Friday, August 5, 2011

Where No Search Has Gone Before (Or Ever Can Go)

I've had the recent opportunity to tell the story that Mobile Email Does Matter as a guest columnist to Mobile Marketer Daily and also in an interview by Internet Retailer. I'm pleased to see that many others share my excitement regarding the unique opportunities of mobile email -- and we've only just started to tap its potential.

My only hope is that marketers don't get distracted by obsessing over how an email should look in a mobile device and actually spend their time thinking of mobile email strategy: unique experiences that take advantage of the mobile context which cannot be duplicated on the desktop.

And Speaking of Unique Experiences
I'd like to introduce you to a start up company that it's been my good pleasure to speak with their founder, Vivek Sharma. His company, MovableInk, specializes in what they call "real-time content for email." They have a number of offerings in their portfolio, and the one that I like the most - from a mobile marketer's perspective - is their real-time Local Maps.

Local Maps shows points of interest on a Google Maps mashup in real-time based on where the email recipient is at the time he opens his email. Since the map is rendered in real time, the POIs that the email recipient sees within the very same email will vary depending upon where he is at the time he opens his email.

The desktop experience of Local Maps doesn't exactly excite me especially when one's desktop connection to the Internet is managed via a proxy server as many business and as some commercial ISPs do. For example, I work in Oregon and my office connection to the Internet is managed by my employer who is in Minnesota. Therefore, Google, and others (including Local Maps) show me information relevant to The Land of a Thousand Lakes which is no where close to where I am.

The real Match Made in Heaven is between Local Maps and Mobile Email. Mobile HTML uses the IP address of the cell tower that is handling the communication with the mobile handset. This means that regardless of who your ISP is, you'll always get a true local map on your mobile handset when you read your email whereas you may or may not on your desktop.

To be specific, look below at two screen shots of the same email. The email is from a brand that I follow, showing the places within a few miles of me that serve a particular ... ahem ... beverage that I like (more on that later).

Here's what I see when I read my email at work:

Here's what I see when I read that same email on my mobile device:

Local Search vs. MovableInk Local Maps
So let's talk mobile email strategy now. Any brand having local outlets should consider Local Maps in their mobile email programs. Local search is one of the most widely used features on mobile handsets. MovableInk's Local Maps takes the experience to a level that local search can never go. The web search experience is restricted because it cannot provide the same personalized experience that only email can. Only Local Maps can provide personalized "insider information" on points of interest that local search has no way of knowing.

Local Maps is the perfect tool to capitalize on instant gratification which is the unique advantage of the mobile opportunity. Brands having retail outlets, restaurants, and fast food outlets are the ones that typically come to mind. Being denizens of an industrialized society, we don't plan our meals ahead of time any more. We eat when we're hungry no matter where we happen to be at the moment. Most food service brands have customer loyalty programs. Marketers should send mobile emails out sometime just before the time of day our stomachs start growling. The emails should contain loyalty reward offers that can be immediately redeemed. To top it off, the mobile email should include a Local Map that shows all the nearby places the person can go to immediately redeem his loyalty reward.

CPG Brands Can Benefit Too ...
Consumer Packaged Goods brands can benefit from Local Maps by displaying local outlets that carry a particular product. For example, I'm a fan of a particular brand of vodka (NOTE: this is *not* an endorsement for the consumption of alcoholic beverages) and I like it enough to subscribe to their email newsletters. It's a hard-to-find brand of vodka so it's important enough to me that all other things being equal, the establishments serving this brand have priority of those that don't. This is where mobile email and Local Maps are the perfect solution. Local search just doesn't work - believe me, I've tried it; neither Google, Bing, nor Yahoo! can show me which local dining establishment carries this particular brand. The mobile email from this brand should contain two keys items: a two-for-one drink offer (since martinis always seem to come in pairs) and a Local Maps showing all the dining establishments near me - no matter where I happen to be at that moment - where I can redeem this offer.

... As Can Consumer Electronics ...
Consumer electronics brands have some of the most rabid group of fans, rivaling those of rock stars. Who else can get people to stand outside a store in the freezing rain just so that they can be among the first to own a game, game console, or tablet computer? Product exclusivity implies product scarcity. So here's an idea to consider. Do a special new product rollout exclusively for your most loyal customers. If your product is sold all across the nation, limit availability of the new product to fewer locations than your normal distribution places. Finally, don't automatically assume that 100% of these customers are all at home or that they all know where the exclusive distribution locations are. Do the product announcement using a mobile email and include a MovableInk Local Maps showing the "secret places" where the exclusive product is available. This will drive your rabid fans even wilder!

