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Enterprise mobile marketing: Making the right moves in a rapidly evolving field

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Mobile marketing has often been hailed as a game changer, but in reality it has not lived up to industry expectations. If the industry growth in 2012 is any indicator, it appears that after many years of underperformance, marketers are finally getting serious about mobile. eMarketer estimated that enterprises would spend $2.6 billion on mobile marketing in 2012, but later found that the actual spend was $4.1 billion. Despite such impressive growth, mobile marketing accounts for only about 1 percent of the total spend, and it is still early days for the industry.

It is easy to understand why mobile excites marketers. Five billion and counting, there are more mobile phones on the planet than there are either toilets or toothbrushes. There is a migration to mobile for at least some "traditional" desktop activities. For instance, 60 percent of Facebook users log in from a mobile device. Users almost seem inseparable from their smart phones—they are performing an increasing variety of tasks and consuming greater amounts of media using mobile devices. Mobile devices generate such data trails about user activity that marketers can perhaps know all they potentially want to know about a consumer by detecting patterns and contexts.

However, enterprises embarking on mobile marketing initiatives often encounter many obstacles and may find success elusive. Here, we review the top challenges and ways to tackle them and emerge on top.

Which mobile marketing vehicles and platforms?

Enterprises may be facing a paradox of choice, having to select between different marketing vehicles like messaging (SMS/MMS), apps, mobile friendly Web, ads, games, response codes and many more options and sub-options.

Forget about integrating mobile with other marketing channels; it's tough to have an integrated mobile marketing strategy itself, particularly in the absence of clear standards and "tried-and-tested" rules.

Unfortunately, that's how new frontier lands operate, and as an early mover, be prepared to run standalone campaigns and to experiment and figure out what works in your industry. Google recently modified AdWords functionality so that you don't have to run separate campaigns for online and mobile devices. You can specify your preferences and let their algorithms place the ads on your behalf. Examine if that makes sense for your advertising objectives.

Adding to the complexity is the heterogeneity of device types—phones, tablets and e-readers—and the attendant requirements for cross-platform compatibility. There is also an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of HTML 5 versus native apps, and you will have your own preferences and take on the matter. But remember that at a minimum you need to have a mobile optimized landing page. If not, you're likely to turn off the increasing numbers of users who browse the Web on their mobile devices. A hygiene factor really but surprisingly about 50 percent of the heavy online advertisers do not have one.

Mobile is not a miniature desktop

There is also a mindset problem. Many enterprises treat mobile marketing as if it were the same as online marketing.  Mobile ads are just "mini-me" versions of online ads, reminiscent of the time when online ads were replicas of print ads. Viewing it through that prism, enterprises are skeptical about displaying ads on the smaller screens of mobile devices, because they think users have "banner blindness" and worry about their effectiveness.

The trick here is to take advantage of mobile-specific user behavior instead of treating it as a miniature desktop. We don't know all the nuances of mobile advertising but we do know that searches tend to be local, commerce opportunities are location-specific and users have a near immediate purchase/activity completion intent. Try to incorporate those aspects in your mobile ad campaigns and increase their relevance to consumers.

Lack of analytics and user tracking

Ironically, despite the mountains of activity data that mobile devices generate, marketers are confounded by the lack of ability to track users and serve suitably targeted advertisements in the mobile world. Relevant ads can be displayed online using cookies, but the limitations of cookies on mobile phones mean that you'll have to rely on contextual clues. In the absence of third-party cookies to track users across domains, you'll have to rely on mobile-specific workarounds like common identity login for user tracking.

A related challenge is the lack of reliable metrics. For example, the conversion rates for online click ads are straightforward, but we have no such easy way to determine the effectiveness of mobile ads. Some ad networks can link logged-in user activity across Web and mobile, but in general, we are still a long way from being able to reliably track user activity across channels (e.g. following a user from desktop to mobile to shopping mall).

In the next few years, we can expect some standardized metrics based on the recently launched Nielsen Mobile Brand Effect measurement (which purports to do what its name indicates).

Privacy concerns

Of course, there are the privacy concerns and regulations to comply with, which vary based on the region/country. In the United States, the prevailing practice is to track user location by asking for blanket permission when an app is installed.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, indicating that mobile privacy is firmly in its sights, recently released a set of guidelines for privacy protection. Even when they are on the right side of regulation, some marketers are worried about appearing too intrusive and breaching privacy norms that consumers hold dear. If marketers do not want a backlash, they need to integrate mobile ads in the flow of user experience rather than interrupting users to display ads.

The rules of mobile marketing and engagement are still evolving. Enterprises should be prepared for both lessons and surprises along the way.

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