Opinion: Importing Mobile Marketing Tools

It took nearly half a century for traditional media like TV and radio to secure a prominent place among marketers for their brand strategies. It took two decades for the PC. And for mobile? Less than a decade. Today, there are four times as many cell phones as PCs, iPhone users spend 1.5 hours a day browsing the Internet and enjoying their apps, and the iPad is sure to open up new prospects of growth. It’s estimated that mobile has the ability to reach 4 billion people worldwide.

As CEO of Paris-based Phonevalley, I work with both U.S. and European marketers to identify the best mobile marketing strategies. My pockets should be full of insights from the European market and, a year ago, I would have had lots to share. But things have dramatically changed.

Why? Because over the last 18 months the U.S. has become the top mobile market worldwide. Not only did the rate of 3G penetration grow exponentially and new rich-media devices sell out, but unlimited data plans became widely popular.

Those combined factors led mobile users to consume more data on their mobile screens. They watch the morning news and weather forecasts on their cell phones, check out their favorite recipes and chat with relatives on MSN mobile messenger.

Mobile applications also bloomed thanks to Apple’s iPhone. Today, users spend hours each day browsing the mobile Web and accessing the different apps available to them for free.

U.S. players, from Google to Apple, have made major investments in the mobile market. Yahoo and Google, for instance, have created sophisticated mobile-search opportunities. They now lead the worldwide mobile market.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from Europe’s mobile experiences.

I want, however, to start in the East, where, in 1999, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo created i-mode to build sites that fit a mobile screen. I-mode shipped to Europe in the early 2000s, where carriers subsidized mobile subscriptions to rapidly improve their brand equity, customer loyalty and, consequently, their data ARPU.

While U.S. carriers mainly concentrated on call plans, European operators developed mobile marketing opportunities, launching attractive data offers (MMS in 2005, video MMS in 2006 and mobile Internet unlimited plans in 2007).

Big names like Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Paramount tested mobile marketing plans in Europe that they hoped would engage consumers, launch new products, influence sales and create touch points for their brands 24/7.

But too many European advertisers built robust mobile strategies completely apart from their Web plans. Only later did they discover that they burned cash in vain and had poor ROIs.

A typical creative trap is the temptation to innovate for the sake of innovation, hoping along the way to generate engagement. For instance, an awesome augmented-reality iPhone application sounds brilliant, but then what?

Marketers in Europe understand the importance of avoiding gimmicks and instead create a number of identifiable, complementary and sequential milestones. The minimum level of engagement is their m.brand.com sustainable site. Depending on their marketing objectives, targets and budget, they then add product discovery, wish lists, events, loyalty programs, promotions, m-commerce sites and/or applications all connected to their m.brand.com and supported by media and search plans.

As marketers, you know that learning curves are crucial. Mobile is not a small PC. This fascinating media needs to be considered as a whole ecosystem with its own set of rules. Don’t think of mobile separately from your global marketing plans. It needs to be perfectly integrated within other digital strategies. Sharp-witted advertisers understand that cell phones are not mobile PCs, so why should we create Web-like sites for its small screen?

The European market learned it was important to be creative and to offer entertaining, ergonomic and addictive experiences. Also, that it’s essential to make the most of mobile’s unique assets, such as its GPS, camera and compass capabilities. In Europe, luxury brands from Hermes to Chanel, Lancôme to Jaeger-LeCoultre know new devices like the iPhone and the Nexus One are the perfect way to provide a flawless brand image.

Now, let’s turn our eyes East again. With over 1 billion mobile users in China and India, four times as many as in the U.S., Asia is the new knowledge playground. Let’s rely on our mutual experiences and create new rules for everyone to achieve success in the global mobile market.

Alexandre Mars is Phonevalley CEO and Publicis Groupe head of mobile.