Blog Post

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Mobile Marketing

U.S. mobile marketing and advertising will become a $1.5 billion industry by 2016, according to recent data from ABI Research, as surging smartphone sales increase our appetite for mobile data. But like any fledgling space, mobile marketing is fraught with pitfalls for those who fail to understand both the limitations and the potential of wireless handsets.

I was reminded of that last week when I found myself behind a bus sporting one of the silliest mobile marketing efforts I’ve ever seen. On the back of the bus was a an ad pushing tourism for Tucson, Ariz. And it featured a QR code.

Yes, a QR code. On the back of a city bus.

I wondered whether I was supposed to drive closely enough to the back of the bus to scan the code with one hand on my phone and the other on the wheel? Was the advertiser hoping pedestrians would rush into the street at bus stops to capture the image?

That ill-placed QR code was a particularly egregious example of poor mobile marketing, of course, but I’m constantly amazed at how advertisers fail to leverage the new medium. So for businesses looking to reach consumers on their mobile phones — and for the countless number of mobile marketing companies trying to help them — here are a few key things to avoid:

  1. PC-type mobile sites: Too many businesses simply try to squeeze the content of their regular Web site to fit a smaller screen. A good mobile site should not only be easy to read and navigate, it should take into account the use-case differences between mobile and PCs.
  2. One-way marketing streets. Almost every mobile marketing campaign (aside from branding efforts) should invite users to interact with the advertiser. Communicate regularly with them and give them reasons to stay engaged, but never…
  3. Over-reach. Once you’ve established a relationship with a consumer, don’t bombard her with come-ons. And always, always make it as easy to opt out as it is to opt in.
  4. Bluetooth-based surprise assaults: Spam is a particularly bad idea on a mobile phone, which (as you’ve heard countless times) is the most personal device consumers carry. And an unsolicited message asking if I want to receive a message is as annoying as sending me the message in the first place. If you must market via Bluetooth — a practice I generally can’t stand — make sure you’re doing it from clearly marked locations (like a kiosk in a movie theater) that will reach a targeted population rather than everyone who happens to walk by your storefront.

These are just a few examples of how mobile marketing campaigns often fall short of their potential. For more thoughts on these and other mistakes, please see my column this week at GigaOM Pro.

Image source: flickr user B Rosen.

5 Responses to “How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Mobile Marketing”

  1. I agree with everything you said except for the QR code on the back of the bus. I think that is an excellent use of the technology. Your argument about sending the wrong message with regard to using your cell phone while driving is valid, but I think most people would know that that was not the intent of the ad.

    The bus will be seen by thousands of people who are not driving behind it or beside it. The ad is for tourism in the city. I think a mobile ad on a mobile vehicle is a brilliant idea.

    • Colin Gibbs

      I still don’t see the use-case scenario for that QR code, Emilio. Yes, it will be seen by plenty of people, but what’s the point if only very few can actually scan it?

  2. I couldn’t agree more.
    It always amazes me when brands ‘slap on’ a QR code and don’t pay any attention to the mobile users experience.

    A good simple call to action, is much more powerful than sending them to the home page of your ‘desk top size’ website.