Last Updated Aug 11, 2011 4:28 PM EDT
US mobile advertising is predicted to reach $1 billion this year, up 48% from 2010, according to eMarketer. The entire Android operating system (now the US market leader in smartphones) was launched for the sole purpose of protecting Google's share of the digital advertising market as consumers shift more and more of their time to mobile devices.
And yet-- what is mobile marketing exactly? What opportunity does it offer? And why does it always seem to be just "about" to become huge?
Mobile: The Next Huge Advertising Opportunity?
For many brands and traditional ad agencies, mobile is seen as a giant opportunity to deliver display and rich media ads, the same kind of messages that populate nearly every web site that consumers visit on PCs. Big brands are eager to spend more money here, and countless mobile advertising platforms are lining up to give them a chance, from Apple's iAds, to Google's Admob, and a gazillion start ups.
A Major Stumbling Block
For the moment, though, mobile advertising is choking on a lack of standardization â€" the same problem which bedeviled online Web ads for a decade.
- Handset fragmentation: So many different devices, screen sizes, and operating systems
- Creative fragmentation: That beautiful ad you developed for iPhones will not translate to other phones
- Ad network fragmentation: No single party can place your ad across all the various platforms
- Metrics fragmentation, with no equivalent to ComScore or Nielsen who can measure your ad's performance across the mobile world
What if Mobile Is a Terrible Space for Mass Advertising?
There is another possibility, however, which is that mobile is, in fact, a terrible space for advertising. Users may simply not be willing to tolerate much advertising on their mobile devices, the experience maybe too intrusive, and the screens may simply be too cramped to capture much attention. Brands looking to translate their mass advertising campaigns onto mobile screens may simply be throwing good money after bad.
Four Other Ways to Market through Mobile Devices
If that is the case, marketers may need to focus on some very different approaches to connecting with customer in the mobile world. Here are four ideas:
1. Micro-Advertising. If ads are to work on mobile, they may well need to be a different kind of ad â€" smaller audience, smaller message, and a more enticing call to action. Think of it as "micro-advertising": a message that works in 2 seconds, doesn't need much space, and reaches a very targeted audience. My vision of the perfect micro-ad would be a new offer from a brand I've chosen to follow â€" say, an announcement of a new album's release by my favorite band. Offer me a link to hear a sample song right now while you have my attention, or ask me to enter my email address to have an MP3 download sent to me.
2. Optimizing Your Whole Web for Mobile. Forget banner advertising. Search marketing, email, brand websites, and video all need to work just as well when your customers are using their mobile devices. For small businesses, their best mobile ROI may come from testing every email campaign they send to see how it reads on various phones, and making sure the landing page they send customers to (e.g. when you click on that nice "order now" link in the email) is designed to detect if the reader is on a mobile device, and deliver a mobile-optimized web page.
3. Shaping the Point of Purchase. What is most important about mobile devices is not their screen size, but the fact that we tend to be use them at the point of purchase â€" the end of our "decision journey" as customers. We may be ordering online (by smartphone because we're in a hurry), or preparing to make a local purchase (and checking our phone to find a retailer, read reviews, or compare prices). This is why mobile check-in and coupon services like Foursquare and Groupon work so well on mobile. I use an app called BestParking to find cheap nearby garages while I circle the block in Manhattan; that's much better marketing for the garages than any mobile banner ad could possibly offer. Retailers are using QR codes and other mobile media to offer information and deals to shoppers as they walk in the door.
4. Building Branded Experiences. Many brands are focusing on mobile devices as a place to create branded experiences and content. These often take the form of branded apps or games, and the focus is on providing entertainment, relevant content, or even utility to the user. Kraft sold over 1 million copies of its iFood Assistant app, which helps customers quickly plan, shop for, and prepare meals with Kraft ingredients. Nike offers athletes a suite of apps like Training Club, Nike BOOM, and Nike+ GPS, which keep you on target for your exercise goals, and keep you thinking every day about the Nike brand.
Reaching Customers Further Down the Funnel
Businesses should think twice before trying to translate their mass advertising strategy to the mobile word. The greatest opportunity of mobile marketing is likely not in driving broad awareness with millions of impressions. Instead, the opportunity may lie at other stages of the marketing funnel: shaping brand perceptions (via branded experiences), influencing point of purchase (with local, decision-oriented marketing), and driving customer loyalty and advocacy (with opt-in rewards). Just remember, in the mobile world, there is a lot more to marketing than just serving ads.
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David Rogers presents over 100 business cases and a practical framework for planning and implementing digital strategies in his new book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, and speaks at conferences worldwide. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers and on Google+ at http://bit.ly/DavidRogersGplus.