Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mobile - is it just a new media?

Yes. And no. Well, sort of.

Advertising agencies for years have been booking and selling media space to clients, usually for a percentage of the spend. Traditional medias include TV, radio, print and outdoor.

So is mobile just another media? Can agencies buy the space, create a message to put into it, and sell it to their clients?

Short answer: yes. Longer answer: they shouldn't.

There are a few companies out there that are providing mobile-as-media space. They usually offer something free to the consumers - horoscope, joke-of-the-day, etc. As part of the agreement, the consumer also agrees to provide some basic demographic information, and agrees to accept a certain level of text-based advertising. Over time, I expect there will be a few more of these companies springing up.

But there's a problem with this model. It's outdated. It's based on the television advertising model; provide something for free, and the consumer will tolerate the accompanying advertising message.

Often when a new media appears, the models from the old media are applied to the new one. This happened in the 90s when banner advertising became all the rage on the internet - something adopted from print ads. Nowadays, we hardly see any banners online as the internet has evolved into it's own communication tool.

Mobile is not just a new media, it's a whole new way to communicate. So what will be the model going forward for marketers to use mobile?

First, we have to consider the consumers. Here in Canada, where mobile is less developed than other places, we are limited to the 136 characters of a text message. Sure, technology exists to develop mobile-enhanced websites, WAP sites, iPhone applications and all sorts of other activities, but for the most part, mainstream consumers are not yet ready for those things. So text messaging is primarily where it's at.

Next, we need to consider what consumers think about their phones. For most, it is a vital communication tool, primarily used to connect with friends and family. Brands who are early adopters of text-message marketing can enjoy the benefit of being as close to their consumers as their friends and family are. Over time, that benefit will be reduced as mobile marketing becomes more mainstream, but it will never go away completely.

Finally, we have to understand the benefits of mobile. It is estimated that 94% of text messages are opened immediately. Compare that statistic to direct mail, or even email. Mobile devices are always on, always carried, and always at the point of sale. All this without even counting the future potential of GPS or Bluetooth-activated proximity applications.

So where does this lead us? If mobile isn't just another media space, what is it? How do marketers best take advantage of it?

I suggest to all my clients that mobile offers brands the opportunity to ask consumers to 'hold up their hands' if they are interested in more information about that brand. Once those consumers have identified themselves, they need to be offered value-driven, engaging and most especially, relevant information. Done right, this will enhance the consumers relationship with that brand.

So the new model is to cultivate and develop fans-of-your-brand over time, and providing them with valuable information that they want. This will be much more effective than the old model of pairing your message with free content, forcing them to tolerate your mobile ad while getting some other information that they want.

The old model doesn't fit the new. For this reason, mobile is not just another media space.

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