Mobile Ain’t Email: Navigating the Nuances and Nuisances of Mobile Marketing

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Back in 2002, I took a research trip to London to investigate the emergence of mobile marketing. Then as now, the Europeans were far ahead of us Americans when it came to mobile. Americans in 2002 were just realizing that they could receive and actually send a text message from their very own cellphones. Meanwhile in Europe, teenagers were furiously texting to each other, and big brands were beginning to experiment with mobile as a marketing channel. So, in those days, if you wanted to glimpse the future of mobile marketing in America, you only needed to hop a plane to Heathrow and start taking notes.

I went to see a friend who worked at an interactive agency in London. He’d said that they were doing some mobile marketing themselves, and I wanted to see first-hand how it was being done. I had already set up a shop to start testing mobile in America, but I was a bit stymied by the technology end of things. I’m a marketer, not a telecommunications expert. So the first thing I wanted to know was how the guts worked. How did the messages actually get from your database out into the cellular ethersphere and into consumers’ handsets?

When I met the CEO of this agency, that was the first question I asked. He looked at me like I was an idiot. He pointed to his laptop sitting on his desk.

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” he finally replied. “It all comes out of there.”

I begged him to elaborate. “I just plug my phone into the back of my laptop,” he explained, “and we wrote a little script that just, you know, sends them through the phone.”

To my British friend, it was the most obvious thing in the world. But to my American ears, it didn’t add up. There was no way to plug my American cellphone into a laptop. And even if I could, there’s no function to just send text messages. I knew enough about the American market to understand that there were many complications to take into account. Each American carrier (like Verizon or Sprint) had their own very particular way to send messages through their system. And even if you were technologically able to send bulk messages, you needed the carriers’ permission to do so.

I’m still no expert on the British mobile networks, and I’m not entirely sure whether what my friend was doing was kosher. But our firm has now operated scores of mobile marketing campaigns in the U.S., and there’s one thing I’m sure of: In the U.S. there simply is no “plug and play” way to operate a mobile campaign the way you’d send an email blast.

It is tempting to think of sending text messages like sending email. But there are crucial differences on both the marketing and the technological fronts that every marketer needs to think about. Here are the key differences to think if you’re someone who is familiar with email marketing, and thinking of moving into mobile marketing:

1. The Pipes are not Open: The Internet is not owned by anybody, so if you have an Internet connection then you can send email. There’s no real barrier to sending out batches of emails, notwithstanding whether they’ll make it through spam filters and to their intended recipients. This is not the case with mobile. Each mobile carrier owns its own network and has the right to control what passes through its system. Carriers typically require explicit approval of whatever you plan to send to their subscribers. Carriers have an acute interest in making sure that their hard-won paying subscribers are not bombarded by messages they do not want. So you’ll need to plan for the time and effort to get those carrier approvals before you can start sending text messages.

2. The Pipes are not Free: An email service provider may charge you to send your emails out through their system, but there’s no fundamental cost to using the Internet. Sending a text message incurs a cost that must either be paid by the sender, the consumer, or both. It’s more like postage than like email. If you’re a marketer, you probably don’t want to charge your consumers to receive your message, so you’ll wind up footing the bill. It’s only a few pennies per message, but with volume it adds up. That’s a significant constraint that you need to bear in mind and budget for.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Brian! Peter Klein here, one of your old 150 enews marketing employees. Great article on mobile marketing, hits home as our parent company Traffix is involved in the space as well so there may be some partnership synergies. Drop me a line if you get a moment, glad to see you are doing well and pioneering as usual!

  2. Robin Raskin Dory Devlin Christopher Null Gina Hughes Tom Samiljan
    Cell Phones as Your Best Shopping Buddy
    Fri Feb 23, 2007 6:34PM EST
    See Comments (0)
    Until we can all walk around with a computer attach to our hips, we’ll have to settle for the next best thing that can give us instant access to information on the web, cell phones. I’m not a big online shopper because I like to see how items look and feel, and product images online can be deceiving. But at the same time, I know the reason online shopping is popular is because you can find some great deals. So how can you get the best of both worlds?

    One service that recently caught my attention is called Frucall, and I’ll tell you why I think this works. Most of us like to do online and offline price checks before dropping thousands of dollars on any item. A service like Frucall does all the shopping comparison for you…while you’re out shopping. So if you come across an item you want to buy at a physical store, you can find out if you’re missing out on any online deals without actually running to your computer. All you have to do is call 1-888-DO-FRUCALL (1-888-363-7822), enter the item’s product bar code, and listen for the top deals online. You can even buy products through your cell phone, provided you sign up for a Frucall account online. An account basically give you access to other features such text messages, a voicenotes service where you can leave yourself voice memos, and the bookmarking of items your researched while you were out shopping. It’s a free service, and one number avid shoppers should program on their mobile.

    Ok, but what about finding deals offline while you’re out? Impulsive buyers who need to have an item right away can still search for a better deal. Thanks to GPS Shopper’s Slifter anyone can text “Slifter” or 75438, enter a zip code, and the product they’re looking for to find the best deals in nearby stores. Sifter can access 50 million of products in over 20,000 retail locations increasing your chances of finding the best deal locally. Big retailers such as Best Buy, CompUSA, and Footlocker have already signed up with Slifter.

    Both services are great tools that allow you do your reasearch, so you don’t have to feel guilty later.

    http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/hughes/9044

    I’ll have to see if I get a response
    There is another mobile platform that will only benefit the consumer AND the mobile web user. I think other companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo do not want to give the power to the people. They want to control it.

    Qode is a free down loadable platform for the mobile device. The platform is designed to provide one click on a bar code, 2D, QR, datamatrix, logo, keyword, trademark, RFID, slogan, billboard, etc., to go from the mobile web to connect to information about that particular product.

    By clicking on the above the consumer turns on that product to get coupons, enter sweepstakes, win a prize, get information, find out a bus schedule, nearest location of where to purchase for a cheaper price, get assembly instructions, etc.

    Price comparison is just one thing.

    But, here is the kicker, do you want to type in the bar code or just point and click on it.

    What is easiest for you?????

    The consumer is paying for web minutes thru their mobile plan. The phone carrier loses revenue with just one click to content. The consumer / mobile web user is not going to hear or see about this free and easy to use application. Why not?

    The big players involved are afraid to lose money in the real world. The connection to the physical world only gives the power back to the people.

    You may have to Google Qode to get the free down load for your mobile phone.

    JMHO

  3. There is another mobile platform that will only benefit the consumer AND the mobile web user. I think other companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo do not want to give the power to the people. They want to control it.

    Qode is a free down loadable platform for the mobile device. The platform is designed to provide one click on a bar code, 2D, QR, datamatrix, logo, keyword, trademark, RFID, slogan, billboard, etc., to go from the mobile web to connect to information about that particular product.

    By clicking on the above the consumer turns on that product to get coupons, enter sweepstakes, win a prize, get information, find out a bus schedule, nearest location of where to purchase for a cheaper price, get assembly instructions, etc.

    Price comparison is just one thing.

    But, here is the kicker, do you want to type in the bar code or just point and click on it.

    What is easiest for you?????

    The consumer is paying for web minutes thru their mobile plan. The phone carrier loses revenue with just one click to content. The consumer / mobile web user is not going to hear or see about this free and easy to use application. Why not?

    The big players involved are afraid to lose money in the real world. The connection to the physical world only gives the power back to the people.

    You may have to Google Qode to get the free down load for your mobile phone.

    JMHO

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