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U.S. mobile marketing easier done than said: Forrester

A new report from Forrester Research Inc. claims that 83 percent of marketers believe that mobile marketing will grow in effectiveness over the next three years.

However, early entrants will face a technical acronym soup and low levels of current adoption among many mobile marketing formats. To manage these risks, U.S. marketers should learn lessons from other digital channels to launch effective mobile campaigns.

"The first thing they should do is not panic and not worry," said Peter Kim, analyst at Forrester, Cambridge, MA. "Mobile marketing -- many people are talking about it as the next big thing. And it is."

A recent study from Forrester asked marketers which channels will be the most and the least effective in the future. Given consumer preference for digital, the surveyed marketers saw media consumption shifting to interactive channels.

In fact, eight out of 10 expected mobile's effectiveness to increase in the near term.

When asked which devices they could not live without, 30 percent of the consumers responding to a Forrester survey cited television and 20 percent their mobile phone. Fifteen percent named their desktop PC, 6 percent their laptop computer and 2 percent their home stereo.

Only percent each cited DVRs such as TiVo, video game console, PDA/smartphone, MP3 player and DVD player. Twenty-one percent had no choice.

The results were published in Forrester's North American Technographics Technology, Media and Marketing Benchmark Survey in the third quarter of 2007.

Behavior is key
Marketers who want to engage mobile consumers have to overcome low format familiarity, which generates negative user attitudes. For instance, only 7 percent of mobile users trust text ads on their mobile phones, Forrester said.

Indeed, consumer behavior is a guide to where mobile opportunities lie.

An increasing number of consumers use their phones for non-voice communications. Some have turned to mobile entertainment and information, for instance.

The answers to a question -- "Which of the following wireless data services do you use on a cell phone or a wireless device?" -- were valuable to a Forrester North American Technographics Benchmark Survey 2007.

Forty-two percent of the responding U.S. adult consumers said they use mobile devices to send or receive text messages, 24 percent to send or receive picture messages, 15 percent to send or receive email and 10 percent for instant messaging.

Nine percent of the responders cited searching for information through a browser or text message, 8 percent for looking up directions or maps and 5 percent for researching products for purchase.

So as these consumers use their devices for more of such activities, their familiarity and trust in the medium grows, offering marketers more options for engagement through mobile.

Awareness high, trial low
Another key is knowledge of mobile marketing campaigns.

Forrester found that 30 percent of mobile device owners have interacted with some form of marketing on their phones. But most of them still lack awareness of these marketing formats.

In the same third-quarter benchmark survey, Forrester asked a pointed question: "Please indicate how frequently, if at all, you have performed the following activities using your cell phone."

Consider the answers. Fifty-eight percent were aware of downloaded content such as ringtones and wallpaper sponsored by a brand or a company, but only 17 percent tried that activity.

Similarly, with mobile Internet search, 57 percent were aware, but only 13 percent tried. Fifty-four percent were aware of the ability to visit a brand or company's mobile Web site, but only 8 percent tried.
In terms of entering a contest or sweepstakes or answering a trivia quiz or poll via text messaging, 59 percent were aware and only 8 percent tried.

Fifty-two percent were aware that they could click on a sponsored link in search results on their phone, but only 2 percent did so.

As for viewing an ad while playing a game on their mobile phone, 57 percent were aware and 2 percent tried. It was almost the same results for those viewing a commercial while watching video on the mobile phone -- 58 percent aware and 2 percent tried.

While the numbers might seem low -- at least compared to the other results -- 1 percent of the respondents clicked on a banner ad while browsing on their mobile phone, 42 percent were aware and 56 percent were completely unfamiliar with that unit.

Again, only 1 percent used a coupon on the mobile phone, while 48 percent were aware and 51 percent had no clue. The same results showed up for requests for a coupon on a mobile phone, although 50 percent were unaware this was possible.

Familiarity breeds content
What it boils down to familiarity with mobile marketing campaigns.

"This lack of exposure is largely a supply and demand issue," the Forrester report said. "As more marketers integrate mobile mechanisms into campaigns, more users will have a chance to derive value from these tools."

Forrester expects that marketing opportunities will emerge as the mobile ecosystem of devices, carriers, networks and content evolves.

Social media site Facebook, for example, has a BlackBerry-specific application and MySpace has its own mobile site. Google, the BBC and Time.com (see story) have their own iPhone-specific mobile sites. Yahoo, AOL and Apple have opened their platforms to third-parties.

"These early-mover sites create opportunities for marketers to extend existing campaigns into mobile and build branded applications for mobile portals," Forrester said in the report.

Mr. Kim's most pertinent advice to marketers looking at mobile is to apply lessons from other interactive channels.

So, just as marketers had to learn about CTR, SEM and XML in the online world, they should become familiar with acronyms such as 3G, SMS and WAP as they break mobile efforts.

Mr. Kim had seven lessons learned over a decade of interactive marketing that can easily translate to mobile.

First, distribute mobile content like other forms of social media. Second, integrate SMS short codes in ads just as marketers include Web addresses. Third, extend keyword buys into mobile search. Fourth, place pre-roll ads before mobile videos, as is done in online videos.

Fifth, buy mobile banner ads to build awareness. Sixth, use the mobile site as a utility. Finally, measure to improve campaign effectiveness.

"What we're talking about -- search, email, display ads -- we're talking a lot about what interactive marketers on the Web do and so they've got to just transfer all these skills to mobile," Mr. Kim said.

"Mobile's got some unique operating characteristics, but marketers probably know more than they think they know about mobile," he said.

Forrester believes that getting started now will allow brands to learn lessons for the near future, when market conditions will be ripe for rapid growth.

Overall, marketers should let consumers know that branded mobile content exists. They should seek help from friends and partners. And they should start small and build on modest wins.

"Let's face it: 2008 is not going to be a huge year for mobile marketing in the U.S.," the Forrester report concluded. "However, to paraphrase a Zen saying, 'The Journey of 1 million page views begins with a single tap."