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How Mobile Marketing Is Different

2011 August 24

There is no doubt.  We are entering the age of mobile and that represents a vastly different technological experience than anything we’ve ever encountered.

However, in one respect the mobile age will be exactly the same as everything that preceded it:  The trend has barely started and already marketer’s mouths are watering.  We can’t wait to dive into the  “third screen.”

However, a requisite amount of caution is warranted.  Mobile computing is a fundamentally different kind of animal.  The true value of mobile computing goes far beyond the device itself.  It’s embedded in the interactions between devices and objects in the real world.  As we shall see, that will make all the difference in the world.

The Infinite Screen

When smart phones first emerged, marketers started referring to them as the “third screen.”  That made sense from a traditional perspective.  TV has long been marketing’s workhorse and extending that track record of success to both home computers and mobile devices makes intuitive sense.

However, scratch the surface and it becomes obvious that the analogy doesn’t quite fit. First, mobile devices come in a large variety of sizes and shapes.  You also have to take into account that, while TV viewing is a fairly standard experience, use of mobile devices varies widely, even for the same individual at different times of the day.

So it’s patently unrealistic to expect that you can treat mobile marketing as an extension of the TV screen.  Both the visual and the lifestyle experience are completely different. Moreover, as we shall see, the screen is a minor part of the mobile experience.

It’s Not the Nodes, It’s The Links

What makes mobile really new, different and interesting is the power to interact with the dynamic environment of the physical world.  Smart phones come standard with geolocation, which means that it knows exactly where it is and can detect devices around that it can interact with, such as products and digital signage in stores.

They also come equipped with cameras and with advances in photo-recognition that can  recognize people and places.  As accuracy of the technology improves, this is becoming a fast moving area for innovation.

The first iteration of interactive mobile marketing was QR codes, which users can scan with their cameras.  However, very few of the QR initiatives have been successful and, even now, only a small proportion of smart phone owners use the codes.  Those who scan the code are usually taken to a standard web site, which they could easily find using a standard web search.

Nevertheless, as RFID and augmented reality technology continues to improve, along with marketer’s expertise in designing mobile applications, we can expect a much more seamless experience as mobile marketing initiatives become embedded in the web of things.

The Standard Safari

Another thing that makes mobile marketing challenging is the technical obstacles. You not only have different operating systems, but different hardware standards and, as mentioned above, screen sizes.  So mobile content has to be optimized for the specific device that the consumer is using – no mean feat considering the wealth of permutations.

In addition to the basic differences in  software and hardware, there is the proliferation in services and apps.  Some are location based, others facilitate access to information and still others help you share media.  All of these functions have their own technical quirks.

The result is a marketing channel much more rich, but immeasurably more difficult to implement than anything we’ve seen before.  We’re just beginning to scratch the surface and already it’s enough to make your head spin.

Grasping Water

By now it should be clear that we need to approach mobile marketing differently than we do traditional or even online media.  Previously, brands tried to dominate, by “owning” sponsorships on TV and events, premium positions in magazines and share-of-voice in just about every medium.  What you spent didn’t mean everything, but it meant a lot.

Trying to “own” mobile media, on the other hand, would be like trying to grasp water.  The value of mobile does not rest in the devices themselves, or even in the content that is served up on them, but rather in the interactions between consumers and their environment.

That calls for a fundamental shift in approach.  Our experiences with other media may actually be leading us astray.  We can no longer dictate the consumer experience, but must co-create it by offering possibilities that inform, excite and inspire.

Caveat Venditor

There is one final way that mobile marketing differs from previous marketing channels. It is not only ubiquitous, but also extremely pervasive.  My phone contains my contacts and their pictures, my daily schedule, my movements and media habits.  It goes home with me at night and into the room where my baby sleeps.

Handset manufacturers and operating systems developers, such as Google and Apple do a fair job of protecting that data. However, marketers are increasingly getting access to that information as well.  That’s not something to be taken lightly.

Mobile marketing, like any paradigm shift, represents a completely new way brands will interact with consumers.  It’s not something we know how to do, it’s something we must learn.

– Greg

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Nathan Schor permalink
    August 28, 2011

    I have been reading your material for some time now, finding it consistently insightful; this post only the latest example.
    However, I stumbled over this sentence “It is not only ubiquitous, but also extremely pervasive.” Aren’t ‘ubiquitous’ and ‘pervasive’ synonymous, in the sense of appearing everywhere?
    All the same, you make an excellent point about the unprecedented extent of data collected and the paramount need to protect it. So perhaps you meant that in mobile’s case it commands both width (occurring universally) and depth (what the devices know about us)?.

  2. August 28, 2011

    Thanks for your support Nathan! I’m glad that you’re enjoying the site.

    The difference between ubiquity and pervasiveness is indeed subtle. When something is ubiquitous, it’s everywhere, like water across the earth. However, when something is pervasive, it seeps through a particular entity, like water through a sponge.

    Way to keep me on my toes!

    – Greg

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