didn't reach the most likely target . A big shout out to the OEMs for actually using their own medium -- and for targeting competitive devices -- to make people aware of new handset models.
  8. Recognize that the U.S. and Western Europe may have smartphones -- but we're way behind what people in other countries, especially developing ones, do with their phones. Looking at marketing campaigns in places like Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and even Afghanistan it's all about reach -- not about apps. These are economies where mobile commerce and payments are happening now and advertising is used to get people to do everything possible with every type of phone. In the competition I am judging, the international entries also are the only ones that actually use integrated plans: TV, print, outdoor, mobile SMS, loyalty marketing -- they all fit together beautifully and they have the results to prove it.
  9. Stop talking downloads and come up with a real measurement strategy: A mass-market pasta brand says that 10,000 people downloaded its iPhone app. Basta! A download is an expression of interest from a consumer but tells absolutely nothing about continuous usage, about who exactly downloaded it, and whether it had any impact on connection to a brand or an actual sale. Mobile is measurable, but to date too few are taking the time to tag their apps appropriately, buy syndicated research or come up with any kind of benchmarks for performance of marketing campaigns.
  10. Embrace the KISS principle with mobile and support efforts at standardization: I wrote an article for Ad Age in May that helped me develop a thicker skin. I took Apple to task for creating a closed system for mobile advertising with the iAd (the Apple fan boys hated me for that!). Eight months later I would like to thank Apple for raising awareness that marketers should take mobile seriously and also tip my hat to them for most recently opening up the development of these proprietary ads. But, I still do not favor any ad format that is proprietary to one device type.

    Imagine if in the early days of television NBC said they would only accept 45-second spots and CBS said 90s were its deal. Now add on the following demands: code it differently, certain technologies only work on certain devices, we got a bunch of ad sizes, etc.. If mobile is to be considered a viable ad medium, a marketer has to be able to create one ad and content producers have to be able to accept it regardless of platform. One of the positive developments in this direction: industry players like Crisp, Weather and Pointroll are banding together to create industry standards for rich media. It's called ORMMA, check it out.

OK, I'll admit that I don't actually have to do a lot of this stuff and I do get the luxury of writing about it and simply talking to so many people about their efforts. Let me say bravo to all the people who worked crazy hours this past year to make mobile happen for such a broad range of companies and bring products to market that delighted such a broad range of people. A very 'appy new year and many mobile rewards to all. You put mobile on the radar in 2010, now let's make it better.

Kathryn Koegel has written a pair of Ad Age White Papers, Building Brands Online and What You Need to Know About Mobile Marketing. In 2011 she is authoring an Ad Age quarterly series on mobile marketing. Look for the first one, which focuses on location-based marketing, in mid-February.

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