Thursday, December 08, 2005

What is mobile marketing?

Whenever I meet someone new and I tell them what I do for a living, they usually assume one or both of the following:
  1. That mobile marketing is sending junk text messages to get people to subscribe, unwittingly, to a mobile content subscription service. Ergo, mobile marketing is bad.
  2. Mobile marketing = marketing using SMS (text messaging)
Neither assumption is true so this is my lowdown on what mobile marketing includes. This is a long post so bear with me.

Applications of mobile marketing

Of course text messaging is still an important element of mobile marketing, but not the only one. The following is adapted from the course module on mobile marketing I wrote this year for the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing).

1. Text and win. This is a very convenient way to manage a competition or prize draw and popular with consumers. The recent on-pack promotion by Walkers to win an i-pod offered a prize draw every five minutes and claims to be the biggest ever text and win promotion to date.

2. Voting and participation TV. Text voting for reality TV programmes such as Big Brother and The X Factor are incredibly popular and are an additional revenue stream for the broadcaster and/or the production company. Data Association published these figures to demonstrate how big TV voting in the UK actually is.
  • Big Brother 5 - 10m+
  • I'm a Celeberity Get Me Out of Here - 10m+
  • X-Factor - 5.4m
  • Big Brother 3 - 5.3m
  • Big Brother 4 - 3.1m
  • Fame Academy 2 - 1.6m
  • Eurosong 2002 - 700k
3. Quizzes. Quizzes are ever popular as a mechanic used by marketers to engage their customers. And they can work very well on mobile phones. This could be a simple text message based quiz or a fancier java application (this is the technology behind mobile games) which offers a deeper level of interactivity using graphics, sound and animation, score keeping and the like. The typical way to start a quiz is to text in a key word to a shortcode and a question is sent to you by return.

It's fair to say I have a vested interest in this area as I'm working on mobile product development for the World Quizzing Championships 2006. Any potential sponsors out there? Please get in touch ;-)

4. Mobile content/mobile media (pictures, ringtones, video). Thanks to the unexpected popularity of ringtones the mobile content industry is already huge and has rapidly increased over the last few years. We know that young people spend 8 times as much on their mobile phones as they do on music and 12% of their income on their mobile phones (source Mobile Youth /w2forum)

The recent Mintel report on mobile content showed that the UK mobile content market is worth $1bn. Ringtones are still top of the list at 33% (although I think the actual figure is probably much higher) closely followed by games at 26%. And this is an industry that was only born at the turn of the 21st Century.

Brands are now starting to capitale on the popularity of mobile content r mobile media and are using it as part of their marketing effort. A picture or ringtone can be a 2nd-or 3rd- tier prize in a free prize draw or other competition which doesn’t involve physically sending out many prizes. We’ve used this approach at BeepMarketing in the past for Foster’s, Vivendi Universal and Digital Jesters. And I expect to see more of this activity in the coming months and years now that the phone technology is becoming more ubiquitous.

One of the key success factors for this industry is ease of payment. Firstly this was done via IVR (Interactive Voice Response where you dial a premium rate number and are billed per minute or as a one-off fee) and then premium rate SMS was introduced. It made it so easy to buy the content. No need for credit or debit card registration which meant that kids could buy it without asking their Mums and Dads.

5. Mobile games. Mobile gaming is very popular and a growing industry in its own right. We already have devices on the market such as the Nokia N-Gage which, although it is a mobile phone, it was actually designed with gaming in mind. And now we have the Sony PSP which isn’t a mobile phone but does have Wi-fi, therefore allowing full internet access.

Coca Cola has signed a deal this year to create and produce Coca Cola-branded games which customers will buy rather than download for free. Licensing deals like this will become more commonplace over the coming months and years too as brands try to get their heads round where revenues may or may not be made on mobile.

6. Mobile Applications. It might be software to help you plan your day, it might be an instant messenger service, it could be a system for working out your daily horoscope. If you think of the PDA (personal digital assistant) that’s been around for some years now and the range of software available for that, then you’ll be getting somewhere close to where we’re going with this on mobile phones.

Of course, the development of this market depends on the types of handsets out there that would need to have Symbian or Windows CE operating system – sometimes these are called Smartphones. Usually this is the higher end phones, but prices for technology soon drops and just as the ipod is available to one and all, or so it seems, so will ‘Smartphones’.

