Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Creative Destruction: Killer Apps and Killer Devices

The term "killer app" typically refers to the software application that is regarded as the sole driver for mass adoption of a particular hardware device. In the early days of personal computing, that killer app was VisiCalc. This software program is widely regarded as the spark that ignited the personal computing explosion.

In more recent history we are experiencing a complete reversal of the order in which the smart phone - in particular the iPhone - would seem to be the "killer device" that is regarded as the sole driver for mass adoption of an entire class of software applications. In the process, whole categories of products and services are falling by the wayside.

Back in the fall of 2006, I was sitting on the commuter train taking me to my job in Portland, Oregon and reading my daily edition of the Wall Street Journal. Somewhere in the middle pages of the Tech section was a mention of Apple's intention to introduce their cell phone to the market "sometime in the spring of '07." (If you recall, back then Apple was riding high due to the success of its "killer device", the iPod.) The article went on to say that Apple's version of the mobile device would include a fully functional web browser and an email client that fully supports HTML-formatted email. By the conclusion of that article I immediately knew that history would be in the making for two reasons: (1) this was the very first smart phone targeted directly to the consumer, and (2) Apple's core competence is Useability - with a capital "U".

Here we are three years later and the iPhone has proven to be the killer device and is now the Gold Standard of requirements for all mobile devices. The smart phone is truly the killer device because it has actually killed entire categories of hardware devices. First went digital cameras and then PDAs. More recently it appears that dedicated GPS devices are becoming extinct. Some people have suggested to me that perhaps satellite radio may be the next casualty. And now this just in: B of A is shutting 600 of their banking branches. Reason: online and mobile banking trends reduces needs for physical presence.

We are truly experiencing what Joseph Schumpeter called "Creative Destruction".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Privacy vs. Publicity

Mobile devices present unique opportunities in marketing because they identify the owner's geospatial position at all times. Location-based Services (LBS) is the buzz word these days as marketers are scrambling to find was to reach people with relevant advertising based upon where a person's mobile device is at any moment in time. The reasoning is that mobile devices have become so ingrained into people's lives that the devices are virtually inseparable from the owner. Ergo, if you know where the device is, you know where the owner is.

There is a debate going on in the wired world regarding online privacy whose outcome may have an impact upon location-based marketing in the wireless world. Earlier in July, a federal judge in Seattle upheld an earlier ruling that an IP address is not personally identifiable information. Says US District Court Judge Richard Jones, "In order for 'personally identifiable information' to be personally identifiable, it must identify a person. [um...yeah...] But an IP address identifies a computer."

Now his ruling was in a different context - in which the defendant in the class-action lawsuit is none other than everyone's favorite Big Brother. Apparently back in 2006 there was a software update that automatically installed anti-piracy software. The pain point is that the company violated its own end user agreement by harvesting IP addresses in the process.

But on the other side of the pond, the European Union in its arcane wisdom ruled quite the opposite. In their opinion, an IP address is personally identifiable information. In the same light, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that ISPs cannot disclose a subscriber's IP address to the police without a grand jury subpoena.Though this ruling was in the context of a criminal matter but it does set the legal precedence to be extended to the seamy (Under)world of Marketing.

If people are uptight about somehow being traced by an IP address on the wired Internet to the degree of possible legislative intervention, then it stands to reason that these same people's uptightness will extend to the wireless world - specifically with impact to location-based services. Are legislative restrictions on mobile marketing opportunities using LBS looming as a dark cloud in the horizon? True there are smartphones that have settings enabling one to disable the location-broadcasting capability of their devices. But there are enough people who don't want to take control of their own lives and prefer instead to dictate the lives of everyone else around them. Ya just never know what could happen.

So now I'm just scratching my head. How can a person be concerned about his whereabouts being tracked from his computer's IP address when at the same time, he's telling the whole world where he is and what he's doing at every moment of the day?!

Here's a fer instance: Twitter. It is so easy for me to know in real time exactly what city people are in, what restaurant they are dining in, what conference they are attending, and what room they are currently in within their own home. How do I know? 'Cause they are tweeting about it and telling the whole world, that's how.

