In the rush to "do something mobile," brands gloss over -- or completely miss -- nuances and details that are crucial to executing effective campaigns. The allure of the medium is understandable, as marketers recognize the consumer connections that they have long craved: highly interactive, access during any part of the day and multiple creative media. However, using the same playbook for digital buying from 1997 just won't cut it. The mobile web environment has significant differences in capabilities and usage from the traditional online world. The same is true regarding the tracking and analytics critical to making an ad buy.
Smart campaigns understand the opportunities and limitations of mobile, and engage the consumer by leveraging the uniqueness of the media and their own marketing assets.
The web in the palm of your hand, sort of
Many advertisers create mobile websites, often referred to as "WAP sites," to offer consumers access to their brand directly from their mobile phones. Despite the proliferation of smartphones like the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile devices and iPhones -- especially in the business world -- around 90 percent of the U.S. market carries "dumbphones." Comparatively, this vast majority of handsets have simplified software, including specially created, rudimentary web browsers. They do not use Flash. They can not accept cookies. In fact, most traditional websites will not even open in these browsers. Instead, consumers attempting to visit these sites are met with error messages and oddly formatted pages.
Despite these limitations, more than 50 million U.S. consumers use this new platform regularly, from the device already in their pocket. Thus, brands need to meet the needs of this rapidly growing audience, and they need to be smarter about how they go about it.
Mobile, at its best
A well-crafted mobile site re-thinks what a consumer will need in a mobile environment. It addresses the consumer's screen as a non-adapting two-inch viewer, as opposed to the 21-inch monitor that is used with a PC. Further, good mobile developers take into account the limitations of wireless download speeds and the single size and style font that displays on the handset.
For example, a movie chain's mobile website should let a consumer access theater locations, movie times and shortened cast lists, all from his or her Nokia 6085. It does not need to present The New York Times' 1,300-word review and a graphically intense page for each movie. This adjustment, away from long accepted online practices, meets the consumer's instant gratification need and supplies a valuable service in the process.
The best mobile websites further take advantage of the key attributes of the mobile phone itself, which set it apart from the PC. These sites can enable branded text messaging for "viral" tactics, and have click-to-call options -- which utilize the primary purpose of any phone -- to drive direct sales opportunities. They can offer direct mobile downloads of images, sounds and ringtones and applications and games, which can extend the reach and life of a media buy. For example, the Warner Bros. movie, "One Missed Call," had a successful mobile website that offered consumers exclusive access to the ringtone that was central to the plot, unique cast wallpapers that doubled as mini-billboards and access to a specially-cut mobile trailer. This environment directly correlated to the brand of the film, which clearly resonated with consumers who drove the exceptionally high traffic.
Mobile ad buying vs. traditional online
While mobile ad buying resembles traditional online ad buying in many ways, there are also important differences. Tracking is a perfect example. With online advertising, buyers expect certain key pieces of data to make their decisions, such as the number of unique visitors, whether and how many times they return, time spent on site, how deep into the site they went, etc. These are enabled by persistent cookies that uniquely identify an individual.
There are some clever ways to tag and track consumers, such as having consumers sign-in to a portal or embedding users' mobile numbers into the URLs, resulting in a user-specific version of the mobile site. But most mobile sites and mobile ad networks can't and don't take advantage of this. Even Google has a prominent disclaimer in its mobile advertising FAQ, stating that it cannot track any details beyond simple counts of hits, and can't track click-to-call at all.
Pricing and tracking
From a financial standpoint, the basic pricing models are different as well, with most mobile ad networks using a throwback to past strategies. While leading online ad networks have moved towards pay-for-performance revenue models, where advertisers only pay when consumers click on their placements (CPC, or cost-per-click), the prominent mobile ad networks charge based on number of impressions served (CPMs, or cost-per-thousand impressions). CPMs were used in the early days of banner ads, where advertisers paid for impressions whether or not the user clicked.
In the case of mobile, the number of impressions could be highly variable (depending on how consumers use their phones), not to mention any engagement or even seeing the mobile ad at all. Another approach is more of a sponsorship model, with prominent placement on the "carrier deck," which is the homepage on a phone when the user first launches the browser. However, many of these deals are done as "one-offs" or "pilots" with varying price tags. With no consistency across vendors or even carrier decks, mobile advertising's arbitrary pricing is like the wild west compared to the online ad networks where market forces actually determine cost and placement (e.g., Google Adwords' auction style system).
Tips for mobile ad planning and buying
- Do use browser sniffers to deliver the right version of the site (mobile vs. traditional) and Do give consumers a choice. If they are accessing the site with a smartphone and prefer the full version of the website, let them have an easy way to switch. Google does it and so should you -- "classic view | mobile view."
- Do draw information from the same source as your full website. Recently, the Food Network launched its own mobile site. While in theory it should let mobile consumers search the company's vast database of recipes, say from the grocery store, the site instead offers a search of a significantly pruned-down recipe list. So matching the online recipe a consumer found at home to a mobile shopping list may not be possible, and therefore frustrating. There is no technical reason for this, and it may have duplicated existing processes by creating a second database, all to the detriment of the user.
- Do ask your mobile ad network rep any questions you have, and don't make assumptions about their capabilities. You now understand that it is difficult to track individual consumers on mobile, so when presented with a staggering number of "uniques," challenge the statement. It is your first red flag that something is not right. Also, understand precisely where you are buying, as impressions on low-traffic niche sites may cost you the same as on premier sites with network buys. Since the magnitude of reach on mobile can vary greatly, you may end up with an under-performing ad placement.
Without specifically addressing the mobile ad world as a different animal from that of traditional online, buyers can use the wrong assumptions and criteria to make their decisions. Or worse, they could regurgitate the seller’s incorrect statements and accidentally mislead their own clients. Mobile is a powerful medium for brands to get in the flow of a consumer's everyday life. But it is essential to understand the needs of a consumer in this environment and the true fundamental analytics to make good buys. The days to just "do something mobile" are over. Money can be spent well to enable marketers to excel in smart mobile.