7. CRM – customer relationship management (or should that be CMR – customer managed relationship?). Let’s not forget that the mobile phone is a communications tool. And to that end is a 2-way device. It’s not just about pushing content or a message one-way, customers can call or text you back. This means it’s one of the channels to use when building relationships with consumers. It’s also a very neat way of handling customer service issues like notifying someone to confirm their groceries have been delivered, or that they’re overdrawn at the bank.

8. Interactive Voice Response (IVR). IVR is a much maligned technology. It’s an old technology, for sure as it’s based on landlines and is the engine behind those pesky ‘press 1 for yes and 2 for no’ systems. It’s also used for paying for stuff – mobile content, phone voting. But it also has potential for some great creativity.

Back in 2002, BeepMarketing worked on a campaign for the Butt Ugly Martians. It was aimed at children (7 to 10 year old boys to be precise) and was promoted in relevant comics and magazines. We had a simple text game, but more interestingly, we ran an IVR game. You dialled a standard rate number and instantly you’re transported into the world of the Butt Ugly Martians as you hear the music and voice-over. You were then guided into a game of choice – press the number that relates to your choice to get to the next level. We have 3 levels and if you got 1 of 3 winning combinations, we instantly sent you a ringtone or logo. If you'd like to listen to this yourself, please contact me for the telephone number.

And it’s not just us who’s used this technique.. McDonald’s, Walker’s Crisps, Wella and more have incorporated IVR into their mobile marketing efforts.

9. Multi-media messaging (MMS). This technique is increasing in potential as it becomes more readily available on handsets. MMS can be pushed to the phone at higher costs than simple text messages (several times higher), or there is the cheaper option of ‘virtual MMS’ or WAP push which can be just as effective and where you send a link to the customer to download to view or save the message. Wap push is also the technique used to deliver mobile content. True MMS is still limited by cost and technical limitations of handsets.

10. Direct ad-response/Red Button Mobile. Red Button Mobile describes direct response campaigns using the mobile phone as opposed to using the red button on interactive television (or potentially outdoor or print advertising unlike true Red button advertising). The mobile ‘red button’ is based on a shortcode available, optionally coupled with different keywords relevant keywords dependent on the reponse mechanism. This allows interactivity with statci media as well such as print and outdoor. Options include:
  • Text to screen – With TV, comments texted in can be automatically populated on-screen, as used by reality TV programmes (text to screen).
  • Text to email – where you text in your email address to a shortcode and an automatic HTML email is generated and sent to the respondent
  • Text to post – this works in a similar way where you text your address or postcode and street number
  • Text to WAP – here the respondent is directed to an advertiser’s WAP site through a link where they can access content, or opt-in.
  • Text to mobile content – Content such as a ringtone or a coupon is received through texting a shortcode
As an example of the effectiveness of these campaigns, BeepMarketing ran a direct response campaign for Axa PPP. This involved press advertising in the Evening Standard (a London daily newspaper) for its personal health insurance provider. Customers were asked to respond to the advertisement either by freephone (0800 number) or a text message. 50% of all the replies came via text message, even though they could have phoned for free and the texts would cost them 10p or so. All texts were routed direct to a call centre to manage outbound calls.

11. Barcodes. Barcodes can be sent to a mobile phone and then redeemed in store using the usual Epos systems. For example, Ann Summers used this technique earlier in the year to drive traffic to their stores. And many years before that, in my ZagMe days, we used a simple code in a text message that acted in a similar way to a barcode – you could track the codes but couldn’t scan them in.

Technically, it is relatively straightforward (if anything *can* be straightforward in mobile that is) to get a barcode to a mobile phone, however, not all barcode readers will be able to read it due to the different screen sizes and formats and intensity (or not) of the screen’s backlight.

A new take on barcodes is ‘camera codes’ whereby a consumer takes a picture of the barcode from a TV screen, poster, newspaper, magazine or website etc. This then initiates the response mechanism or can be used for couponing. There are several companies working on this but it still works best on Symbian or Smartphones.

12. Location-based services (LBS). This technique has prominently been used by companies offering services to parents whose children’s whereabouts can be tracked via their phones. With, parents pay a fee to access the service. This allows them to ‘ping’ their child’s phone/s to find out where they are.

