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Monday, June 13, 2011

Mobile Musings

Mobile marketing is, in my opinion, set to take off. Up to now, it is somewhat akin to wind energy. It is ubiquitous, stronger in some locales and demographics than others, has many applications, and is very difficult to harness. But, the potential has always been huge.

The term most often applied to mobile is “the third screen.” Simply, put the first screen was TV. Marketers for 60 years have been able to reach millions of prospects in developed countries with exhaustively tested messages that they controlled completely. This one-way form of communication put the marketer in an enviable position. In the 1950’s, soap operas emerged as the three giants—Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Unilever provided all the advertising for specific programs. The automotive companies did it in the evening as well. Millions of families watched the message at the same time.

Since then TV has fragmented and American homes of even modest affluence have a TV set per person and laptops are another form of TV as well. Television remains the most potent form of advertising in the world FOR THE MOMENT.

The second screen, the personal computer, allowed for what some have dubbed as “participatory marketing.” Many times on-line advertisers literally asked for feedback from customers. In the on-line world, you could provide vast amounts of information about your service or product that could never come across clearly in a 30-120 second TV commercial. People have liked communicating with brands they use and like and the second screen has been a great success and still has much growth to come.

The third screen, better known as the “Smartphone”, has the real time benefit of the personal computer, but also moves with you completely from location to location. Think about when you left the house today. The last three things you did were likely to be check for your car keys, you wallet or purse, and your mobile device.

I doubt if many of you think that I am going out a limb when I forecast that the revolutionary aspects of the third screen will have a more profound effect on global marketing than screens one and two combined.

The key is in the complete mobility that mobile offers plus the consumer behavior upheaval caused by what is increasingly dubbed the “untethered consumer.” Most people see mobile as a great way to pay bills without benefit of a laptop; what they miss is that it is turning the entire consumer buying process upside down. You can research a product on site and compare pricing at nearby competitive locations all with the Smartphone held in your hand. In TV, the viewer is increasing in control with many choices and DVR’s that allow for commercial avoidance. Now the Smartphone puts the consumer in control and marketers will have to serve his/her needs or face extinction in many categories.

Consider some simple math. At last count, some five billion people across the world have cell phones. One company, China Mobile, is said to have 1 billion customers across Asia. Put this in perspective by considering that there are approximately a billion personal computers, and two and a half billion TV sets. So, twice as many people have cell phones as TV’s. Impossible? Visit a third world village. Solar powered chargers bring phones to billions in villages that may never have wired TV or cable and perhaps a few decades before electricity finds a way to them.

Here at home in the US, 94% of us have cell phones and each year millions, especially the young, drop their landlines. By the end of this year, it is projected that half of US citizens will have Smartphones. This is a giant opportunity for nimble marketers and a potential nightmare for the Rip van Winkles among us.

What makes mobile unique? It is truly personal. Yes, TV and computer are largely personal these days but not always. Mobile is personal and goes absolutely EVERYWHERE with you. We use the device for personal communications with friends and family and also for social network connections. Companies need to be invited in to this world but, if they are, there is authentic potential for personal marketing at a new plateau.

Location comes to the forefront on the third screen. Smartphones have location-based technology built in so marketers can customize remarkably specific messages and offers based on where you are and what time it is. This is a game changer that many overlook at present.

Mobile is well, mobile. Obvious, yes, but think of the tremendous implications. All other media except sound are consumed when you are either standing still or sitting. What is more boring than waiting in line for your plane to board or for other passengers to be seated? Mobile allows you to check e-mail, send or check text messages, or make a purchase. You are untethered and can communicate or shop wherever you are.

There has been little in the way of ramp up speed for mobile. They can tap into Internet networks easily, which also increases the confidence of new users who are familiar with the on-line world.

We are not in the lead here in some areas. For several years, for example, Koreans have been watching TV for free on their mobiles and many foreigners use the many available applications far more than their American counterparts. Over the next few years as young people master the many dormant applications, mobile should become an even more potent marketing tool especially when they teach their cash rich parents how to use them.

Soon, I have plans to put together a post on mobile and social media. But, here is a great example of search via mobile using 2D codes. It comes from Chuck Martin’s interesting book, “The Third Screen”, (Brealey, 2011, pages 161-162.) “Heineken printed EZcodes on its six-packs of beer as part of its Know the Signs campaign. Once the code was scanned and the age of the buyer verified, an app called Breathalyzer could be instantly downloaded. The app works like this: a person notices a friend over-consuming alcohol; the phone’s owner preselects from a list of characters (The Sleeper, the Groper, the Flirt, etc.) her friend most resembles when tipsy, then hands the phone to the friend. The friend blows into the phone microphone, the “breathalyzer,” which shows that the person has had too much to drink (it does not truly function, of course); a humorous video showing the selected character in action launches. The EZ-code also links to another app called Taxi Magic that uses the Smartphone location to show a list of taxi companies nearby. Select the taxi company and the call is automatically placed.”

Pretty amazing, huh? A beer company makes a nice statement about responsible drinking without offending anyone and does it where the person is and can do some good! Some of these types of programs can be tested locally and then rolled out to wider geography.

For several years, people have been using TV to drive people to company web sites. TV sales teams need to partner to use TV commercials to drive people to Smartphones. Remember, even when people are sedentary and watching TV, the Smartphone is not far away!

My advice is simply this. If you have a client with a customer base largely under 40, start testing mobile NOW! You may have a false start or two but the train will be leaving the station soon. If you audience is mostly over 60, you have a bit of time. Don’t be like our politicians who refuse to honestly face our financial future, and “kick the can down the road.” The politicians may get away with it. If you are a marketer and completely ignore mobile, the world will be passing you by very soon.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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