Weekly Update

How to Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Mobile Marketing

I was driving 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 tourism plug for Tucson, Ariz., featuring an attractive woman, a rocky desert landscape and a QR code. Yes, a QR code. On the back of a city bus.

As I’ve said before, I think mobile barcodes have immense potential. But as I drove behind the bus I wondered how people would actually use that QR code, which presumably takes users to a mobile site for a Tucson tourism organization. Was I 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? Should pedestrians bolt into the street to try to capture the image at bus stops?

The ill-conceived effort reminded me that mobile marketing is still an emerging space that is largely misunderstood by those outside the mobile industry (and sometimes by those in it). So for advertisers looking to reach consumers on their mobile phones — and for the countless number of mobile marketing companies trying to help those advertisers — here are seven key pitfalls to avoid:

  1. PC-type mobile sites: Building a good mobile site doesn’t simply mean squeezing your content down to fit a smaller screen; it means addressing the differences in websites are used across different devices. For instance, a consumer is likely to check an airline’s website on a PC to compare fares or change seat assignments. But a mobile user is more likely to check the status of a flight. So that option should be presented to mobile users immediately — not after a few clicks or buried at the bottom of the screen. And never ask a mobile user to enter more than a few words from his handset to sign up for a mailing list, say, or  create an account.
  2. One-way marketing streets: Almost every mobile marketing campaign (aside from branding efforts) should invite users to interact with the advertiser. Ask consumers to send an SMS to receive a discount offer, or to submit a photo to join a sweepstakes. Just as important, maintain a database of your mobile users. Communicate regularly with them and give them a reason to stay engaged, but never…
  3. Over-reach: Once you’ve established a relationship with a consumer, don’t bombard her with come ons. If she has signed up to receive product announcements or sales alerts, give her those, but nothing (or not much) more. 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.
  5. Failing to leverage the phone’s functionality: Any local search campaign should include a click-to-call feature that can connect advertisers and would-be customers with a single touch. And phones are location-aware devices that also serve as cameras, music/video players and messaging devices. Find innovative ways to entice consumers to use some of those features as you interact with them.
  6. Siloed campaigns: Mobile works best when it’s part of larger campaigns that embrace a variety of media as well as social networks. (Ubisoft last year leveraged Facebook and Twitter effectively in this mobile marketing campaign for the game Splinter Cell: Conviction.) Place QR codes in print, online and on billboards (but, um, not on buses) to establish a new line of communication with consumers. If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, use in-store displays to make sure your customers know about your mobile website. And use traditional media to encourage users to reach you via short codes.
  7. Building only an iPhone app: Developing mobile apps isn’t always a great mobile marketing strategy, particularly for those on a shoestring budget. Only about one-third of all mobile users in the U.S. own smartphones, according to recent data from Nielsen, and only about one-fourth of those carry an iPhone. So an iPhone-only app will reach a very small segment of the market. If it’s worth building for iOS, it’s also worth building for Android — and probably BlackBerry.

Question of the week

What other pitfalls should mobile advertisers avoid?