Mobile is everywhere: the grocery store, train station, movie theater. and yes—even the doctor's office.

Look around, and you'll inevitably find people using a mobile device. With the additional connectivity smartphones offer, mobile has become a part of our culture's fabric.

recent CTIA survey found that US wireless subscriptions outnumber the total population of the US (327.6 million vs. 312.4 million). The survey also found that smartphone and wireless-enabled PDA (personal digital assistant) device usage rose from 61.2 million to 95.8 million users since mid-2010.

And according to a 2011 Mobile Commerce Daily survey, 50% of consumers use their mobile devices for shopping purposes.

That is great news, but the question remains: How can marketers use this powerful force to their advantage? Capitalizing on the mobile revolution is surely a lot easier said than done, requiring several sophisticated steps. Here are four critical questions every business should consider to maximize its mobile marketing return on investment (ROI).

1. How strong is your mobile database?

Consumers are clearly stating their communications preferences via their most powerful tool—their wallets. To gain adequate share, you've got to secure your customers' permission to communicate via mobile with them, commonly referred to as "express consent" or "opt-in."

Besides being mandated by industry regulations, express consent offers a unique perspective and insight into how customers shop, where they shop, how often they want to be contacted, and which brands or products they prefer to receive information about.

And, no, we're not just talking about collecting customer cell phone numbers. You should also be gathering email address, postal mail address, date of birth, and other demographic information required to paint a complete consumer profile.

Certainly, many customers won't volunteer that information, which means you must use creative tactics to obtain it. Using online sign-up forms, surveys, in-store contests, sweepstakes, text-in offers, and coupon codes that tie into customer databases are common practices for building the most extensive customer lists.

2. Are you refining and respecting your customers' preferences?

Growing a database is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. You should continually update customer information and preferences to ensure you're gathering intelligence that matters for impactful engagement.

Staying attuned to customer preferences and cadence of messaging is also critical.

Also, you must adhere to your customers' preferences at all times. If you over-communicate—especially via non-specified channels, or about information the customer's not interested in—trust will be broken, and you'll increase the probability of a customer opting out. And once that happens, the chances of winning that customer back are small, if not almost impossible.

3. How creative are your efforts?

Once you've created an express-consent database, focus on unique ways to use mobile messaging to your advantage. That means customizing communications with exclusive offers and engaging customers in more creative ways to retain their attention and maximize the potential of mobile loyalty.

The companies that have a proven record of success with mobile generally communicate with customers once a week, sending exclusive offers to mobile recipients via SMS text. You can then expand your mobile efforts via different strategies and mobile technologies, such as MMS content, location-based services, and POS (point of service) barcoded mobile couponing.

Mobile marketing presents the opportunity to inform customers of sales and promotions in ways other forms of communication cannot. Traditional advertising, for example, relies on the push-marketing hope that consumers will somehow get the message. Mobile, on the other hand, offers companies a direct pull-marketing line to its audience via a channel the customer has already expressed interest in, and opted into, to receive information from.

Having a mobile database will enable you to accurately measure which offers and promotions your customers respond to and which products and services are most important to each of them.

For instance, you can easily integrate location-based services, which would give users access to coupons or discounts when they enter a store. Or, you could integrate QR (quick response) codes into print advertisements, taking consumers directly to promotions or other sales information on your website.

4. Will your strategies encourage customer loyalty and engagement?

Whether via location-based social media, mobile commerce, or in-store promotions, mobile marketing engages customers with your brand and keeps them coming back for more. Mobile is becoming as much a part of the process as the shopping cart these days.

According to a recent Sybase and Mobile Marketing Association survey, 62% of consumers said they would make a purchase on their mobile device if they were given incentives, such as coupons, discounts, and gift cards.

Accordingly, mobile loyalty programs can really pay off if you have a sound strategy supported by targeted and strong incentives. Americans are enrolled in an average of 18 loyalty programs, and as a consequence they left more than $16 billion worth of loyalty rewards on the table in 2010, according to COLLOQUY (PDF).

So instead of asking customers to carry yet another reward card, offer an option that allows them to collect, store, and view reward points on their mobile devices. That will give consumers more control of the program and encourage participation. Use mobile trigger-based reminders to alert customers when reward points are about to expire, and retrieve your piece of that $16 billion pie.

* * *

By agreeing to opt in to your mobile campaigns, customers are raising their hand to hear from you and are providing valuable insight about themselves. You can use that information to target personalized and unique product offers, available exclusively to those customers.

The opportunity to use the power of mobile awaits. If you haven't explored this medium, now is the time to start. If you're already implementing mobile but not seeing the results you desire, start asking the right questions—starting with this gut check.

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Gut Check: Are You Ready for Mobile Marketing?

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Mike Romano is senior vice-president of Mobile Sales and Services for SoundBite Communications, a provider of mobile marketing and cloud-based, multichannel communications solutions. He is a contributor to the SoundBite blog, and he can be reached via