Consumers are Ready for the Year of Mobile

In 2008, attendees at Mobile Marketing Association events were told “this is the year of mobile,” according to Alexandre Mars, CEO of Phonevalley and head of mobile for marketing agency Publicis Groupe. They were told the same thing in 2009 and 2010.

“And it was bullshit,” he said to a group at the 2011 MMA Forum.

Consumers are ready for the year of mobile: One in five made a purchase from their device within the past 30 days, according to Mars. Yet 79% of mainstream advertisers do not have mobile-optimized Web sites—sites which are specifically designed to load quickly onto a mobile device and reflect the experience of shopping via a handheld device, as opposed to a PC.

“Most brands are standing idle at the [mobile marketing] station,” Mars says, adding that some have made a few investments, but the majority of media dollars still flow toward television.

“The brands that are winning the mobility race are investing in new currencies like utility, social and hyper-localization,” he adds, offering the locution “mosolo,” which reflects mobile, social and local—the trinity of considerations needed for success in mobile marketing.

To be sure, it’s not just the brands’ faults. “Most digital agencies don’t get mobile yet,” Mars says. “Unilever missed the mark on its ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ campaign. After clicking on link you went to Web page, not a mobile page. That’s bad engagement, bad result, and it’s tough to regain trust.”

Mars’ comments reflect a channel undergoing growing pains. But it is growing, and one need only consider a presentation during the same conference from Marcus Startzel, senior vice president of sales at Millennial Media, on a look back at the mobile era.

At a separate session, Startzel noted how in 2006, cutting-edge thinking on mobile marketing ran along the lines of “Let’s say you’re walking by a Starbucks, and all of a sudden your phone rings [with an offer].” Nearly 100% of time spent with a mobile device was spent either talking on it or e-mailing or texting with it.

Today, Startzel notes, only 42% of time spent with mobile devices is used for e-mail, text or voice functions. “The story, again, is cross-platform,” he said.

In 2010, the introduction of the iPad began ushering in what he calls “the post-PC era.” Tablet use, he says, is replacing computer activity, and one need look no further than the decline of netbook sales to bear this out.

This year has seen investment in mobile devices that link to every facet of living, moving beyond smartphone and tablets to devices implanted in headrests in cars and refrigerators and more.

“The mobile phone has become a media consumption device,” he says. “This is an opportunity for advertisers. Every day a new use is born. Today, touch and drag are the way people are interacting.”

This is hardly the only change in the way mobile use in marketing has evolved. Three years ago, barely 1% of marketers used demographics in their mobile targeting efforts. That has grown to 20% today—and will continue to grow especially among local marketing, which Startzel says is “booming” and will be dominated by mobile efforts. Downloading of apps has jumped from 3% to 26%.

How else have mobile marketers begun pulling in tactics from other channels? Click to call options, which were available on only 1% of efforts fielded three years ago, are now used by more than 40%, he says.

And cutting-edge marketers have moved from mobile efforts sending consumers to campaign-specific splash pages on their Web sites to pages developed specifically developed to reflect the unique navigation capabilities and limitations of mobile devices.