So there you have it. The mobile opportunity is so much beyond getting an email to look nice in a mobile device. MovableInk's Local Maps is another great way to offer instant gratification for your mobile email program.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The State of Mobile Messaging 2011

Each year the question always arises, "Is this the Year of Mobile Marketing?" The honest answer is "Yes" and "No". Each year the data about mobile marketing shows that it is maturing from an experimental medium into a mainstream medium for online marketers. And each year, the data shows that it still has a way to go before it reaches the level of mass adoption that other online channels including search, banner advertising, and email marketing enjoy.

First, let's consider the data showing the growth of mobile marketing - specifically commercial mobile messaging. Estimates put the number as high as 6.1 trillion text messages sent worldwide in 2010. Text messaging now is the preferred mode of mobile communication for many mobile subscribers. A study from Merkle showed that 18-29 year olds prefer to text rather than talk for their personal communications. With the widespread adoption of text messaging for communications, it would be a logical assumption that text messaging adoption for commercial messaging should follow. But more on that later.

Even though actual advertising dollars spent on the mobile medium still remain orders of magnitude less than the other advertising media, it remains the one having the highest growth rate. According to the DMA's Statistical Fact Book 2011 Edition, advertising dollars spent in the mobile medium grew at a whopping 63.4% over a four year period from 2006 to 2010. This was during the same time period when total advertising spend shrank by 2.5% due to dropping expenditures in the traditional media channels including direct mail (catalogs, newspaper, magazines, inserts, etc.), radio, and television. Even though social media marketing has been the darling of the press, reality is that advertising spent in this channel grew at less than a third the rate of that for mobile. The projected growth rates through 2014 for the two channels are expected to come closer together; but mobile is still expected to grow faster than social.

Now let's consider the data that indicates commercial mobile messaging still has a long way to go before it reaches the level of mass adoption. In the Merkle study I mentioned above, the same 18-29 year old age group that prefers to text rather than talk for their personal communications are absolutely loathe to accept it as the medium for commercial communications. Quite surprisingly, a definitive 74% of this age group surveyed use email as their preferred medium for receiving commercial messages.

Email is the preferred medium for commercial messages over SMS because of three important factors:

  1. There still remains a sizable population of mobile subscribers who are still paying for each text message while email is free,

  2. Unlike the ability to set up multiple email accounts, a person has only one mobile phone number.

  3. Mobile devices are highly personal. People jealously guard their SMS inbox more than they guard their email inbox.

Let's consider this latter point. Mobile devices are highly personal. People jealously guard their phone numbers from the marketers' clutches for fear of receiving spam messages that they perceive to be highly personal intrusions. For this reason successful commercial mobile messaging places an extremely high premium on trust. Only when people start trusting the integrity of the brand will SMS marketing reach mass adoption on the scale of email marketing, search, display advertising, and mobile apps.

Marketers having successful email programs are in a perfect position to have successful SMS campaigns. The hard-won foundation of trust established by the email program can now be built upon with the SMS marketing program. For this reason, if you are a marketer looking to pilot your SMS marketing programs, start with your email subscribers. Best of all, start with your "mobile responders," those that tend to read your emails on their mobile devices. These are people that are already engaging with your commercial messaging campaigns in a mobile context. The barrier of adoption for your SMS marketing campaigns is lowest with this group.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Three Unique Benefits of Mobile Email

The online marketer's message is delivered via the Internet. There is an evolutionary transformation taking place in how consumers are choosing to access the Internet. Analysts including Morgan Stanley, and Gartner Research are predicting that within the next four years, the mobile device will become the number one access point to the Internet world wide.

For the past 15 years since the commercialization of the Internet, it's all been about the Desktop Experience. But now consumers are starting to expect the Mobile Experience. If brands do not offer a mobile experience to their customers, there is the possibility that they will lose them to brands that do.

In 2009, smartphones comprised less than 18% of all cellular phones worldwide. Within just one year, smartphone sales worldwide jumped a whopping 80 percent and represented over 21% of all cellphones sold worldwide in 2010. In February of this year, ReadWriteWeb reported that more smartphones were sold worldwide than PCs for the first time ever in Q4 2010.

Research into consumers' mobile device usage patterns indicates that people are interacting with their mobile devices at all times during the day. Additional research indicates that reading email continues to be the most popular data usage across all mobile devices for both feature phones and smartphones. With the meteoric rise of smartphone adoption, email marketers who offer a mobile experience for their customers stand to reap enormous economic benefits.

Email marketers need to see beyond just mobile formatting and consider the mobile opportunity. It is a tragedy of missed opportunity to focus just on repurposing desktop content for the mobile screen all the while ignoring the uniqueness of the mobile context that the desktop cannot duplicate. Mobile devices are the enablers of instant gratification. From a single device, I can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world, anytime I want to. I can also listen to music, watch a movie or TV show, purchase just about anything, play a game, find out where my friends are and tell them where I am, search for information on any topic, read my email, my magazine, my newspaper, or my book, program my DVR and just about anything else, anytime I want to.