And Facebookers? Heck! Not only do they tell the world where they are at and what they are doing, but they post pictures of themselves doing it too!

My point is this: technology is not the villain. Facebook and MySpace are not the villains either. It really doesn't matter what information we enter into our social site profiles or whether the information is accessible via API. We already broadcast so much about ourselves by what we say with our own fingers - on Twitter, in our blogs, and on our Facebook/MySpace/Bebo/etc. pages.

Companies like Zeta Interactive and Unbound Technologies build profiles of people based on publicly available information and make that intelligence available to marketers to build targeted, timely, and relevant messaging. So my advice is, if you're worried about what a marketer might know about you, then at the very least make sure you are selective about what you say about yourself on your social page and in your tweets.

And to the lady sitting three rows back from me on the bus: if you don't want me to know everything about what's going on in your life, your brothers's life, your pastor's wife's life, and your dog's life, then either lower your voice or hang up your cellphone and shut up!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why Mobile Email Marketing Does Matter

People are using their mobile devices to talk to their friends and family, browse the Internet, to watch video and live TV, to take pictures and movies, to communicate with their peeps on social networks, to find out where the heck they are and where they are going, to play games, to buy things online, to broadcast the banalities of their lives in 160 characters or less, and much more. If people are using their mobile devices for so many things integral to their lifestyle, then how could it be possible that they would *NOT* be using their mobile devices to read and send email? I'm just asking a rhetorical question, actually. The truth is that email is the Number One data activity that people use their mobile devices for.

Why, then, are mobile marketers ignoring mobile email? Why are email marketers ignoring mobile email?

I subscribe to six of seven email newletters all tracking the mobile marketing industry. I have my Tweetdeck configured to display all tweets relating to mobile marketing and email marketing. No discussion at all about mobile email marketing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis.

Mobile email marketing has as much to do with traditional email marketing as mobile web sites have with traditional web sites. Savvy interactive marketers know that mobile web sites are not simply traditional web sites shrunk down to a teeny tiny screen. Likewise email marketers should regard mobile email as a totally different animal complete with a totally different strategy and totally different call to action. Mobile marketers need to realize that SMS and ad banners are not the be all and end all for the mobile channel.

Email marketers need to understand something about the medium that their message exists within. Computers are used to display the emails that they send by the billions to their subscribers. (I'm talking about legitimate retention email marketers; I'm purposely ignoring all those spammers out there.) Computers are not portable. They are tethered to either a phone line or an ethernet cable. Because of the immobility of computers, people are reading emails only at certain times of any given day. Laptops and netbooks? Wifi and Wimax? Oh puh-lease! Try using your laptop while standing in the subway. You get my drift...

People use their mobile devices to read their email anytime and anywhere; and I do mean anywhere. As an email marketer, I should know this. And further more, I should craft messaging specific to these on-the-go people. What message should I have for them? Perhaps an email displaying pictures of products at my retail outlets that -oh by the way, since they are out and about, why not drop by for an exclusive time-limited discount? Perhaps a news article with pictures and link to online video for late-breaking events? Perhaps pictures of my late night menu with driving (or staggering) directions to the nearest diner?

Mobile marketers likewise need to understand the medium that their messaging exists within. Text messaging enjoys the immediacy of response because people are more likely to quickly respond to a text message than check their email. But this advantage is short lived. I spoke with someone from Spain recently who said that he receives so many text messages that he ignores them now. Also, just how rich of a customer experience can you have in just 160 characters? Text-to-vote, text-for-coupon, etc. is nice, but it's not enough.

