‘Whatever the device you use for getting your information out, it should be the same information.’

– Sir Tim Berners-Lee

mobile marketing: why we're getting it wrong

There really is no such thing as mobile marketing… at least not in the way the majority of marketers seem to think about it today.

That may seem like an odd statement given that analysts at Gartner predicted global mobile ad spend would reach US$3.3 billion by the end of 2011, and will jump to a massive $20.6 billion by 2015, but bear with me.

A quick glance at the headlines across a selection of mobile-centric web sites reveals that a lot of pundits are treating mobile as the shiny new marketing channel of choice  for hip brands that want to engage with their tech-savvy customers. But in reality mobile is nothing of the sort. When we talk about mobile we’re not talking about mobile marketing — we’re talking about mobile internet access.

Mobile is not a marketing channel

Mobile is not a marketing channel… it’s just a portable and convenient way for people (your customers and prospects) to access information and interact with their peers over the internet wherever they happen to be. It’s the mobility that’s new… the engagement channels are still mostly the same.

I was looking at a presentation on Slideshare recently called “Why Mobile Social Media Matters”. It was in many ways a well put together presentation, full of lots of interesting facts and potentially useful statistics. But its fundamental premise was inherently flawed. Mobile social media doesn’t exist! Posting to Facebook is posting to Facebook whether you do it from your mobile phone, your laptop, your state of the art gaming desktop or your playstation portable. Likewise twitter, consumer reviews, blog comments and any other social media platform you care to mention.

Treating mobile as a discrete marketing channel, as a lot of marketers and a worrying number of online “experts” seem to be doing, I think spectacularly misses the point. It undervalues the huge underlying potential that makes mobile so valuable to your business.

Different… but still the same

Mobile is probably the single biggest development in digital marketing since the inception of the internet, but the marketing channels you harness to engage with people through their mobile devices are still the same. The net IS STILL the net, regardless of the device you use to access it. Social media IS STILL social media no matter the device you use to interact with your peers; the world wide web IS STILL the world wide web, whether you’re accessing a mobile-optimised version of a site or the belt-and-braces full-browser version… I could go on, but you get the idea.

That’s great news for marketers… because we don’t have to re-learn all this stuff from scratch. The intricacies of digital strategy are still much the same; the lessons you’ve already learnt about marketing your business online still apply when your customers choose to access your marketing content through a mobile device.

From a marketers’ perspective what’s really changed with the widespread adoption of mobile devices is this:

  1. the immediacy of having access to information and services wherever you happen to be
  2. the additional functionality afforded by modern mobile hardware (like GPS sensors, motion sensors and touch screens), which extend the scope of marketing possibility.
  3. the way these combine to alter your customers’ perception, expectation and ultimately the potential utility of your marketing content

Focus on the human side of the mobile equation

As with everything else in the digital marketing arena, it’s the human element of the mobile equation — how it’s influencing consumer behaviour and interaction — that makes it so powerful. Ultimately mobile internet access is convenient: it helps make people’s lives easier. Mobile devices are portable, they’re accessible, they’re always on. They give us access to what we need, when we need it. That naturally has profound implications for marketers.

One of the fundamental problems I see with the current in-vogue perception of mobile marketing as a “shiny new marketing channel” is the inherent assumption that we can somehow control the way people choose to access our content. We patently can’t; the customer controls that side of of things, all we can do is ensure our marketing content adapts seamlessly, however our customers choose to access it.

The quote from Sir Tim Berners Lee that I opened the article with sums things up pretty well: information should, wherever possible, be platform independent — and I think that applies to marketing content as much as it does to any other type of information. That presents challenges, certainly, but it maximises choice and flexibility for consumers, and ultimately increases the value and reach of every bit of marketing content you produce.

So do you need a mobile marketing strategy? The short answer is no!

Do you need to integrate mobile elements into your existing digital marketing strategy? The answer is almost certainly yes.

How you do that has more about understanding your customers than it does about understanding the underlying technology. Mobile success isn’t about launching a new mobile-targeted ad campaign, commissioning a new smartphone app or hiring a mobile agency to craft exclusively mobile content for your brand. It’s much broader and deeper than that, and should permeate your entire digital strategy across all channels.

If you can really understand the human side of the mobile equation: how your customers integrate mobile devices into their lives, how that’s influencing their perceptions, expectations and behaviour, then you’re well on your way to reaping maximum reward from the burgeoning potential of mobile.

How you make it happen… that’s just logistics.

First published in “Marketing Magnified” e-Journal of the CMO Council