‘Find me’ services are available which are useful for evenings out and there are mobile search companies coming up with ways of linking location to search and maps.

Of course the ultimate for marketers would be something like ZagMe where we sent text messages to shoppers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls, while they were out shopping, way back in 2000 and 2001. There’s a piece on my website about what happened here but suffice to say, we were ahead of our time and the technology is currently prohibitively expensive. However, as prices come down and we find other ways of doing this, this concept will return.

13. WAP portal or wap site (aka mobile internet). WAP sites are the mobile versions of websites such as The BBC or Channel 4. Often after television programmes you’ll be asked to text in to access further content from your mobile (red button mobile). The link then takes you to the wap site where you can access videos, pictures, ringtones, and information about the programme you’ve just watched. It’s also an opportunity to buy mobile content and to get customers to opt-in for further information.

14. Java magazine or java portal. This is an application that you download to your mobile phone and is like an electronic magazine. You have the basic structure and with the first download, you get sent the first range of content. Then when you want the latest news, you click on update, and it updates all your pages over the air with new content. The benefit of this is that the user experience is better than WAP (although WAP is improving) and you can view content underground – really important if you live in London! You don’t have to be ‘online’ to access your stuff.

15. Mobile search. All the main search providers have mobile (WAP) specific versions of their search engines. These are now becoming more sophisticated. Google Mobile Search ( offers Local Search to find a local business and will then display a map (Google Maps is integrated) or phone number with the option of click-to-call on the appropriately-enabled handset. Google Local uses listings from Yell combined with a bespoke database of wapsites (these sites are checked that they are mobile phone compatible before adding).

Overture is working on something similar.

There are limitations with this as usability is an issue. Do you really want to be returned 500 wap sites when you have a tiny screen and slow data speeds?

16. Mobile music. Beyond ringtones, we are seeing that many handsets are now designed to play and store MP3 music files, potentially rivaling the iPod. As access speeds increase with 3G, tracks could be offered in promotions. Currently buying music from your mobile phone is expensive and it’s much cheaper to buy on itunes and then use Bluetooth to send it to your phone.

17. Podcasting. Podcasting involves streamed delivery of a home-made or professional audio programme, tune, speech or even video (these are called vlogs – check out the vlogs on Perfect Path). They can be accessed on any device with the appropriate MP3 capabilities and can be managed using an RSS feed so that whenever you plug your player into your pc (and over the air will come), your new podcasts are automatically uploaded. If you'd like to hear a podcast that I did earlier this year about mobile marketing then you'll find it here on Perfect Path.

18. Blogging and RSS. Ok, you’re reading a blog so I won’t go into this in detail. Suffice to say, reading blogs on the move is growing with mobile RSS feeds. You’ll find out much more about this mobile blogging/RSS thing over at Mobhappy.

19 Moblogging. Moblogging, or blogging from your mobile phone is popular and, although it can be text-based, makes best use of the device when images or video-clips are submitted by MMS or WAP. We now have citizen journalists who report breaking news before the main networks as shown in the London bombings earlier this year when within 30 minutes, a video clip from the underground spread across the internet like wildfire. This was all aided by sites like moblog (which can handle video) and flickr (which can’t).

Sony Ericsson has used the technique (with BeepMarketing’s help) of posting images to a blog to promote its K300i phone, by encouraging users to upload their images to And if you join W2Forum, you'll find a big debate as to the good, the bad and the ugly side of moblogging for marketing.

20. Bluetooth/infra-red. These techniques enable data to be sent from one electronic device to another. And of course marketers have got on the bandwagon. The Coldplay example is a case in point. I’ve talked about it here before and although I love the concept, I just don’t see how they get round the Data Protection Act. It seems that finally the Mobile Marketing Association finally agrees with me. Let me know what you think.

Companies like Hypertag also use Bluetooth to allow customers to receive information to their phones – pictures, coupons, music, whatever. I saw this in action at the Electric Picnic this summer where the Vodafone girls were wearing Hypertags and you had to make a Bluetooth connection with them to see if you’d won a prize. The benefit is that there’s no cost to the consumer and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a mobile signal (like when you’re in a field in the middle of Ireland). However, it’s clunky, the girl actually had to take my phone off me to get it to connect, by which time, I was bored. As a gimmick it worked, but until we have better Bluetooth systems, it will be a while before this becomes mass market.

