From one market research study to another, from one industry trend report to another, the results are in and they are all very consistent: the ownership and use of mobile phones, specifically smart phones, is on the rise globally and there are no signs which indicate that this will stop or reverse itself any time soon. No surprise, I know, but what's a marketer to do, as it relates to the mobile channel? Does he/she all of a sudden decide to integrate mobile-based technologies and/or products (e.g., banner ads, coupons, SMS, mobile barcodes, visual search recognition, near field communications, digital watermarks, augmented reality, etc.) into his/her marketing mix, or does he/she simply do nothing and wait for the various components within the mobile channel to develop and mature that much more?
For many marketers, making this decision is a real dilemma, and rightfully so, because there is, or can be, a lot at stake. Should investments be made today knowing the pace of change? What is the competition doing or not doing? What are consumers demanding or wanting? Is there in-house expertise and capacity to effectively manage this new channel? The list goes on, and not only is it a question of deciding whether or not to integrate mobile into the mix but, what happens once a decision to move ahead is made? It's really a two-fold dilemma.
On the one hand, if a marketer decides not to integrate mobile into their mix then they stand a very real chance of alienating the ever increasing number of consumers who choose to make mobile their first screen, in addition to possibly loosing ground to the competition. On the other hand, if a marketer decides to integrate mobile into their mix then they stand a very real chance of expanding their reach and holding their ground versus the competition. But, what about the dilemma's second fold? Great that a marketer decides to embrace mobile, but how do they go about choosing which type of mobile-based technology(ies) and/or product(s) to use and have integrated with the rest of their marketing mix? In my mind, this is the real question that a marketer needs to ask and be concerned about, meaning it's less about "if" and "when," but more about "how."
How a marketer may choose to integrate mobile can be a daunting and complex exercise, all for the simple reason that there are so many options available to them. For example, with mobile barcodes, a marketer can choose between open-source codes (e.g., QR Codes or Data Matrix Codes) or proprietary codes (e.g., Microsoft Tags or SnapTags). If the open-source route is chosen then a marketer needs to decide in-house or out-of-house with respect to code generation, management and tracking. If in-house, are the resources available to do an effective job? If out-of-house, which vendor or platform to use? And, the same can be considered or asked if choosing SMS, augmented reality, visual search recognition, near field communications, etc., because for each technology or product there is more than one provider/platform.
So then, back to the original question, what's a marketer to do with respect to the mobile channel? In my mind, the answer is to take action, some action, because the pace is too fast and the opportunity costs are to great to merely sit on the sidelines. By taking "some" action, I am referring to action that is calculated and cautious, as opposed to random and with no fore thought.
The steps below, which are in no particular order and are by means all inclusive, may help a marketer make the decision as to whether or not mobile is for them and, if so, how to prepare for including the channel into the mix.
- Determine goals and objectives for the strategy or campaign and understand how mobile may help to achieve those goals and objectives
- Understand internal resources, capabilities and limitations (e.g., personnel talent, budgets, equipment, etc.) and be prepared to align them accordingly
- Understand what's necessary to obtain buy-in from senior management on down
- Understand the target market and other key demographics and how they may or may not react to mobile
- Learn about different mobile-based technologies and products (advantages/disadvantages, strengths/weaknesses, costs, requirements, best practices, etc.)
- Learn about individual vendors/platforms and what they have to offer with respect to product, service and, perhaps, training and support
- Examine real-life case/user studies and/or third-party research reports
- Determine if mobile can be supported like other channels for the long-term
With these steps serving as a guide, once a decision to include mobile has been made, a marketer can then start to pick and choose which mobile-based technology and/or product makes the most sense. And, from here, it's important that marketers keep in mind the need for experimentation and analysis. Chances are the first implementation of mobile will not be exact, so it may be necessary to make adjustments along the way, and this should be expected, not feared. Just think of the learning curve when it came to the Internet, email, direct mail and most any other marketing medium or channel. It may take time to master the mobile channel, but the more research and thought that goes into making the mobile decision up front the greater the chance for success in the long term.
To expand on the comment made above, while the first attempt at mobile (i.e., the integration of a particular technology and/or product) may go south and not live up to expectations, this should not deter a marketer from either realigning the expectations and trying again, or from trying another mobile-based technology and/or product all together. For example, if mobile barcodes don't fit the bill then, perhaps, mobile coupons might. If augmented reality doesn't work as planned maybe mobile barcodes do. As with everything else marketing related, mobile is a matter of trial and error. Learn from past experiences, campaigns, strategies, etc., and try to make the next one that much better, stronger, more relevant, more meaningful, more valuable, more consumer focused.
In summary, the mobile channel might not be for every marketer and every business, but serious thought and consideration needs to be given before it can be simply written off as a way to engage and interact with potential and/or existing customers. As mentioned above, more and more consumers are using their mobile device as their first screen, not only for web browsing, but for activities as important as search, payments, social sharing, email, coupon redemption, calendar and address books, photo storage, directions and location, tickets and, least we forget, making a phone call.