As a mobile marketer, I should think beyond 160 text characters. Have I really counted the cost of SMS messaging? How much to provision a short code? Do I really have $500 to $1000 to blow each month just on the short code alone? How spontaneous can my campaigns be with 6 to 8 weeks for every single wireless carrier to review my campaign brief and approve it to run on their network? How much longer can I keep paying for the cost of sending and receiving text messages? How much longer can I afford to ignore the fact that text messaging costs me 10 times per message compared to email messaging? Also, not every one has an all-you-can-eat text messaging plan. In fact, 45% of mobile device owners don't. This means that more than 4 out of every 10 persons I send a text message to actually pays to receive that message when at the same time, email is free. How about triggering the sending of an SMS message based on the response or non-response of an email message? That will greatly cut down on my costs and add some smarts to my SMS messaging program. What about mobile email to add to my mobile marketing mix?

Mobile email marketing does matter. It's time to break down the barriers between these two channels in the minds of the marketers. It's time for creative thought. Both text and email messaging can be highly complimentary on the mobile device. Enterprise marketing platforms should enable marketers to construct effective integrated cross-channel campaigns in which subscriber data is available for targeting, personalization, and reporting across both communication channels. Responses or non-responses to messages in one channel should be used to trigger follow-ups in the other channel. Give your customers options in how they want to receive communications from you, and what types of communications they want to receive depending upon each channel.

Have you experienced any effective campaigns combining email and SMS? Leave me your comments. I'd like to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beware of Co-Reg in Mobile Marketing

MediaPost yesterday reported that a new organization, Mobile Advocacy Coalition, was formed. It intends to ask the Federal Communications Commission to specify that technology companies that act as "mere conduits" aren't liable for wireless ads that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, according to the group's attorney, Scott Delacourt, a lawyer at Wiley Rein.

The main reason why this lobbying group was formed was response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's recent decision in a lawsuit against Simon & Schuster and mobile marketing company ipsh!.

In a nutshell, Simon & Schuster are the defendants in a $90M class action lawsuit stemming from a 2006 incident. Laci Satterfield filed the suit after her young son is said to have received a text message in the middle of the night warning him that the "next call you take may be your last." The text was a promotion for Mr. King’s book, "The Cell." Though the text message was sent in the middle of the night, I'm not aware of whether the child woke up in the middle of the night to read said text message.

First of all, you should get to know a bit more about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Headquartered in San Francisco, this is the same group of enlightend individuals that ruled in 2002 that it was not legal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it contains the words "under God".

At the heart of the matter is the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that makes it unlawful to generate automated calls to mobile phones without the "prior express consent of the called party." The Ninth District Court of Appeals holds that text messages sent to mobile phones is the same thing as voice calls. The TCPA applies to automatic telephone dialing systems (ATDS), equipment that has "the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator and to dial such numbers."

But here's where the hair splitting begins. The appellate court wasn't concerned with whether the system used to the send the text messages was an actual ATDS. They felt that the proper question to ask is whether system had the capacity to be used as an ATDS. With no evidence presented during the original trial to the contrary, the court overruled the original judgment and ordered the case back to trial.

The sequence of events that lead to that fateful text message being sent on that fateful night is commonly known as "co-registration". Ms. Satterfield did not directly opt-in to receive text messages from Simon & Schuster. She became a registered user of Nextones in order to receive a free ringtone. During the registration process, she checked a box which read, in part: "I would like to receive promotions from Nextones affiliates and brands" - boilerplate verbiage used in co-registration. The appellate court rules that Simon & Schuster is neither an affiliate of Nextones nor is it a brand of Nextone. Therefore, the text messages they sent in this campaign were unsolicited - a violation of the TCPA.

Co-Reg is a widespread tactic used for lead generation especially in email marketing. It is one means of generating new leads and customers. But it's also one source of messages that recipients classify as spam. Irritating as it is, email spam is nevertheless tolerated a lot more than SMS spam - partly because mobile phones are considered much more personally than the so-called personal computer, and also partly because people originally paid for each text message while email is free.

Mobile marketers should continue to follow this case because it has direct bearing on our industry. While co-registration may be an acceptable lead generation tactic used in email marketing, the case of Satterfield v. Simon & Schuster, Inc. indicates that mobile marketers should proceed with extreme caution if not avoid it altogether.