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Don't make a bad call with mobile

Don't make a bad call with mobile Evan Gerber

"But mom, everyone is doing it!" We've all heard it or said it, and we've all used it to justify doing something that might have been better left undone. Lately, all the "everyones" have been targeting mobile, and creating inventive, successful ways to reach their audiences on the go.

The mobile web is compelling, but before a brand goes there, it is crucial that brand managers have a solid rationale, know their customers, and provide a creative and useful offering. This article will discuss critical topics to consider before taking the first steps into the world of mobile.

Ensure there is a real business need and business strategy
Before jumping on the mobile bandwagon, make sure there is a comprehensive business rationale underlying the decision. Be able to clearly state the objective of the program and identify metrics to gauge success. Smart managers will think long term.

Mobile usage is changing, the technologies are complicated, and the state of the industry can be baffling for a neophyte. Before making the investment into the field, ensure that the company is committed to a long-term engagement, and investing time and money into what might be a challenging foray. If these factors can't be met, it is possible that marketing budgets will go farther utilizing another media mix.

This can be seen, for example, in the banking industry, where a number of large institutions strive to provide their audiences with on-the-go access. While there are considerable technical, organizational and experiential hurdles to surmount, companies like Bank of America are making substantial investments to enter and lead in the mobile space.

It's nothing new that success is dependent on strategic vision, but before brands dabble in the mobile space, they need to make sure the vision is holistic and encompasses technical, business and customer goals.

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Gauge willingness to compromise control
Currently, telcos such as Verizon or Sprint exert influence in what content can operate on their networks, as well as the associated costs. Even major brands find themselves struggling to access certain networks, and the result is large chunks of an audience can't be reached. For example, the NFL's mobile content is available exclusively through Sprint. While this is a risk, it is not a show stopper; a little research before committing to the project will provide enough insight to make a go/no go decision.

Other times, a manager must adapt the voice of the brand to work on mobile networks. Recently, NARAL, a political organization, was denied the right to broadcast certain text messages to its constituent audience because Verizon policy would not allow it. While this was reversed, and most brands are not as controversial, it is still crucial to ensure that the carriers will allow messages to be promoted through their networks.

The mobile space is not like the web -- the concept of net neutrality does not exist here. Instead, carriers can, and will, exert influence over the content that is provided to consumers. Brand managers must be aware of this, and have plans on how to deal with the potential impact.

Know your customer's cell phone
Before mobilizing a brand, either through advertising or application development, consider who makes up your audience and if you will find those people in the mobile environment. Careful demographic research clarifies the best audiences to target and how best to reach them. For example, certain portions of the Latino audience have deeper penetration in mobile than they do online. Forrester Research indicates that these audiences will eschew computers in favor of higher end mobile phones. And according to research conducted by Pew Internet, these users are not just making phone calls. Within the adult population of this community, 59 percent have cell phones, and 49 percent use them for text messaging. 

In the competitive mobile banking space, Citibank seeks to differentiate itself through presentation of a Spanish version of its online site in the coming year. Mobile marketers must research their audiences and determine if they are running applications, paying for data services and understand service plans. Critical consideration of these factors will help guide development of a mobile program that capitalizes on the strengths of the audience, while avoiding weak spots.


Provide relevant offers
Offering customers a mobile service that they will not use, or building an irrelevant application will, at best, fail quietly. Smart managers will think about the essence of their brand, and how careful adaptation into a mobile environment will enhance the offering. What about a particular product is especially useful in numerous environments or contexts?

Epicurious is an online cooking reference site. Its mobile application, Epi-to-go, presents the content differently, breaking it apart to facilitate meal planning. Epicurious.com provides a mobile application for users that enables them to research recipes on the fly, and view an ingredients' list in the supermarket. The functionality is incredibly useful for the gourmand on the go; users can pick a menu and buy everything they need all at once. This approach has made Epicurious the brand-at-hand in the supermarket, creating a valuable mobile service for users and adding a whole new facet of touchpoints for the brand.

Mobile is great because it enables brands the opportunity to touch consumers in many more places. However, if the offering does not resonate with the intended audience, the chances for success are minimal.

Mobile is an exciting new technology opening up new horizons to brand managers everywhere. But, like every other medium, it is not for everyone. Ensure there are strong business drivers before proceeding. Consider who is reachable, and for what cost, as well as how the message will need to be modified for that audience. Explore the audience, and focus in on its members' cell usage habits. Finally, create a useful offering for them, or else risk failure. A little homework and careful forethought will go a long way in developing a successful mobile strategy.

Evan Gerber is principal experience design consultant, Molecular. Read full bio.

Since the late ‘90s, Evan Gerber has created innovated technology solutions for unique business problems. Evan is the Vice President of Mobile Design and Emerging Interactions at Fidelity Investments.  An avid technophile and self...

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