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Attention, marketers: Please don?t ruin mobile!

By Jeff Hilimire

You know you want to. You are dying to do it, actually. Your boss wants you to do it. Her boss wants you to do it. Heck, even your competitors are starting to do it. You want to reach customers on their mobile phone. Please don?t!

Okay, so I am being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I very much believe that marketers are going to try to ruin mobile. 

Let us take a step back.

This very much is the year of mobile. A February study by mobile advertising network AdMob showed a significant jump in smartphone usage ? roughly 193 percent over last year, representing 48 percent of AdMob?s global traffic.

The same AdMob study showed a 403 percent increase in mobile Internet device traffic, which accounts for 17 percent of all activity in their network.

When we hear that this is ?the year of mobile? at conferences and in the media, what they really mean is that this is the year of mobile marketing. 

Web, but not Web
Marketers have been trying to figure out how to effectively advertise on the Web since its inception.

There was a time when there were ?non-bannered? Web sites. You would fire up Mosaic and start surfing the Web, albeit, at painfully slow speeds. And you would view Web sites with no advertising. 

Then, marketers started to realize they could slap ads on these Web sites the same way they were doing with television, billboards and magazines. Voilà! They started ruining the Web experience.

I do not blame them, but there has been very little innovation around how to market or advertise to people on computers. We have just applied the same type of thinking we did for TV and print and slapped it on Web sites. (This is why we now have terms such as ?banner blindness.? Thankfully, we no longer have terms such as ?interstitials.?)

The whole point is that, to date, advertising has been very interruptive. Its purpose is to catch you doing something you are enjoying and interrupt that experience with the hope of getting you to buy a product or service. Now, there is this mobile thing happening, and marketers are getting very, very excited. 

?You mean, I can reach people when I want, where I want and how I want?? is what marketers are saying.

Clever, opportunistic ideas bubble up regularly ? such as texting someone a special offer as they walk past a retail location, or having a milkshake coupon pop up on a smartphone at an opportune time, say, like after dinner.

These may seem like great ideas now, but wait until every marketer is doing this.  Our phones will become mass mobile spam devices overnight.

Mobile can be so much more if we rethink our line of attack. This is the approach I would like to see marketers take before moving into mobile:

1. Get the rest of your digital house in order. If you are not maximizing your Web site, email marketing and social presence, then stop and re-evaluate why you want to get in to mobile so badly.

2. Decide if mobile is an appropriate way to engage with your customers. Talk to them. Find out what types of mobile devices they use and how they use them.  For example, you might have a sweet idea for an iPhone application, but if your customers are still rocking the RAZR flip phone, it will be a wasted effort.

3. Find a way to improve your customer?s mobile experience. This is the most difficult step and the one most overlooked. A mobile device is a very personal, intimate part of a person?s life. You have to push yourself to answer the question, ?Is this idea going to improve my customer?s mobile experience?? Are you going to be interrupting them or providing value? 

Charmin consumers
One of the best examples I have seen of a brand adding value to the mobile experience, and in a relevant way to their business, is the Charmin ?Sit or Squat? mobile application.

Charmin would be one of the last companies I would think could put out a relevant and useful mobile application. (No offense to Procter & Gamble ? Charmin is a great product, but you would not think mobile would be part of their strategy.)

The Charmin application allows you to find and rate public bathrooms. It is simple, on-brand and very useful for their customers ? a complete homerun.

If you fight the urge to join the movement for the sake of the medium and follow these guidelines, you will be a step ahead. Because true innovation in the digital space ? mobile or otherwise ? means reinventing the way we think.

Success lies in turning the corner to being a part of a consumer?s life, not another brand that interrupts it.

Jeff Hilimire is Atlanta-based chief digital officer of agency Engauge. Reach him at .