Which Mobile Marketer Are You? Scoping the Showdown Between the Cool Kids and the Pragmatists

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Last week, thousands of businesspeople gathered at the CTIA convention in Los Angeles, the semi-annual show where companies unveil the latest and greatest mobile products and services. I was among those wandering the show floor in a state of over-stimulation that is the hallmark effect of a good tradeshow. CTIA is catering to a sector that is having its “golden moment.”

Hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital have flooded into mobile, yielding a bumper crop of offerings that are just now beginning to compete in the marketplace. The moment is golden because few of these offerings have had the chance to disappoint or fail, so everyone’s outlook is rosy, everyone’s projections a hockeystick. When Tony Hawk launches a new mobile game by giving an extreme skateboarding performance on an enormous half-pipe built in the middle of the Los Angeles Convention Center, that’s when you know a market is overripe.

I visited the show not as a mobile enthusiast, but as a marketer, trying to understand exactly how all of this innovation could help us grow our brands and reach our marketing goals. It is not an easy puzzle to piece together. This proliferation of mobile service companies has brought an onslaught of services that sound neat but are difficult to decipher.

For example, I encountered no fewer than four companies that have competing technologies that allow consumers to upload photos or video from their mobile phone to a blog, a Website, or any other virtual destination. Sounds neat, very Web 2.0. There was another phalanx of companies that allow any owner of a Website to host a “mobile storefront,” selling a selection of ringtones, wallpaper, and mobile phone software for revenue that eventually gets split with the technology provider and the wireless carriers . Also pretty neat.

It’s exciting to glimpse into the world of gee-whiz innovation, but how much of this can we put to work for us as marketers right now?, My experience in building dozens of mobile promotions for major brands has taught me there is a what I call a “Gee Whiz Gap” — the gap between what technology can do and what marketers can use. My most recent visit to CTIA brought this into clear view. We marketers must be aware of the Gap if we are to successfully navigate the shoals of mobile marketing. The goal is not to be a skeptic, but rather to be selective and brutally realistic about which mobile offerings can help us reach the measurable results our brands and clients demand.

So how do you know which mobile strategy to deploy? Of course, it depends on your marketing goals. The first question to ask yourself is: What type of marketing are you trying to do? There are two types of marketers when it comes to mobile. Type A, let’s call them the “Cool Kids” want to use mobile to align their brand with cutting-edge technology and youth trends. They are less interested in how many people actually use the technology or in concrete metrics like response rates or sales lift.

For the Cool Kids, the ultimate win is an awesome press clip or a mention on MTV. As a mobile agency serving marketers, my company loves working with the Cool Kids. Who wouldn’t? Budgets are fat, the ideas are super creative, and the clients are energized. The Cool Kids don’t care about the Gee Whiz Gap. Like Tony Hawk, they’ll race right to the precipice and never look down.

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