Research, analysts and rumors say 2004 is going to be the year of wireless. The sentence probably assumes a different meaning in different places, but no matter where you hear it… it doesn't lose its relevance.

Wireless is (in Asia and Europe) and is becoming (in the North America) a part our everyday life. With mobile phones we can check our bank account, take and send pictures, purchase a plane ticket, pay the parking fee, watch the goals of our favorite football team and (even!) get in touch with other people. Although, from a linguistic point of view it might sounds like a paradox, wireless connects our lives, as Nokia brilliantly states: “Connecting People.”

It's called “mobile,” but this world of business opportunities is here to stay and to become more and more strategic for carriers, content providers and brands. Yes, brands. Because wireless, like any other media, could also be a powerful marketing means.

Wireless Marketing Magic Words

Let's go straight to the point. It's not difficult to understand why marketers should like so much wireless: it allows a direct, and personal communication, hypothetically anytime and anywhere. Direct and personal, in particular, are the magic words every marketer likes to hear.

But, since they are magic, they must be handled with care. As you might have (also) learned watching The Lord of the Rings, what is magic is usually powerful but very dangerous if used in the wrong way. Wireless marketing is no exception. It can either please or annoy a consumer; it can consolidate but also destroy a relationship between a brand and a prospect.

Wireless devices provide marketers with powerful tools to connect with their target public, but they need to learn playing by the rules. Avoiding this fundamental assumption, the risk is to compromise forever a promising communication channel. And with more than 159 million mobile users out there (by the end of 2004, according to eMarketer), this is a kind of risk no brand can bear to take.

Let's explore in detail the characteristics of this media that make it so appealing to marketers.

Wireless Communication Is…

Personal. A mobile phone is a very personal object. People like personalizing it with ring tones, screensavers and logos and rarely lend it to others, not even family members. But most of all, the phone number is like an ID card, it identifies an individual, providing marketers with the possibility of a precise message targeting like never before.

Direct. Wireless communication is person to person, or, in this context, it's a company-to-person communication. There is no intermediation: there is no press, no distributor, no retailer between the brand and its consumers. What you say is what they get, almost immediately.

Immediate. It depends on the number of messages you send out and on the traffic level on the carriers' networks, but it's usually a question of minutes, even seconds. As soon as you send out a message, users receive it. It has a point of no return, but you can also take an impressive advantage by the speed of this communication, delivering the right message at the right time (and to the right person, of course…).

Reliable. You have the chance to know and monitor when a message is delivered. It can be an expensive solution, and it will double to cost of your campaign (because you pay also for the communication from the user's mobile phone to your system) but it if you really want to know it, well… you can.

Two-way. Like on the Internet, wireless allows a two-way communication: you can talk and you can listen to your costumers, and you can even engage them in a relationship with your brand through a direct and personal interaction.

Measurable. Wireless provides you with means to monitor your campaign with extreme precision. You can quickly measure the response rate and also the response time, and you are therefore able to immediately evaluate and adapt your messages and marketing strategies.

Furthermore, as Daren Siddall, analyst at Gartner G2 points out (in “Mobile campaigns and alerts boost last minute travel take-up,”) wireless communication, using SMS, is quick and silent and can be very effective in capturing hot leads and initiating a dialogue with (shy) consumers who don't like to give away personal information to sales representatives.

It's a lesson we learned the hard way with the Internet, but it's better to sound obvious and repeat it: wireless, like any other media, is not the marketers' panacea.

Wireless Communication Is Not…

A mass marketing tool. Technically speaking, it allows you to rech a mass audience. But it wouldn't make any sense to do it. It would be too expensive and, most of all, because you would ignore the advantages of a personal communication channel. Wireless allows brands to deliver a message that is closer to the concept of personal selling rather than that of advertising. This kind of message is usually far more persuasive and effective than an advertisement designed to appeal to a large number of persons. So, think about it, and don't waste your money.

Only about wireless advertising. As we learned at school (but we tend to forget), marketing is not only advertising. Wireless is not only a means to deliver a promotional message, it's a channel that also allows brands to build a dialogue with its prospects and deliver a service to its costumers.

For complex offers. An SMS has a limited length, 160 characters. That's the technological limit but also your audience's attention limit. If what you want to say is longer than 160 characters, the message will be split in two parts: people will be less likely to read both and might also miss the point of what you wanted to tell them. So learn to think short.

A no man's land. People are sensitive and privacy is an issue. An unsolicited commercial message could harm forever the relationship between your brand and your audience. Use wireless only to contact people who granted you the permission to do it and always prefer pull to push communication.

A stand-alone media. The “secret” to wireless marketing success is in the integration of the communication with other media.

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Martina Zavagno publishes about Web and wireless advertising. Reach her at