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What?s up with mobile marketing in Canada?

By Amielle Lake

Seventy percent of all Canadians are mobile subscribers. We are active users as well, texting more than 20 billion times last year, according to the CWTA. Four million of us browse the mobile Web more than once a week. I use it every day. 

Relatively speaking, we are just as active as any other major market ? even though our carrier fees are astronomical. We are also good marketers. Toronto represents the seventh-largest DMA market in North America, and Canada as a whole spends more than Canadian $19 billion in marketing a year, per the Canadian Marketing Association. 

Given all this, we would expect Canada to comprise some share of North America?s mobile marketing spend. Alas, we are not even a blip on the radar, spending less than $5 million annually on mobile marketing and advertising.

In the United States, a $5-million spend can account for the budget allocated by just a single company, albeit a very large company. In this sector, Canada does not even measure up to the 10 percent rule, i.e. brands spend 10 percent of their total U.S. marketing spend in Canada.

The reason for this lag has in part to do with our current economic condition, as there is no question that Canada?s marketing industry was hit hard by the recession.

Funding for new ventures evaporated, countless marketing roles were axed, and agencies were forced to deal with considerable budget cuts.

In such a climate, agencies and brand managers seeking to get CFO buy-in have been hesitant to pitch anything new.

Rather than exploring new ways to improve the ROI of marketing and advertising initiatives, whatever money remaining in a marketing budget is often allocated to tried but not necessarily true methods.

We cannot blame the agency or brand manager, as it is abundantly clear that the value proposition for mobile marketing has not truly been accepted in Canada.

The risk of launching an unsuccessful campaign is perceived as too great, no matter how little the costs are. But rather than dwelling too closely here on why Canada is not yet active in mobile marketing, I want to spend time exploring the ways in which we can enhance our role in this field.

Improve the message: Mobile adds legs to any media initiative
The reality is that for the most part, Canadian technologists and mobile believers have not done a good enough job of evangelizing mobile?s merits.

There is too much confusion in Canada around how mobile lines up against other marketing technologies such as email and social media and around what demographics would be receptive (not just teens!).

Unlike other mediums, mobile should not always be viewed as a standalone, but considered instead as part of an integrated buy across all media channels.

This means campaign success is not measured in CPMs, number of subscribers (i.e. traditional media), volume of emails or clicks, but in creating a distinct population of highly engaged consumers across any media.

Value success: Mobile is about conversion and lead generation
The language commonly used to communicate results (ROI) is not well understood when it comes to mobile. Why?

Because of the huge number of mobile phone subscribers out there we tend to think that any mobile campaign will easily deliver millions of responses. We worry more about capping costs than about understanding the value of each interaction.

Mobile devices are more personal to us than, say, our PCs, and the act of texting, downloading an app or calling up a mobile site is therefore so much more significant than a simple click.

Mobile marketing is about clear conversions, extending the reach of existing media. Most important of all, its success is very dependent on how integrated it is across the entire marketing mix.

Buzzwords aside, consider this scenario: a big consumer brand launches a campaign to create awareness of new product. The launch entails television commercials, billboard ads and online ads. The campaign concept is to distribute special offers for the new product in tandem with educating consumers about its new, improved features.

At each media touch point ? TV, billboard or online ad ? the consumer has the ability to find out more information and take advantage of special offers instantly by using their mobile phones.

In the case of billboards and TV ads, the consumer is instructed to send an SMS to a short code or query a mobile site to have information about the product and special offers sent directly to their phone.

In the case of an online ad, a consumer can click on the ad and link to a form where they she enters her phone number to receive the same special offers and product information on the phone.

Whether offline or online, people who take the initiative to interact with a brand?s advertising content are very interested and engaged consumers. They are, in essence, qualified leads.

Moreover, given the way we tend to feel about our phones, a mobile consumer (phone number) is worth so much more than an online consumer (email address).

Determining the success of such a campaign comes down to looking at the general audience reach of each channel and then measuring how many individuals actively engaged to receive content ? hence the conversion rate.

As technologies advance, consumers will soon be able to interact with traditional media to make purchases directly from their phones, effectively closing the loop between advertising message and completed transactions. 

Make the budget work with the decision-makers
If the pitch is right, and the marketer gets buy-in, the next major challenge is figuring out how much budget to allocate and selling that through to the decision-maker.

Often, campaigns are killed on the boardroom table because there is no buy-in for the proper budget (too much or not enough).

The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently published its mobile buyer?s guide disclosing that typical U.S. mobile advertising budgets range from $15,000 to $150,000-plus.

In Canada, a recommended approach ? echoing the thoughts of mobile marketing veteran and blogger Phil Barrett ? is to allocate 10 percent of today?s media budget to engage mobile users.

That percentage should no doubt increase as brands become more educated and accustomed to buying into mobile marketing initiatives.

But for now, the key issue is to be able to carve out enough budget to conduct effective and successful mobile campaigns, and prove to decision-makers that mobile marketing is the right route.

Broadcast the message: Energy + Knowledge = Growth
Too few case studies, credible research studies or events have been published or held to educate Canadian marketers on why they must start thinking about mobile.

The Mobile Marketing Association does not even yet have a real presence in Canada. Certainly some inroads to counteract this were made this past year. In particular, Marketing Magazine held the Mobile 2.0 Conference in Toronto this summer and welcomed more than 300 agency workers and brands.

In addition, the first Mobile Innovation Week is being held this week in Toronto. It is anticipated that the MMA will bring a chapter to Canada, and that more events and successful case studies will be published in the not-so-distant future.

Increasing our education of the industry is critical to cultivating a thriving Canadian mobile marketing market.

We need to move beyond looking at what U.S. and European marketers are doing and set expectations based on knowledge of Canadian consumer behavior and marketing activities.

By clarifying the pitch, getting buy-in on budget and broadcasting campaign results (educating in the interim), Canadian marketers can expect to increase their presence in mobile marketing and in doing so renew their once-coveted status as innovative marketers.

Mobile is truly an excellent extension to any form of media. Instead of an isolated channel, it is the medium by which consumers interact with advertising content in a meaningful and measurable way.

Given that two out of three Canadians are mobile subscribers, the audience is certainly there. We just need to put the time into reaching them effectively.

Amielle Lake is CEO of Tagga Media Inc., a Vancouver, British Columbia-based mobile marketing technology provider. Reach her at .