So that's my slightly long-winded top 20 applications for mobile marketing. I'm sure there are more than that so if you think of some that I've missed, then please do add your comments. And I'll do a separate piece on moble media and its place in advertising another time.

Copyright Helen Keegan 2005. All rights reserved.

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  1. Can you comment on if "opt-in" is an element within mobile marketing? If so, how is that executed in Europe? Also, are there cases where an agency can purchase lists of phone numbers in order to "blast" messages. I'm curious about how these things are executed abroad. Thanks.

  2. that is very helpful, thanks!

  3. Anonymous11:26 am GMT

    I found it really helpful too. Thanks also.


  4. You're welcome David and Anthony.
    Sin Hang, opt-in is a given on mobile marketing in Europe to keep within the various EU data privacy laws. If you don't have permission, don't do the campaign.

    Yes, we can buy access to lists of opt-in mobile numbers and thus promote goods and services to those users. But there are strict laws around what you can and can't do using your own or third party lists.

    The rules are different in different countries. In short, in the UK you need to identify the sender, allow customers to opt-out and only send stuff customers have opted-in to receive and/or is closely related to whatever transaction you've already done with them.

    The mobile data (i.e. the mobile numbers) don't usually change hands and the list owner manages the campaign on your behalf, or works with a trusted third party (such as BeepMarketing), especially where more than one database is being used for the same campaign.

    That's a little simplistic, but is the gist of what the rules say and how we do things. I should add, I'm not a lawyer and you need to get these things checked out, just as you would get a direct mail or sales promotion campaign checked out.

    In addition, copywriting is *hugely* important - not just on the legal side of things but also in terms of effectiveness. Just because you have 160 characters and a small screen, doesn't mean you shouldn't take care with your copywriting.

  5. Helen,

    Great job - lots of information. I am curious to know how you set up a campaign that utilizes techniques like bar code scanning or location based services? Do you develop custom tailored software to use in conjunction with these campaigns that are managed from a web server or do you incrporate third party software that needs to be integrated with a client's web server?

    Have you done any work in the US? Would you like to?


  6. Hi Morgan
    Thanks for the compliment!
    Re software - we usually integrate in some way and get the client and our system talking to each other. There's usually some database information that needs to be shared even for relatively simple campaigns.

    For barcodes, we work with a partner company although we also have a development team available for more bespoke projects.

    LBS can be a little more complicated to set-up but again, we'd usually try to integrate in some way. The important thing is to get the customer experience right.

    Re the USA, no I haven't done any work there yet, and yes, I'd love to if the money's right ;-)

  7. Anonymous11:40 am GMT gave me a lot of information....i am from india and in india, still mobile marketting has not left its infancy generates more interest in the topic...keep going..

  8. Hi there! Greetings from Singapore! Thanks for the useful information. I found your blog by chance while surfing the net as I'm planning to venture into this industry. I'm glad I found your blog and I look forward to read more interesting posts from you!

  9. Hello Renosh and Jasmine
    Thanks for commenting and I'm delighted you found the article useful.. I really must write an updated version 'What is Mobile Marketing in 2007?" (adds to 'to-do' list!)

  10. Anonymous8:21 pm BST

    We have made Mobile Marketing Pro. It´s a very good software where you can make your own marketing campaign or service. You can do everything you think with this soft. Yo can send SMS, voting, promotions,etc. And with SMS background music you can let the people listen to their favorite song. They just need to send a SMS with the code of the song. You only need a PC, a cell phone, cable to connect to PC, and Mobile Marketing Pro. Launching date April 2007.

  11. Anonymous3:23 am BST

    thanks for the great info

  12. Anonymous3:08 pm GMT

    This would have been a good post if you hadn't plagiarised the content from Dave Chaffey's book. Shame!

  13. @anonymous

    To set the record straight, I think you'll find that I wrote the original, and a version of it was used by the IDM (for whom I do lectures and courses) and was *edited* by Dave Chaffey. These are most definitely *my* original words and thoughts. So arguably, if anyone is a plagiarist around here, it is Dave Chaffey, not me.

    I'm disappointed that you didn't do your research thoroughly before making such a comment.


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