Mobile marketing: Always on the move

Mobile marketing can do so much more than just serve ads.

Drivers of Volkswagen’s TDI Clean Diesel models often face a quandary: where to fill up? Not every gas station carries diesel. So the car company hired Vortex Mobile, a mobile marketing firm, to create a Volkswagen-branded software application customers can download to their BlackBerry, iPhone or other mobile device that quickly shows them the five nearest stations, even giving them turn-by-turn directions to get there. It’s a marketer’s dream: on a nearly daily basis, VW will provide drivers helpful customer service. “The fact that Volkswagen will have a branded application on those devices is extremely sticky,” says Brady Murphy, managing partner of Toronto-based Vortex.

Only 18 months ago, the term “mobile marketing” was synonymous with sending short text messages to willing consumers’ cellphones. But as both the usage and technical sophistication of mobile devices has grown, so too has the marketing opportunity. Recent research in the United States by media agency Universal McCann and AOL shows that one out of every seven minutes of all media consumption is on a mobile device. Couple that with those devices’ larger, brighter screens, more powerful processors and networks that can pinpoint a consumer’s location, and it’s no wonder some marketers see an opportunity to weave their brands far more deeply into their consumers’ lives.

The trick is to offer something useful, or truly exclusive content. “Mobile apps have become a total game changer,” says Murphy. “Problem-solving tools that use location or time sensitivity are where the mobile marketing industry is going.” Moreover, once an app is downloaded, it opens up the chance to distribute other content. For VW, it could be a catalogue of the latest Volkswagen models, or helpful information about the customer’s vehicle maintenance plan.

For other companies such as Molson Coors Canada, which in the past three years has launched more than 1,000 text-message campaigns for 11 of its beer brands, the challenge is as technical as it is creative. A website built for this environment has to know what mobile browser is accessing it (because information must be displayed differently) and also recognize if it can handle, for example, a video clip. A website designed for mobile users might need up to five unique versions (or “optimizations,” in industry parlance) just to handle the range of devices accessing it.

But getting consumers to punch in special codes for offers will still be the simplest starting point. “There’s always going to be a place for text messaging as an activation point,” says David Brown, senior director of business development for Toronto-based MyThum Interactive, which works with Molson. “Then it’s a matter of layering an experience on top of that initial engagement, and allowing the user to interact on their terms.” No simple thing. But marketers are salivating at the possibilities of climbing straight into the pockets and purses of consumers.