Make the Most of Mobile Advertising

Studies suggest mobile marketing is becoming a more viable form of advertising, but how can SMBs tap the potential and reach customers in creative, personal ways, and who can help you do it?

Is your business ready to make the move to mobile marketing? A recent study by The Kelsey Group found 81 percent of small to medium-size businesses plan to maintain or increase ad spending over the next six months. If you haven't considered mobile advertising-the targeted marketing of customers through mobile phones-consider how it may serve your customer base. But one analyst cautions that this is still a largely untested market, and any investment should be made with caution.
Although Bango, a U.K.-based mobile Web technology company with offices in New York, predicts mobile advertising will become a "linchpin" of marketing in 2009, Nate Elliott, research director for Forrester Research, said mobile marketing's heyday is still a long way off. "The large majority of marketers haven't even begun to try yet, and most have only dabbled [in mobile marketing]," he said. "Mobile marketing won't be the linchpin of marketing for a while yet."
Elliott said SMBs should keep in mind that mobile advertising is still in a relatively early stage of existence. Technological limitations reduce the robustness of Web sites on the mobile platform, and until technology catches up, the choice of mobile marketing companies remains sparse.
As with any form of advertising, you first need to study your client base and determine if reaching them through mobile phones is a worthwhile investment. "Even when we look five years out, we're looking at very small numbers," he said. "In 2012, we're assuming this will be a tiny portion of the market."
Elliott said SMBs considering mobile marketing should determine whether they have the rest of their marketing ducks in a row and feel they are doing well. "If there are marketers who can dedicate resources to experimenting with a small and interesting new platform, then by all means have a look at mobile," he said. "But if there's a marketer out there whose budget is under threat, then I would encourage them to leave mobile for another day."
If you are looking to move your Web site onto a mobile platform, a basic HTML site should show up on a Web-enabled mobile device. If you use a Flash site, most mobile phones won't be able to render the software, but you have two options: You can mirror, or duplicate, the site to render in HTML on a mobile phone, or you can create a new, mobile-based version of the Web site.
If you're looking to create a mobile site, Mobilemo provides mobile-based Web designs and layouts, and helps businesses create and manage mobile sites. Mobile sites that are created using Mobilemo are automatically converted to the right size, layout and format for mobile phone viewing (.mobi-compliant).
All of this costs money, of course, and the nascent mobile marketing platform isn't particularly well-suited to small business, Elliott argues. "My sense is, if you're an SMB, you need to get some ROI for your marketing budget," he said. And while SMBs are the most proactive in developing new platforms, there's nothing you can do in mobile for free. "The prices right now are much higher on mobile than they are on many other channels. It's not the kind of thing that's crying out for small businesses," he said.
And the challenges don't end there, Elliott said. "On the consumer side, the handsets are a big part of the problem. Some are technically capable, but you're dealing with a much smaller screen and with much slower download speeds, so it's a crippled Internet experience," he said. "Perhaps the biggest limitation on the consumer side is people don't buy things on their phones. There are basically no transactions on these phones."
Elliott dismisses mobile marketers who point to high click-through rates as evidence that mobile marketing is fast taking hold. "Those high click-through rates are going to go away, and they don't actually lead to anything because people aren't actually transacting on their phones," he explained. The economic turmoil engulfing world markets isn't going to help adoption move any faster, he pointed out.
Although Elliott said he thinks mobile marketing will one day be a viable investment, SMBs should think long and hard before investing heavily in a largely untested advertising platform. "Rest assured, I do think this is going to be a viable market one day," he said. "But it's still not the year of mobile marketing, and 2009 is still not going to be the year of mobile marketing either."