Just like 2009 was the year of social media, 2010 is predicted to be the year of mobile. However, this is not the first year in which mobile marketing has been predicted to go mainstream – so why has the prophecy taken so long to come to fruition and why is 2010 predicted to be the year?
The problems with mobile marketing to date can be summed up in 2 words – fragmentation and format.
The core fragmentation comes with the network operators for whom competition rather than cooperation has been the norm to date. Then there’s the fragmentation in handsets – different screen sizes, different screen resolutions and differing key pad functionality doesn’t make life easy for advertisers or developers. And the fragmentation of operating systems makes things even more complicated – whether it be Google’s Android, iPhone’s OS or Symbian. And finally, there’s the fragmentation in measurement systems, with stats drawn from different operators and ad networks offering snapshots of different portions of the market rather than a complete overview.
Format has been another struggle for marketers. SMS and MMS are both highly personal and interactive forms of communication but their strengths have been their weaknesses too. Without an understanding of the context that potential prospects are in, using this form of marketing can be overly intrusive and have a detrimental rather than positive effect on the brand.
The other ‘format’ problem has been phone screen size with respect to browsing the mobile web – the latter has never really taken off to date due to small screen sizes making the mobile browsing experience a less than satisfactory one.
So why are things set to change in 2010? Well, not only are some of those problems being addressed but also new developments are on the way that means that the true potential of mobile as a marketing medium are starting to be realised.
For example, network operators are showing more signs of collaboration to deal with the fragmentation problem, including the aim to create an open platform for apps to be developed easily and distributed seamlessly, irrespective of network, OS or handset. And measurement has become standardised with the launch of Mobile Media Metrics earlier this month, a collaboration between the GSMA and ComScore.
And marketers are increasingly getting to grips with the opportunities that SMS and MMS offer - using mainstream media to deliver the message but using short codes to call/text to make campaigns more involving and to increase response.
And of course the iPhone has proven to be a ‘game changer’ in terms of browsing the internet from your mobile phone, leading to the introduction of a raft of new smartphones including Google’s own Nexus One. And the availability of these phones on more networks and the introduction of other mobile devices, such as the iPod Touch and the new iTab, will only speed the growth of the mobile web.
However, the really exciting developments are in the worlds of applications, location-based services (LBS) and network operator offerings.
The success of apps has been an unexpected side effect of the iPhone revolution. Phones have always had apps on them, to allow you to send and receive SMS and MMS, browse the web and play video for example, but now the huge range of ‘third party’ apps available, particularly for the iPhone, allows users to ‘customise’ their phone to fit their lifestyle. And as most of these apps are available for free, app developers need other income possibilities and advertising and/or sponsorship-funded is a model which is growing and an opportunity, albeit super niche but super targeted, for advertisers.
Location based services are also on the rise using the inbuilt GPS on many smartphones (if enabled) and this development really leverages the power of marketing on mobile devices – the ability to market to people ‘on the move’ and understand more about their location and therefore their context. For example, Google now offers a location based search so people can search for services in their locality.
And 2 of the networks have announced ‘permission based’ mobile advertising programmes, O2 with ‘More’ and Orange with ‘Shots’, which are exciting for advertisers as they allow them to use the vast array of customer information that each network operator has at their disposal to target ads effectively to an audience that has opted into the service.
There is no doubt that marketing to niche audiences in these highly targeted, permissive and personal ways offer exciting opportunities for premium and luxury brands. But these developments are still embryonic - attitudes amongst consumers to app advertising or sponsorship are uncertain, Google’s location based service is only available on iPhone OS and Android, and the mobile operator schemes are still in their early stages of recruitment.
As a result, 2010 won’t be the year of the mobile marketing explosion. But it will be the year of the mobile phone marketing ‘dabble’ – and if your audience is young and at the early end of the adoption cycle it’s certainly worth at least that. But don’t divert too much resource in terms of time or money into this channel just yet – your ‘dabble’ will prepare you for what’s to come but more mainstream channels are more likely to deliver the results that your MD will be craving.