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Is Wireless Internet Marketing Still a Fantasy?

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There's a new air of excitement behind the mobile Web. Initiatives like Verizon's recent announcement to open their network, Google's Open Handset initiative (dubbed Android by Web 2.0 pundits), new wireless auctions, and the iPhone have energized Internet users.

In turn, companies want marketers to develop possible marketing solutions for the new wireless environment.

Discerning the future of marketing tools for social-media usage in this kind of environment can be extremely frustrating for the best technology minds, much less for marketing executives and non-industry-specific CXOs and entrepreneurs.

In the past, the new media form has always offered promise but it has never truly matured to become the powerhouse industry evangelists have hoped for. Even today, according to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, data accounts for only 15.5% of all wireless service revenues.1

So for the intelligent marketer the question must be, "Is mobile the right medium to reach my constituencies?" To make that decision, marketers have to be aware of three critical trends that focus on mobile data usage:

  1. The end-user of mobile data tends to be younger. According to the Pew Internet Project, approximately one-third of all adult American internet users (34 percent) have logged onto the internet by wireless means using a laptop, PDA, or cell phone. These users are younger than traditional Internet users: 37 percent of 18-34 year-olds, while only 18 percent of the 35-49 group use wireless.2
  2. A wide variety of factors—low bandwidth, hundreds of different devices, small screens, different viewing environments and standards—have prevented widespread adoption. They have forced many mobile applications to reduce visuals and rely on simple text applications.3
  3. While wireless data is still in its childhood, wireless mobile social media is in its infancy. That means social applications like mobile Facebook, Jaiku, and Twitter are still very early, and unproven from a marketing standpoint.4


In the short term, marketers need to make sure that their constituency is mobile friendly (less than 34 years old), and that they can convey value across diverse devices on various mobile networks. If the recipe is right, then its' time to get cooking.

Case in Point

Quicksilver opted to use Access 360 Media to create a mobile application for the annual Big Wave surfing competition on the north shore of Hawaii. Big Wave attracts surfers from all over the world, and Quicksilver wanted to engage customers and members of the surfing community in their stores and get them to recognize that the Quicksilver brand was really a leader in the Big Wave event.

Mobile users opted into an alert system that would provide information on wave heights, the surfers, what the contest conditions were, who was winning, and other types of interesting information.

"That proved to be a very successful campaign for Quicksilver as it created one-to-one relationships with interested customers," said Lon Otremba, CEO of Access 360 Media. "It also gave them the opportunity for further messaging to customers as long as they were willing to receive messages, and really showed Quicksilver that they could use alternative means to reach people in a unique and customized way."5

The key takeaway for marketers is that if the customers are there, then it's the right medium.

The difficulty is finding some way of creating permission or social usage, given the media form's limitations. Lack of browser consistency across phones, and much smaller screen sizes, forces compact textual content that demonstrates immediate value for end-users.

Value propositions communicated concisely in interesting, customer-centric ways are critical to success, because today's average mobile handset will not allow for more flexibility.

Moving Forward

In the long term, mobile data and social-media applications hold great promise for marketers. The numbers, while still low, are changing.

According to CTIA, the wireless industry saw a 63% increase in data usage during the first half of 2007 over 2006. Roughly 28.8 billion text messages were reported in June 2007 alone—almost one billion messages a day. This represents an increase of 130% over June 2006. Wireless subscribers continue to capture and send more pictures and other multi-media messages, sending 2.6 billion MMS messages in the first half of 2007—almost as many as were sent in all of 2006.6

Social media will also see a mobile boost. "Social media is already a usage success," said Roger Entner, SVP for the communications sector, IAG Research. "With mobile you a have a personal device that's always there and where things are happening. How can it not be successful?"

This predicted movement has started to happen. Most telling yet, the Pew Internet study shows that wireless users have a different behavior set than landline users, tending to be much more connected, more frequently with different surfing patterns.7 Clearly, the mobile trend offers great possible impact on Internet usage, and therefore marketers.

To meet the anything, anytime, anywhere future, the wireless industry will focus on delivering dramatic increases in the bandwidth available to drive media usage (minimum targets of 1 GB by 2010, according to Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg8). The availability of this bandwidth in diverse mobile geographies, increased functionality, and openness of content devices will enable full access to any media form, anywhere, and anytime.

Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, declared that the company's job was to build out broadband mobility to enable consumers and businesses to use any device for any reason. Stephenson says the iPhone is a game changer not only for the company but also for the entire industry, unleashing the full power of mobile broadband.9

Then there's Google's Open Handset Alliance, which already includes several carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile as well as manufacturers Motorola, LG, and Samsung. If standards can be increased to reduce viewing incompatibilities, mobile media has a significantly greater opportunity to succeed.

Usage is accelerating. The question is, When will mobile data usage hit critical mass?

Marketers need to stay on top of the media form to ensure that when the time is right for their customer base the transition to mobile Internet marketing can be easy and simple transition. In the interim, stay tuned for the next iPhone.

Endnotes:

1 CTIA, "The Wireless Association Releases New Wireless Industry Survey Results," October 23, 2007.

2 John Horrigan, "Wireless Internet Access," Pew/Internet, February 2007.

3 Michael Fitzgerald, "Mobile Web: So Far, Yet So Close," New York Times, November 25, 2007.

4 Joseph Farren, spokesperson for CTIA, original interview, Tuesday, November 27, 2007.

5 Lon Otremba, original interview, The Buzz Bin, July 26, 2007.

6 CTIA

7 John Horrigan, "Wireless Internet Access," Pew/Internet, February 2007.

8 Geoff Livingston, "Verizon CEO and Chairman Ivan Seidenberg Keynote."

9 Geoff Livingston, "AT&T Randall Stephenson Keynote from NXTcomm," TIA Telecommunities, June 19, 2007.


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Geoff Livingston is an author and marketing strategist, and serves as vice-president of strategic partnerships at Razoo, a fundraising site for nonprofits. He is author of Marketing in the Round and the social media primer Welcome to the Fifth Estate.

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