Mobile Advertising: Who Cares?
There’s nothing unusual or mysterious about mobile advertising. Unfortunately, those in the mobile industry seem to think the opposite. Discussions about mobile advertising always veer toward the technology: What it can do? How many people can it reach? Just how do you do it?
To be successful in mobile advertising, you have to get over some of these preconceived notions about it. Because mobile advertising is really no big deal. That seems like a simple statement, but my recent experience speaking at the CTIA Wireless 2011 event on this very topic has opened my eyes to the reasons why advertisers are sweating over how to make this technology work: they are only worried about the technology, and that’s getting in the way of the messaging.
The entire subject of social media - Twitter, Facebook, mobile advertising, you name it - is leading companies to answer the wrong questions. They are trying to answer: “How can we do it?” instead of: “Why should the target audience care?”
That last question is the only one that matters. The technology, and even the individual tactics, are not as important as ensuring the target audience is aware of your messaging and, more importantly, acts upon it. The rest is just needless handwringing.
There are two things you must consider to make audiences care about your mobile advertising. Firstly, you must have permission; and secondly, you must know something about the audience.
Target audiences are more likely to care about a message when they instinctively understand that a brand has permission to market a certain message or promote a certain (new) product. On a simple level, it means Sony doesn’t have permission to develop a socket wrench because that’s not the category Sony stands for and it doesn’t fit into its ‘make.believe’ brand position.
Even more important, in this context, is whether target audiences allow brands permission to even advertise on their phones in the first place. If audiences don’t give you that permission, the advertising will be irritating and could adversely affect your brand.
Our mobile phones have become very personal property in the last few years. We don’t share them with anyone else (as we did with land-line phones). We spend an inordinate amount of time with them. They have become more of a personal computer than a phone. We carry them around with us at all times. They have become an extension of who we are. In doing so, the advertising displayed through them will become personal.
There are a few ways to gain mobile advertising permission from your target audience. If they are already a part of your brand - such as, having already ordered a pizza from their phone - you have permission for the occasional text. Better yet, if your brand - and what it promises - aligns itself with what the end user is doing at that time, you have permission.
This is one area where advertisers can get mixed up. The brand must make sense, from the perspective of the target audience, in relation to where it appears. If you’re doing the New York Times crossword on an iPhone, for example, there’s no connection to a small ad for, let’s say, Toys R Us. It only shows that Toys R Us and the New York Times know nothing about you. (Now, maybe an ad for Barnes & Nobles would make sense.) You would be surprised how often this kind of brand mish-mash happens. The point is that this isn’t just about the usual media metrics of reach and frequency. This is about meaning.
Which leads to the second point, and the most important: knowing your audience. To gain permission, your brand and your messages must be a self-reflection of that audience. If they are, then how can audiences reject themselves?
Think of it this way. We all drive by billboards, which are just a smattering of the thousands of marketing messages sent our way each day. (Even a logo on a coffee cup is a marketing message.) Yet, we filter most of them out. We don’t remember them or even see them. We simply do not care.
However, if one of those billboards had your picture on it, you’d notice it. The billboard is truly a reflection of you. At that moment, you automatically give it permission to be relevant and to resonate with you.
The failure to understand that mobile advertising is more about permission and meaning is why so many advertisers and brand experts get it wrong. They assume that only finding new avenues to deliver a message is the answer. It’s why so many marketing messages are mundane.
There is a great deal of opportunity with mobile advertising. Print advertising is basically dead and even TV advertising is getting passed over with the advent of DVRs, TiVo and, most importantly, the wireless devices that stream content into our homes with no or minimal commercial interruption.
Instead of trying to answer the question of how to do mobile advertising, the more serious question to answer is why should target audiences care. Without understanding why the target audience should care, mobile marketing is going to become intrusive and companies will be left wondering why it didn’t work.
There is one interesting strategy that’s based on the kind of self-reflection the mobile industry should consider. Data on our habits are being saved, which means the mobile providers have that information – as do web providers. It didn’t shock me when, recently, I pulled up a website only to see an ad for something I had Googled a few hours earlier. That’s because it was at least something about me. In today’s world, I easily can get over the Big Brother aspect for the trade-off of relevance.
The truth is that, for mobile advertising to fulfil its promise, companies must understand that the technology is secondary to the message. Concentrate on knowing your audience. That means conducting market research, of course, but it must go beyond the usage and attitudes that limit most studies.
Even deeper, you must also decide what permissions your brands have and where do they belong. That means the messaging cannot be about you, but rather about those you are trying to reach. It’s not about $5 off your next pizza, but brand messaging that says who you are when you buy that pizza.
The idea is to create preference. In fact, if you are doing anything other than creating preference, you are losing. Mobile advertising can help build preference, just like any other form of marketing. It’s not that complex. Like everything else, it’s about making your audience care.
Tom Dougherty is president and CEO of Stealing Share