TechScape: On marketing and mobile phones

Buy! Buy! Buy! Cell! Cell! Cell!

Column One cannot be involved in business today, much less technology, without getting bombarded with talk of location-based services and many variations of this idea—that our cell phones (or whatever mobile devices win the day) will “know” where we are and that this will generate the opportunity for marketers from Starbucks to Sears to Sun Microsystems to directly engage the consumer at the precise moment of their closest proximity.

Is this the direct marketers’ Holy Grail, or what? It looks like or what, judging from this week’s closure of Simpay, the mobile wallet scheme set up by the big mobile operators to grab what was supposed to be a €1bn market by 2007. As Forrester Research, notes, the project was doomed from the start.

It is ridiculous to assume that we will be steamrolled by a ringing cell phone into buying a cappuccino or tools or a web server by phone. We will all resent the hell out of it very quickly, much as banner ads were routinely ridiculed amongst the web savvy. No, direct marketers must drastically alter the approach here if they want to achieve any response rate higher than the 1- 1.5 per cent responses which were considered “above average.” in the direct mail world.

This kind of pitiful response will and should be considered a dismal failure when it comes to online marketing. Anything under 30% will be considered a dismal failure especially when you consider the proximity of the offering to the potential consumer and the fact that they still aren’t listening. Just as we have blaring TV commercials begging us not to go to the refrigerator for a beer, viewers, or more plainly the recipients of these mobile intrusions will learn to tune out the spam.

Then what will the advertisers do?

There’s so much less space to communicate your message on one of these tiny screens. Forget a complicated come-on, there’s simply no way anybody will pay attention for any extended period of time on their cell phone. They’d much rather send an anonymous SMS message to the blonde in the store across the street.

This is another key indicator that marketers will have to execute a different strategy … the same old tactics haven’t worked without a contrarian strategy being employed. A prime example of this is the development of SMS itself: nobody expected it; nobody in particular developed it or understood its impact; and nobody led the charge for its implementation. So by definition, to identify in advance the potential for the proliferation and popularity of the SMS technology would’ve required an exceptionally visionary eye.

The younger generations are not paying attention to “our” brands. They don’t care about Disney, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola as much as did earlier indoctrinated generation. They are creating their own brands like Vans, No Fear, Good Charlotte, and Red Bull. And all these new brands are doing is providing something different to them that really resonates with their perceived needs. Very simple; yet we overcomplicate it.

Nobody yet knows how the incredible staggeringly large number of variables in the wireless arena will play out.

First you’ve got the “wireless divide” between the United States and the rest of the world. This very real chasm must be bridged effectively in order for marketers to invent any kind of comprehensive strategy or plan. Solving this will require the U.S. to come towards the GSM standard of the rest of the world and the longer America takes to make this immense change, the further behind it will fall in the wireless race.

Then there is the standards minefield that everyone must negotiate if they are to engage in efficient, economical and profitable marketing. The others include the WAP\iMode struggle (amazingly, though most people including myself thought WAP was dead, BT and other giants as well as small technology companies continue to develop for it); 3G; UMTS; GPRS; Wireless LAN; Wi-Fi; Wi-Max; Ultra Wideband; Bluetooth; XML; and a myriad of competing, conflicting and contradicting technologies and systems. Clearly, the marketing thinkers had better make sure that their solutions and approaches allow for virtually anything to happen and not be too centered on one or a few potentials.

Right now, I see many CEOs, tech executives, even entire companies too tightly focused on one specialty. This will be disastrous; not might be, will be. We have been seeing another kind of dotcom debacle in the WAP, mobile software and M-commerce worlds and it looks to be a while before things level out. A completely agnostic strategy that truly incorporates multiple potentials into account is the only way to hedge huge bets and inject any security into this scenario.

1. The wireless world will not be the same marketing environment as the Internet. Granted there will be some small amount of crossover and similarity due to the initial connection to websites, but this world will look and feel quite differently. As this medium and platform evolves, then there will be a clear necessity to address the prospects' needs in a different manner. How? That's a question for another day.

2.Marketers who rely on the basics will have a very bright and profitable future. These basics include design excellence; product or service quality; creative promotional marketing concepts; depth of customer service and staying a step ahead of the customer’s needs and expectations.

Direct marketers especially will be challenged to think creatively. As these new channels offer new opportunities, DMers had better respond better and quicker than they have responded to the Internet. After all, the Internet was considered the ultimate direct channel. It is particularly disappointing that DMers failed to take a leadership role in helping to establish the framework for marketing on the Net. If they don’t take a proactive role in the development and structuring of the wireless world, they may well find themselves forever relegated to a second team status instead of winning in the sector.

There are more than enough challenges in the coming days for marketers to figure out. We are going to have to think about the multiple scenarios intensely. Just as Tom Watson, Sr. integrated into the original IBM signs which said simply “Think,” we’ll need to apply some rational brainpower to these new challenges, threats and opportunities. ®

Bill Robinson has appeared on CNN, PBS, Bloomberg and had his own segment on SKY News commenting on high-tech and marketing issues and writes columns and articles for FORTUNE Small Business, The Financial Times, Marketing Magazine (UK), Forbes.com, The Moscow Times, Cisco Systems iQ Magazine, United Airline's Hemispheres Magazine and Upside Magazine. Bill may be reached at: bill@relentlessmarketing.com

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