Multicultural Mobile Marketing: a Few Things to Consider Before Your Agency Dives in

Even Established Players Are Struggling to Make Sense of the Space

By Published on .

James Briggs
James Briggs
Over the last few months I've seen several pieces on the Big Tent lamenting the fact that there are too few minority-owned agencies and digital firms pursuing mobile marketing, considering the preponderance of evidence suggesting that ethnic consumers are overwhelmingly embracing the platform.

For the most part I agree with the basic premise. Yes, opportunities abound in mobile for multicultural marketers well positioned to capitalize on them. Further, more minority firms would be wise to invest in the channel, given the warm embrace that mobile has received by their target audiences. However, when I consider where the channel presently is in its developmental life cycle, I would not encourage all multicultural players to dive directly into the deep end, but instead focus on measured ways to build mobile capabilities.

The fact of the matter is that when you look beyond what's happening with the most high-profile firms in the space, there are plenty of firms, including some very large agencies, struggling to get their hands around mobile marketing even after making significant investments. In my opinion much of this is due to firms underestimating the complexity of the channel and key industry dynamics, while trying to appease clients that want mobile solutions. The end result is proving costly for some and can lead to severe disruptions to an agency's operations and potentially damage its reputation.

For those firms that are truly committed to establishing a foothold in the mobile space I recommend that you consider the following before determining your final strategy:

1. The Pace of Change. The mobile channel presently undergoes industry-shaping transformation almost on a quarterly basis. Whether this change occurs in the form of new devices such as tablets like the iPad, next-generation offerings such as Foursquare or major acquisitions by companies such as Google or Apple, the next big industry disruption is likely just abound the corner. Consequently, there is a good chance that the mobile solution that clients are very interested in today will likely not be what they are interested in three months from now.

There is no doubt that some of the industry's fickleness can be attributed to the sector's nascence and the power of the hype machine that the advertising industry itself has perfected. Nevertheless a more significant portion is due to the wide range of innovations occurring across the mobile ecosystem -- devices, ad technologies, carrier networks and other major areas. But regardless of the source, the channel's rapid rate of change is making it difficult for firms that have invested heavily in capital intensive offerings to remain relevant and we are now seeing a number of firms having to either pull back or invest further to augment their offerings.

2. Integration Challenges. Does mobile fit best with a digital agency or a media agency? Is mobile a strategic offering or a tactical solution? Should mobile be a lead offering or an add-on to the plan? The answer to these questions might appear simple enough, yet they are precisely the types of issues that are causing some agencies' mobile investments to unravel.

To me, this demonstrates that although many at the executive levels in agencies believe that they now understand the value of incorporating mobile marketing into their clients' media plans, many still do not fully comprehend how best to execute a mobile program to unleash this value. As a result, mobile groups within established agencies are likely not given the top-down management support required to nurture them until such a time they can positively contribute to the parent firm's bottom-line. Add on top of this the day-to-day expectations, processes and bureaucracies of large agency groups and the mobile organizations can and are having a very difficult time finding their footing.

Interpublic's recent announcement that it is altering the strategy of its mobile-marketing joint venture, Ansible, is likely a timely example of an agency in the midst of a course correction due to integration challenges.

3. Talent. Of the most important items that firms tend to underestimate when venturing into the mobile space is the human factor. The talent. In my opinion there is a broad-scale belief that digital talent from other areas can quickly and easily augment mobile teams to deliver mobile-marketing solutions. In actuality, mobile is simply one of the most difficult channels to execute well. This is due to several factors including the ever-evolving customer requirements, numerous diverse platforms and the growing integration of mobile solutions with those of so many other media channels.

To consistently deliver unique, well-executed customer solutions a mobile-marketing firm needs very specialized talent that is experienced in creative, technical, sales and project-management aspects of the business. And even if a firm desires to significantly alter the talent pool or restructure a large agency to better accommodate these requirements, the challenge can be insurmountable given the growing demand for skilled mobile talent and the time it takes outsiders to learn the in and outs of the industry.

Most new technology platforms go through a period of rapid innovation before they standardize, and mobile marketing is no exception. Having worked in the channel now for the past five years at a multicultural mobile marketing firm, I've had a front row seat to the goings and comings within the industry. So, I wholeheartedly believe that there is a great need for more mobile platforms targeting multicultural consumer groups. However, those that enter should do so with realistic expectations given the true dynamics of the industry.

James Briggs is the CEO and co-founder of the multicultural mobile marketing agency Briabe Media.
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