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Unlocking Mobile Advertising Growth:
Value Added Content + Access + Usability

curwen170×200.gif“If we want to accelerate the growth of mobile advertising into a multi-billion dollar industry, we need to recognise that the advertising itself must take a back seat.”

Thomas Curwen, Director of Planning at Publicis, explains his view of what the industry must do to make mobile advertising grow.


The Potential of Mobile
It’s wrong to say that Mobile offers the marketing industry the same sort of potential as the internet. I think it’s got more potential, because it is the internet – and it’s my phone – and it’s my alarm clock – and camera – and….you get the picture. Unsurprisingly, a survey by Forrester Research suggests that more of us say that we couldn’t live without our mobile than couldn’t live without our PC.

For the first time, brands can both reach customers and get them to interact with our advertising wherever they are. Unlike the PC which is bound to the home or office – and unlike the outdoor posters that are unable to offer interaction.

So it’s not surprising to see predictions that mobile advertising could be worth as much as $19bn by 2011. But right now it’s still a small fraction of that – scratching around for experimental budgets from forward-thinking brands.

Lessons from the Internet
curwen3.gifThe internet grew into a valued medium because millions of us discovered that we could find the answer to any question online, that we could email each other – and even buy books and airline tickets at a discount.

There was nowhere else we could do this.

So despite painfully slow speeds and confusing labels on links, increasing numbers of us spent more and more time online. Companies understood that people would search for their brand online, so they needed to build websites. And because websites for brands existed, it was an easy and logical next step to make banner ads and use search engines to drive traffic there. So advertising budgets followed the people who flocked to the ecosystem.

For mobile advertising to move beyond this experimental phase, we need to acknowledge two critical facts:

  • Mobile advertising is going to be a small part of a broader mobile marketing ecosystem that brands must help build
  • It’s not enough to assume that what we put onto the internet is suitable for the mobile

Mobile today
curwen2.gifOn mobile, most brands have not yet built Mobile Internet-suitable websites. Most have not even thought about how mobile can fit into their marketing plans. And the assumption that they can re-use existing internet site on mobile handsets is wrong – have you ever tried cutting the lawn with nail scissors?

There are not many people using the mobile internet regularly. According to Forrester Research, although some 70% of 25-35 year-olds in the UK have mobile internet capability on their handsets, only about 22% feel that this is a “must have feature” on their next mobile. And only about 19% are using it more than once a month.

They don’t use it regularly because there is not yet enough valuable content there to warrant struggling with uncomfortable mobile internet navigation.

Here’s the Catch 22
And because there are not that many consumers – there is little reason for brands to create specific content for mobile. And without the valuable content there is little reason for people to revisit the mobile internet. And so on….

Only once we have content that is considered of value, and is relatively accessible from the mobile will we see larger audiences flock to this medium. And only then will mobile become a valued advertising medium.

The current approach to advertising seems hardly likely to address this task of building “useful content”. Most current mobile advertising appears to link through to incentive WAP sites or brand-experience WAP sites, rather than leading to services that a customer might actually find useful.

Breaking the impasse
curwen1.gifBrands need to rethink how they can provide valuable content to their customers that is easy to find and use – and build the ecosystem from this perspective. The chances are that much of this thinking will not be a replica of the fixed internet website. Indeed many of the opportunities this thinking uncovers will grow out of proper integration of mobile marketing into the total marketing mix (as opposed to the “add it on later” approach that marked the early days of the internet).

Not only should brands take a fresh look at what sort of content is useful, they need to think about how to make it easy to access.

Cost and lack of pricing-transparency are clearly an issue. But this is all changing with the advent of flat-rate connection charges.

However, the mobile internet is still difficult to use: few people are going to struggle through the quagmire that is the current mobile internet experience twice if they didn’t find a reward on the first visit. So brands need to consider “usability” in planning for this medium.

We are already seeing widgets like Yahoo! Go offering very usable experiences. They offer a single point of entry and exit to the mobile internet, reducing the number of web pages visited – but creating multiple sponsorship and advertising opportunities along the way.

The way forward
If we want the mobile advertising industry to accelerate out of the experimental phase and fulfill its potential, we must think longer term, and build the usable and valued sites that support the broader marketing mix with its multiple entry points. Only then will there be a compelling reason to draw budget away from other media channels into mobile.

But when mobile advertising does take off, prepare for it to happen faster than the internet.

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22.05.2008   
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