How Small Agencies Can Gain a First-Mover Advantage

Time to Make Your Move into Mobile Space

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Phil Johnson
Phil Johnson
One of the most difficult challenges for an agency is to recognize early on when a trend goes from being a novelty to becoming an important part of the marketing mix. You jump in too soon and there may not be an audience for your innovative program. You act too late and you can spend years chasing the competition.

It's ironic that often the exuberant early adopters find themselves in heated debate with the armchair skeptics. Unfortunately, both groups often end up stranded on the side of the road. Timing is everything.

So, I don't think I'm going out on a limb to claim that the time is right for agencies of all sizes and stripes to develop a mobile strategy. Regardless of the size of your agency, three essential ingredients that make for successful mobile marketing have come into alignment. The audience is in place, the advertising infrastructure exists and the media channels are open for business.

Based on the current rate of change and adoption, the mobile web will be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015, according to Mary Meeker, the well-regarded analyst from Morgan Stanley. This means that in the very near future, a mobile device, whether it is an Android, an iPhone or an iPad, will be the primary way people interact with your company on the web.

Nielsen recently reported that smart-phone penetration of the U.S. mobile phone market will overtake feature phone penetration by the end of 2011. Without even genuflecting to the iPhone, you don't have to look far to see how smartphones are changing consumer behaviors on a daily basis.

Meeker also points out that the overlap between mobile users and social web users continues to grow, as more and more users are accessing the social web from a mobile device. By definition, any social media strategy will additionally need to be implemented in a mobile environment.

While companies have been testing the waters with pilot programs for some time, now the infrastructure and ad networks are in place to allow large-scale mobile campaigns. Mobile advertising revenues in North America are expected to grow from $207 Million in 2009 to approximately $1.5 Billion by 2013, according to MarketingProfs, in a white paper, Mobile Marketing Success Stories.

It's always convenient to believe that major technology shifts benefit large brands and their super-size agencies the most, but that's not necessarily true. But when it comes to mobile, being smart and agile beats being big. You can scale with mobile to reach virtually any audience, large or small. You can extend current print, broadcast, and social campaigns with SMS and mobile sites. While you can't compete with Burger King on resources, small-agency budgets will get you in the game.

Like everything else, some agencies -- and clients -- are going to be further along. But no matter where you are on the curve, there's no reason to wait. Speaking for my agency, PJA Advertising, here are four areas where we are encouraging clients to focus:

1. SMS. Text messages and short codes allow you to immediately integrate mobile with your existing campaigns. SMS may not be as cool as a standalone app, but it's an excellent way to connect with audiences and is highly measurable.

2. Mobile sites. Any discussion of a website -- corporate, campaign, or otherwise -- should begin with a discussion of the mobile experience. Don't let app hysteria distract you from the importance of the mobile web, which will drastically improve with 4G devices.

3. Content. As you develop content -- white papers, video, podcasts -- think how you will deploy it on a mobile platform. HP has created one-page versions of its white-paper library for mobile users.

4. Advertising. (I'm assuming that some of us still do advertising.) It's not too soon for everyone in the agency to become familiar with mobile ad networks and basic ad units. As with any new communication platform, the creative rules will change and evolve. Start experimenting.

If the current trend continues, mobile may become the great equalizer for many agencies. It's going to further blur the lines between digital agencies and whatever all those other agencies are called. Regardless of where you started, and where you're headed, everyone will need to move their center of gravity from the desktop web to the mobile web.

Phil Johnson is CEO of PJA Advertising & Marketing with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco. Follow Phil on Twitter: @philjohnson
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