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Selling Smart With Smartphones

Display ads on cell phones won’t cut it. Today’s mobile marketers need to think interactive, hyperlocal, hypertargeted, and augmented reality.
  • May 23 2011

When TeleNav product marketing manager Brett Kohn talks about driving traffic to your business, he means it literally—as in directing customers right to your parking lot. TeleNav—which, for a decade, has provided GPS info to cell phone providers—has since built a business model that delivers hyperlocal and hypertargeted ads. Say a consumer performs a search through his smartphone’s GPS—he may be looking for the closest grilled cheese sandwich or a new grille for his BMW. TeleNav offers search results that  include one featured advertiser. When the driver selects that highlighted advertiser, the seeds of a relationship are planted. The user may choose to phone the advertiser or (better yet) tap “drive to” on the screen—in which case, the mobile’s GPS would direct the driver to that store. “The thing we’re most excited about,” Kohn says, “is that you don’t have to guess anymore—you’ll know how many people called your business…or drove to it.

Whether the customer traffic arrives by sedan or on foot, experts agree that the new technologies deployed for mobile advertising are more targeted, interactive, and useful than ever before. One of the platform’s greatest assets—compared to marketing on the Web—is that it is mobile; that the technology can literally guide the buyer directly to the purchase. And there will be lots of devices out there to do the job: Nielsen reports that by the end of 2011, 50 percent of mobiles bought will be smartphones. And marketers plan on spending accordingly: In the U.S., according to a September 2010 report by eMarketer, the total mobile projected ad spend was $743 million in 2010, up 79 percent from the year before, with projections set at $1.1 billion for 2011.

For those who have seen the light—or the mobile glow, as it were—theirs is truly money well spent. An internal case study by TeleNav found that customers who clicked on a restaurant after conducting a location search brought in $13 in revenue and $7 in profit for every dollar the advertiser spent on the campaign.

The evolution of technologies such as MMS (multimedia messaging service) and the wider adoption and capabilities of smartphones and mobile integration with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is turning out to benefit marketers and consumers alike. Still, it’s incumbent on brands to think a step ahead. Companies that rely solely on static banner ads designed for the web then displayed on phones are missing out on an opportunity to engage and inform. Not only do they need to design for mobile, they need to leverage it as well. “The mobile phone is the always-on device,” says James Citron, CEO of Mogreet, a company that helps companies with MMS campaigns. “If marketers don’t reach consumers on a device they appreciate, they will be left behind.”

“The traditional marketing funnel of: become aware, learn, engage, buy, support is becoming non-linear thanks to mobile,” says Michael Becker, the North America managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association, a group that numbers more than 700 members worldwide. “With mobile, customers might see an ad and immediately buy the product. Or, if they’re not interested, they might share the ad with a friend.”’

For Steve Madden, Mogreet knew the shoe brand had to get personal. “When you opt in to the Steve Madden database, you’re asked about more than just your favorite footwear,” explains Citron. “You’ll be polled about your birthday and favorite music.” As Steve Madden learns the tastes of its mobile fans, users will get music videos delivered via MMS and the yearly personal video birthday greeting from Steve Madden himself.

Apart from a good wish every twelve months, the best-received MMS campaigns are those that arrive roughly every seven to ten days (ideally with a photo or—even better—a video, says Citron). Any more often and the advertiser risks crossing the line from letting the customer in on something cool to pestering.

“From an advertising perspective, we’re just scratching the surface of the appropriate content we can bring the end-user,” says Mike Wehrs, CEO of Scanbuy, a company that helps companies reach consumers through bar-codes—both the old-school style (1-D) and new (2-D). One of the company’s clients, Home Depot, featured a QR Code in a flyer promoting products in its Martha Stewart line. When customers scanned the 2-D code with their mobiles, the phone navigated to a screen containing additional product information and a video featuring Stewart. Other retailers, including Target, have tabulated consumer scans of its products as a predictor of which items will ultimately sell best, and adjusted inventory accordingly.

Data compiled by ScanLife show that nearly 60 percent of shoppers used their phones to scan a product code during the 2010 holiday season. The firm also estimates that 30 to 40 percent of smartphone owners have downloaded a barcode scanning app. What are they seeking as they scan?

Coupons and price comparisons top the list. Among the items most frequently scanned and purchased are groceries (25 percent); personal care items (18 percent); and electronics (13 percent).

Companies not using bar codes to communicate with consumers are missing a sales opportunity, explains Wehrs. “When a customer has your product in hand and scans the bar code, you can respond with reviews and coupons.” This is increasingly important as savvy customers comparison shop right in store and decide to take their business elsewhere if they find the same or similar for less nearby or online. This, of course, underscores the need for retailers to engage the customer through mobile campaigns of their own, offering deals and coupons sent right to patrons’ phones in store.

“I’m looking forward to the day when your phone will get you to the store, tell you what’s on special, give you a deal, and allow you to pay without you ever needing to pull out your wallet,” says Kohn.

And then there’s augmented reality—a technology that’s already here, but which offers sci-fi promise. One company exploring the possibilities is the Munich-based firm Metaio. With a consumer app called Junaio, the software development company has made a name for itself by blending the real and virtual worlds. When Absolut vodka wanted a campaign to show off Absolut Glimmer, it partnered with TBWA\Interactive Spain to create a print ad featuring a shrouded bottle. View that same ad on a Junaio-enabled smartphone, and your mobile screen reveals the uncovered Absolut bottle. Ben & Jerry’s also used the technology in 2010, when the ice cream maker deployed its iPhone app, “Scoop of Happiness.” By holding a smartphone over a Ben & Jerry’s lid, the viewer gets treated to a whole lot more than Chunky Monkey. A 3-D graphical world featuring fair-trade farmers and cage-free hens would pop onto the screen, while fans of the flavor New York Super Fudge Chunk would see a 3-D depiction of Big Apple skyscrapers. After experiencing all four augmented realities, fans got to unlock Ben & Jerry’s wallpapers for their phones. 

Other companies that have dabbled with Junaio include Mazda—which has offered users a virtual test drive—and coupon mailer Valpak, which allows anyone with the app to search for deals by pointing their phones at stores. “It can be pointed at billboards or even TV screens,” says Jan Schlink, Metaio’s head of corporate communications.

Whatever the future holds for mobile, there’s no doubt the dollar numbers are poised for huge growth as brands attain that most holy of all sales grails: “We’re seeing a shift from content pushed to you,” says Wehrs, “to a model where people can interact and get the information they really want.”