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Mobile marketing is the most personal medium available. People run their lives off of mobile. It's business, it's personal, it's information gathering. It's on 24/7. We call it the "brand in the hand." --Global Media Manager, Adidas International
First it was the Internet. Now, the convergence of the Web and wireless technology has begun to challenge many of the assumptions companies have about their marketing strategies. Indeed, the combination of the Internet and hand-held mobile devices is making possible a whole new array of marketing applications and offerings. This is what we refer to as "brand in the hand"--the potential for branding and marketing communications to be delivered to people in their hands while they are shopping, watching a sporting event, commuting, working or doing chores at home.
In the past, advertising and branding models were based primarily on 30-second commercials and magazine ads. Today, the growth of digital and mobile communications is changing so fast that consumers may soon find themselves interacting with brands in fundamentally different ways. For now, the target delivery medium for mobile marketing applications is cell phones, personal digital assistants and other hand-held devices. But scenarios such as the one in the film "Minority Report," in which holographic point-of-purchase displays for the likes of Gap clothing engage passers-by by name, are not that far off in certain Asian and European markets.
Before companies rush into this new marketing arena, though, they need to understand some fundamental issues. For starters, in what ways does mobile marketing differ from traditional approaches? Moreover, when should a company pursue a brand-in-the-hand initiative--and when should it not? And how should firms integrate such a novel approach within their overall marketing strategies?
For many people, the cell phone, PDA or other hand-held device has become virtually a necessity of everyday life. (See "The Global Spread of Mobile Technology.") In particular, young consumers, who tend to be technology-savvy multitaskers, have quickly adopted mobile devices to socialize, play online games and download content, including music, ring tones and wallpaper backgrounds. Within this market segment, cell phones have become a status symbol and a means for individuals to express themselves through customized face plates, ring tones, carrying cases and so on. In this sense, cell phones have become similar to clothing, jewelry and other external communicators of the self. One observer has even claimed that mobile communication devices may represent the "ultimate expression of an individualistic society." (1)
But younger consumers are not the only ones to embrace mobile technology. In fact, the reach of mobile devices is perhaps best understood by segmenting people on the basis of their acceptance and use of technology as well as their lifestyle motivations, rather than solely on background variables such as age or gender, which can be less representative of actual behavior. (2) In one such study, Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Massa-chusetts, looked at factors such as technology attitude and income along with three primary motivations (career, family and entertainment) to categorize consumers. The people in one resulting segment--"mouse potatoes," a relatively older group characterized by high income, interests in entertainment and a positive attitude toward technology--appear to be likely candidates for adopting mobile technology.
As increasing numbers of consumers become users of mobile devices, companies will likely develop marketing strategies for exploiting that new medium. In fact, global brands such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, MTV, Volvo, Sony Pictures, Nike and Adidas have already begun to explore brand-in-the-hand concepts. For example, one of the newest forms of marketing is the text-in promotion, in which people with cell phones can engage in a variety of promotions by text messaging certain codes. In Europe, Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald's Corp. recently partnered to promote the popular movie "Finding Nemo" by distributing 25 million drink cups that each contained a unique text message code. Consumers could submit the text code through their cell phones to win prizes and downloads such as mobile postcards and Nemo wallpaper. In all, more than 4 million people participated in the campaign. (3) In another instance, MTV Networks Co. recently partnered with Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. to promote special ring tones that were featured in MTV's 2005 Video Music Awards show and were available exclusively on Virgin Mobile phones. (4)
Like Web communications, mobile marketing can be interactive, but it offers the possibility of a closer brand connection because of the personal nature of hand-held electronic devices. Cell phones and PDAs store information about individuals' social networks of friends, family, and business or school contacts. The devices might also contain a calendar of appointments and serve various other functions, including alarm clock, camera, calculator and video game player. Therefore, they often stimulate an emotional connection with their users, as evidenced by the popularity of accessory products that people purchase to personalize their phones, including customized ring tones, face plates and wallpaper backgrounds.
At this point, mobile marketing is tied primarily to cell phones because of widespread use as well as the portability of the devices. It should be noted that brand-in-the-hand strategies do not include laptops accessing WiFi wireless networks because of the limited mobility of such computers. Further, the usage characteristics of cell phones versus other devices are quite …