Send time optimization - the conundrum of the email marketer - is an artifact of the Desktop Experience because people in this context are constrained by the times and places they have access to a computer. The mobile context has no such limitations. People read their emails on their mobile devices whenever and wherever they happen to be.

Mobile email is all about the immediacy that is unique to the mobile context and cannot be matched by the desktop computer. For this reason, mobile email needs to be different from desktop email. Mobile email needs to be short and sweet. There should be only one or two images and the copy should be right to the point. The entire message should be easily understood within 10 seconds or less. The call to action must be fulfilled quickly and easily.

I'll now give you three simple examples of effective mobile emails.

Mobile emails are a must-have for brands that have made the investment of a mobile app. Promote the mobile app using the mobile email. Include a link to download the app in the body of the email. Keeping the consumer within the same device for reading the promotional email and using the app greatly increases the likelihood that the app will be downloaded and used.

Brands that require an in-venue experience benefit greatly from mobile email. For example, Hot Topic is a major retail clothier whose target market are Tweens, who, by the way, are not online buyers because they are too young to own credit cards. Fortunately, there is a strong overlap between their (and other retailers like them) target market and the persona that is highly interactive with mobile devices. Mobile emails should absolutely be used to drive in-store traffic by containing exclusive special offers and promotions that are redeemable within the store by presenting the mobile email to the sales associate at the point of sale. In the not too distant future, 2D code readers at the point of sale will enable highly personalized (and highly trackable) redeemable offers.

Finally, there is absolutely no excuse for brands in the Travel and Hospitality industry to not be using mobile email. They know when and where their customers are on vacation. People don't take their computers with them on vacation, but they definitely take their mobile devices with them. (People who DO take their computers with them on vacation - like me - only interact with them at night when they are back in the hotel room.) Therefore mobile - not desktop - email should be the communication medium. Mobile emails should include co-branded promotions and offers from those that are local to the vacationer. If the brand has a presence on a social network, the mobile email should invite the customers to post their vacation pictures on the brand's social site to enhance their social community experience.

Hopefully by reading this blog, you'll be persuaded that the time for mobile email is now. Don't get hung up on mobile formatting; by keeping your mobile email within the mobile context, it will naturally render will in a wide variety of mobile devices. Focus instead on the mobile opportunity. Take advantage of the mobile context that cannot be duplicated by desktop computers. Start by giving your customers a preference of reading their emails on a desktop computer or on a mobile device. Don't just sneak mobile email out there either; promote it. Give people a compelling reason to partake of the experience that is uniquely mobile.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Confessions of a Possible Techno-holic

I have a suspicion that I might be a Techno-holic.

Experts say that the first step on the road to recovery is to admit that you actually have a problem. I don't think I have a problem, but I'm not sure. Just to be certain, I'm going to do a self-diagnosis of my personal habits.

So in the spirit of self-help psychoanalysis, I've put together a list of warning signs that I just might be a Techno-holic.

I just might be a Techno-holic when...

  1. Five hundred bucks is too damn much to pay for a flat panel TV, or a netbook computer - or a desktop computer for that matter. But it's a perfectly reasonable price to pay for an iPad just so that I can watch Netflix re-runs while laying in bed at night.

  2. I now read all my email - both business and personal - on my mobile device.

  3. I carry both a Blackberry and an iPhone everywhere I go. The Blackberry is for company email and the iPhone is for everything else because let's face it: the Blackberry UI sucks and the iPhone UI rules.

  4. Paying five hundred bucks for a Kindle DX back in '09 was perfectly acceptable just so that I could read PDFs of market research while laying in bed at night (even though after 18 months I have yet to read a single one).

  5. I've put my newspaper delivery boy out of work and haven't shed a single tear because I now read The Wall Street Journal on my Kindle.

  6. I'm too lazy to turn on my TV just to set my DVR to record a program. Instead, I use the Xfinity TV iPhone app to do it. Oh...and I have the same app on my iPad too.

  7. I'm now systematically replacing all my classic LPs with downloads from iTunes.

  8. I love looking at that flashing blue Thingy on my iPhone's GPS.

  9. I've bought a second Blu-ray player just because my other one doesn't have built-in WiFi - just so that I can watch Netflix re-runs while laying in bed a night.

  10. I've completed this blog post using the HTML Edit iPad app while waiting in line for an oil change at Oil Can Henry's.

So, whaddya think? Am I a Techno-holic? My wife is vigorously nodding her head with an emphatic "Yes!" along with the classic eye-roll thing too. But I don't think so. I consider myself "an enlightened consumer."

Are you possible Techno-holic too? Post a comment to this blog post with your list of warning signs.