The Good And The Bad Of Mobile Marketing

by Jason Falls |
SMS message received on a Motorola RAZR wirele...
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I’ll admit not being much of a texter — that is someone who uses text messaging on his mobile phone. Granted, I send a few from time-to-time, mostly responding to other text messages or trying to find someone when I’m at a conference, but I’m not a hyper user. My text savviness is so amateur, in fact, that I often get confused as to whether or not I’m responding to a text or a Twitter message which leads to a good laugh for my friends. But as someone who helps clients find innovative ways to reach their target audiences using the latest and greatest technology I would be remiss if not bringing to the table mobile marketing, which to date is dominated my short message service (SMS or only text messages) and multi-media message service (MMS or image/audio/video enabled messages) text messaging.

Keep in mind that while innovation does change the game and web-enabled smart phones will continue to diminish text as the most important feature people look for in a phone (73% say it is according to Amplitude Research), the simple fact of the matter is that texting has 84 percent market penetration and there are 75 billion (with a “B”) text messages sent monthly in the U.S. according to CTIA-The Wireless Association.

Here’s what I like telling clients about mobile marketing:

  • It’s the ultimate portable marketing platform since the user has it in the pocket or hand at all times.
  • The wireless providers have done an outstanding job of regulating marketer’s usage of the medium, forcing double opt-ins and ensuring those you talk to want to hear from you. (Wouldn’t it be nice if our ISP or email providers did that?)
  • Compared to most other mediums, it’s much more cost effective.
  • The pass-along or viral content has a much higher return rate since people will only forward really good offers via text.

I recently spoke with Basil Kanno, the Chief Technical Officer at PowerNet Global, which, in addition to being a long-standing and reputable integrated communications provider (Telecom services, VOIP, etc.), has a mobile marketing platform as robust and powerful as any I’ve seen. We talked about some interesting advancements in mobile marketing (all of which his firm offers or is developing) including true pull mobile activity (texting “DEALS” to, say, Applebee’s, as you walk in the door to see if there are any mobile coupons you can download before ordering) and user-set thresholds for the number of messages they can receive in a given time period. PowerNet even has a mobile shopping portal set up with Amazon.com which allows you to shop for book titles via text message, add them to your cart and even check out by simply using keyword commands and passing no sensitive information through PowerNet.

So smart companies, particularly in the retail environment, are using mobile marketing to reach consumers. But what can really smart companies do? Start tying their mobile marketing offers to search.

Imagine you’re driving down the highway and pull out your mobile device to search for the nearest Subway. The results come up with a list of locations. You find the one nearest you and see a link that says, “Text For Deals.” You’re searching for the restaurant then discover you can not only get directions, but $2.00 off a footlong meatball sub at that location.

Cool, right?

What would be even more cool is if you could “Text for Directions” and the service would capture your GPS location, then send you step-by-step directions from where you are to get to the store. But Americans are creeped out by GPS tracking with their fear of Big Brother, so the mobile providers and marketers are, for now, steering clear of that can of worms.

Which brings to mind one problem with mobile marketing.

A major selling point for brands using mobile campaigns is the individual consumer behavior data that can be collected once you opt in. If Foot Locker knows you’ve cashed in that mobile rewards coupon for new sneakers every three months, but have yet to bite on their ball cap offers, they can better customize both the content and the timing of their messages to you. It gets even more granular and intelligent with Subway or Blockbuster or even BP — retailers you would visit more frequently than a shoe store.

So what’s the problem?

Brands and companies collect this data — this individual data — to produce segmented lists of target consumers. They categorize and segment for convenience, enabling them to reach out to thousands of “Thursday Video Renters” as opposed to you, the guy or gal who does rent videos on Thursdays a lot, but feels best when Blockbuster is talking to you, not a big list of people like you.

They’re using a personal relationship to develop impersonal outreach efforts. Yes, segmenting and fine-tuning your targeting is a good practice. No, it’s not feasible for most companies to use that individual data to reach out to each individual. But the opportunity to do so is there and you are un-refining the data, lumping people back into buckets and turning humans back into targets.

No one likes being shot at.

This doesn’t mean mobile marketing isn’t wise. It doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t spend time and energy cultivating opt-in customers via the almost ubiquitous mobile platform. Consumers will be compelled to participate and will appreciate the seemingly personal touch without really noticing what companies are up to.

But in our quest for more and now, the world of marketing may just take a golden opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with our customers and muck it all up.

My questions for you include:

  1. How thinly sliced does consumer information have to be for the average person to feel like they’re getting a personal touch?
  2. Does the double-opt-in rule of mobile marketing mean consumers won’t care what brands learn, or forget, about them?
  3. What makes the opt-in for mobile marketing contact compelling enough for someone to volunteer to essentially be on an email blast list for sales materials?
  4. How do I get the upside down exclamation point on my Blackberry keyboard so when I feel the need I can text, “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!”

The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).