Mobile Marketing

What critical items do you have with you all the time these days?Your wallet or purse, your keys, and €¦.. your cell phone!

Maybe in the not too distant future you may not need your wallet and keys because everything you need them for now will be part of your cell phone and you will be able to electronically pay for what you need with your cell phone, have pictures of loved ones loaded on your cell phone and be able to electronically open doors and start cars with technology that’s part your cell.

This technology already exists where you can wave a code on a cell phone over a scanner to buy things and travel a la E-Z Pass without generating a single piece of paper.

However, you will have to have your cell phone because it will become your all purpose tool for living. In a relatively short period of time wireless communications and the electronic interfaces built into cell phones will become part of our life.

Almost everyday we hear statistics on the number of cell phones in use on earth all the way from about 3 billion now and with another 1.5 million being added every day. In the U.S. the latest estimate I have seen is that about 78% of all households currently have at least one cell phone, but not all have cameras. Total subscribers here are about 210 million now.   

Camera phones in use are growing rapidly with researchers predicting that almost 600 million will be sold this year and growing to more than one billion globally by 2010. It is estimated that over 40% of U.S. households have at least one camera phone.

Current generations of cell phones are like a digital remote control in that with a wave, like the new credit cards, the phone can read encoded data on everyday objects and convert that into text files, pictures and even videos on the screen.

The latest development the iPhone introduced by Apple is the next generation of this evolving technology. Steve Jobs expects to sell 10 million iPhones next year.

What is the marketing impact of mobile telephony technology? Well the cell phone has rapidly become the tool to marry the physical with the digital and in so doing has advanced the ability of marketers to not only communicate directly with customers, but also to be able to monitor and measure the impact of their advertisements and promotions.

Google sees the greatest opportunity to continue to grow its business with products and advertising for mobile phones. Their CEO feels that in the next five to ten years many people will have their first experience with the internet through a mobile phone.

Along with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are racing to develop a host of mobile products like online maps and new search engines to allow users to more easily surf the Web on the go.   

Mobile media firms have emerged to help marketers transition from their traditional channels to take advantage of the rapidly growing use of cell phones and other wireless devices to bring media content direct to customers. In addition, in this new virtual way of developing one-to-one communications there is the additional benefit of instant response to marketing promotions wherein customers can take immediate action.

As a result of this marketers have immediate access to customer preferences and can market more effectively. The customer benefits as they can instantaneously react to promotions that are timely and relevant to their current requirements.

Let’s take an example where a customer is interested in electronics. An electronics retailer could launch a promotion for the newest generation of an MP3 player through a traditional print channel. A prospective customer will see a short code in the promotion and using their cell phone they can send a text message to the retailer who will automatically respond with purchase incentives to their cell phones. The customer, in turn, can then get more specific product information, store locations, pricing and incentives from the retailer.

This scenario has not only saved time for both customer and retailer in this case, but it has created an instant dialogue or a virtual relationship that can be built upon for future one-to-one mutual opportunities.

Mobile Ice (, a technology pioneer in advancing mobile marketing, has developed the most sophisticated software for marketers to adapt a mobile media approach today. They are working with a variety of marketers and have had some significant successes. 

 Some examples are:

Event promotions. Task – getting customers to go to an event.

The event promoter provides a list of mobile phone numbers to Mobile Ice who loads the list on their system. Mobile Ice/Promoter sends a text message announcing the event to the list. The recepients can either accept (opt in ) or do nothing. Once someone opts in they also receive a variety of event offers and incentives.

The value to the attendee is that they know about the event. In addition prior to the event they receive reminders and other incentives to attend. The value to the promoter is that they have a confirmed list. This allows for better event planning and greater reliability that entrance fees will be collected and that they can track attendance by offer e.g. reduced admission, free admission, other incentives, etc.

The greatest value to the promoter is that they can measure the effectiveness of each incentive as a motivator for future events. More importantly they also know by type of attendee/customer what incentive is most effective.

Product promotions. Task – increase product sales.

The product marketer prints a code on the product package. Customers that purchase the product with the winning code number inside win a prize. The marketer advertises the prize offer in print and on TV. Customers are instructed to text the code number to get a text response from the marketer and see if they’ve won. In this case, different prizes are awarded at specified intervals to keep the campaign fresh.

The benefit to the purchaser is that they get to win something valuable in addition to purchasing something they would normally buy anyway. They can text to see if they’ve won, every time they purchase. The value to the product marketer is they obviously sell more. Additionally, by changing the prize offering and measuring response, they gain insight into what types of offers, brands and other products their customers respond to. This insight helps the product marketer tailor future promotions for text follow up to customers that opt-in for text message promotions.

Retail brand promotions. Task – increase store traffic

The retailer advertises a store gift card redeemable by text message. The customer sends a text keyword to the retailer. In turn, the retailer responds with a text message containing a redemption code the customer uses to redeem their gift card. The next time the customer is out shopping in the area, they go to the retail store to pick up their gift card. The mobile redemption code is matched to the customer’s mobile number when the text message is delivered so the retailer can tell which customers responded to the mobile promotion and when they redeemed their gift card.

The value to the customer is they can get a gift card to use at a retail store where they shop and treat themselves to a purchase they might not normally. The benefit to the retailer is that they drive more customers to their location, offer a purchase incentive to customers who are interested in their products and track the effectiveness of their offer in real-time.

Of course the retailer has now added customers to their mobile promotions list and knows which type of products these customers have purchased. The retailer can now send text message promotions to their customer base with promotions offering similar products based on the customers buying habits.

Given these examples can you think of how you can get started using mobile marketing to establish virtual one-to-one virtual relationships with customers?

My next column will be about Customer Relationship Marketing and how important CRM is to your success.

Email me with questions or comments so that we might begin a dialogue to help you get your business to where you want it to be. I can be reached at

He is the author of GUIDEBOOK TO PLANNING – A Common Sense Approach to Building Business Plans for Growing Firms, which has recently been reprinted. He is a past contributor to Chief Executive and one of his articles was featured in The Best of Chief Executive.

About Robert M. Donnelly

Robert M. Donnelly
Robert M. Donnelly is CMO of Flo-Tite Valves & Controls, a U.S. based supplier of valves and components to the process control industry in North America. A coach, educator, and advisor to founders/CEOs of growing firms, he is a serial entrepreneur, having started, grown and sold several technology based businesses. Previously he held executive positions at IBM, Pfizer and Exxon.