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Mobile and email: Complementary, not competitive

Mobile and email: Complementary, not competitive Jordan Greene

Marketers are often afraid of the newest technology that will render their past investments wasted and their tactics, such as email blasts, obsolete. Text message campaigns do not have to be that new threat. Instead, they can be powerful tools that enhance both outlets in the process.

The truth is that the possibilities of what mobile can offer are only growing, and rapidly. The channel offers direct marketing at its best: reach to a mass or targeted audience virtually anywhere, a remarkably high "open-rate," and the ability to drive specific, instant action. It is unfiltered. It is intimate. It is relevant. And it is quite understandable why marketers who so often turn to email are uncomfortable. Instead of shunning it and living in denial, a better approach is to add mobile as a weapon to your consumer interaction arsenal, and make both avenues collectively stronger.

Text solves email's shortcomings
While text messaging may not be the shiniest or most recent mobile marketing avenue, it is still by far the most prevalent and bears the greatest similarities to email marketing. According to CTIA, in the U.S. alone, there are over 262 million people who collectively send over 75 billion text messages each month. That is a staggering potential audience. Further, the portable nature of mobile, and immediacy of delivery, offers the opportunity for time-specific marketing with a greater impact than other media. For example, a fast-food chain can drive New York customers to its locations during late afternoon dead times with a 3 p.m. reach-out. Or a retailer can create an "impromptu" two-hour sale, starting right now. The simple vibration of the incoming text message enables this mobile reach, beyond the vast minority community of smart-phones that can receive email.

This one platform solves the challenges that email marketing has long faced. First, the text environment is virtually spam-free, due to wireless carrier enforcement, and current phones lack bulk-text message filters. In addition, the consumer's trained behavior is to open each received message. These elements, when factored together, dramatically increase the possibility of a marketer's message being read.

But to maximize the effectiveness of the interaction, a brand can not simply re-apply a clichéd email blast-to-the-masses technique. The inherent differences of the two channels require a change in approach, language, sensitivity, and action in order to tap into the potential power and consumer connection.

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One primary distinction is that while receiving emails is free, consumers pay to receive text messages, one way or another. This means that it costs a brand's customer to interact with it, so the opportunity better be valuable and interesting. Couple this with the challenge of marketing in only 160 characters and no images, it is understandable why many -- agencies specifically -- get stuck before they start. Or worse, they deploy uninspired opportunities, and then blame text messages as boring. Any medium can deliver dull campaigns without the application of imagination and creativity, as nothing has stopped the production of poor TV spots.

The opportunities
Alternatively, this presents unique opportunities when used well. The format can have significant benefit, as it forces brands to get their point across directly. No fancy gimmicks and flash animations; just cut to the chase marketing that a potential customer will actually consume.

This places a premium on the creative and on the understanding of how to get the consumer to engage with the brand. A common early challenge is to distill three pages of content into 160 characters. This is a new medium, so think differently. Brands do not treat radio and print the same, so why apply other-medium plans here? Good campaigns show that text marketing is more art than science. Getting counsel on how to actually use -- and not just send -- text messages will dramatically improve the effectiveness of campaigns.

To build a strong list, any brand needs to leverage its existing assets, and that includes its email marketing efforts. Mobile communication completes another piece of the elusive 360-degree marketing that has long been discussed.

The cautionary tales
A new mobile program needs to entice the customer, then sign them up and verify their mobile number. That last piece is very important, as it ensures good future delivery, while preventing malicious usage and incorrect entries. It also satisfies the best practice of "double opt-in," which can be done creatively as to not turn off the customer. With this goal in place, each consumer interaction can drive consumers to the new program. Want to register on our website, why not enter your mobile number here? Thanks for reading our monthly email, send a text message to receive exclusive offers directly on your phone. You are entered in our first mobile sweepstakes, can we include you to play more games in the future? Using a smart, coordinated campaign can bring a brand a valuable mobile community quickly, enabling it to market to its customers one-to-one.

This highly personal type of engagement, along with the cost of messaging, creates a sensitive consumer who will not tolerate unwanted intrusions. This is why carriers monitor mobile marketing activity and are quick-on-the-trigger to shut campaigns down by simply shutting off the respective short-code (think of this as a five or six-digit routing phone number). That is a feat virtually impossible in the world of email marketing. What it means is that brands need to respect the interactions with their consumer.

Ironically, AT&T recently violated the trust of its mobile customers, which turned into a PR nightmare. They essentially spammed an un-opted-in consumer base with promotional messages for "American Idol," which they sponsor. The uproar from unhappy recipients was significant, and their displeasure was written about in great detail in consumer -- not industry -- news like The New York Times. AT&T tarnished its brand image in an effort to be aggressive, and ultimately may have done more harm than good, on a very public stage. Still think there isn't power in those 160 characters?

Employing that punch constructively can have significant and measurable effects. The benefit and action that comes from the right message can drive consumers in droves to your new mobile website, 800-number or retail location. It can even be used to gather new email addresses. And these dividends are paid without the corresponding price tag.  A current misconception is that sending text campaigns is expensive. This is not true any longer. Due to the wide-spanning competition in landscape of the U.S. mobile marketplace, vendors continue to lower their price structures. 

Mobile offers what marketers have long wanted: direct access to the consumer any time.  It acts a strong ally to the email channel, which will continue to be a primary digital communication mechanism, with a richer interaction. Combining the two paths can give a brand a cohesive strategy that naturally deepens awareness, drives stronger engagement, and in the process, delivers increased value to the consumer.

Jordan Greene is principal/mobile media at Mella Media.

Jordan Greene has been on the forefront of the mobile industry for over a decade. At Mella Media, he brings hands-on mobile expertise and vast experience to his clients, enabling them to gain a significant advantage in the current global...

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