picture of an iPhone

Marketing’s next frontier.

Mobile marketing (B2C marketing via smartphones) seems to be a topic of interest these days among our clients and prospects. It’s the same kind of interest that began to creep into the minds of business owners some fifteen years ago: The internet isn’t going away, is it? Something’s happening.

*Some noteworthy mobile stats:

By the end of 2012, an estimated 100 million people in the US will own a smartphone.

In 2011, more than half of the US smartphone population used their devices to perform retail research while inside a brick-and-mortar store.

64.2 million US smartphone users accessed social networking sites or blogs on their smartphones at least once in December 2011. (Up 77% from the previous year.)

20.3% of US smartphone owners scanned a QR code in 2011.

In 2011, Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) accounted for 60.1% of all connected device traffic, while Android claimed 32.4% of the market share.

This data points toward an eventual mobile ubiquity in the US. And in case anyone cares to debate me on that, consider this: in 2 years, tablets, leveraging the groundwork previously lain by smartphones, are already used by 40 million US consumers — a universality that took the smartphone 7 years to accomplish.

Indeed, with mobile, something is happening.

The Handheld Disruptor. The smartphone has become the new — and if ignored, lethal — thorn in retail’s side lately. Last month, Best Buy announced it will close 50 stores thanks to a lackluster fourth quarter. The culprit? Most likely Amazon with some help from mobile devices. Mobile has turned the traditional sales cycle on its head by giving customers the ability to quickly browse and compare prices from competing outlets (digital included), effectively turning big box giants like Best Buy into showrooms for online retailers. Another problem: phones and tablets make for a 24/7 digitally-connected world: the pressure to make an in-store purchase evaporates when a consumer knows she can buy from her iPad later after further consideration.

Retail isn’t the only link in the supply chain to take a hit from mobile. Consider the scenario of a local independent plumber: he’s spent the last 30 years building a career as a reliable 24/7 emergency service provider, but his customers have dropped to nil because his site hasn’t been strategically optimized for a panicked, soaking wet, thumb-scrolling buyer persona.

Mobile Strategy. Most marketers and business owners are still trying to get their heads around how to implement an effective mobile strategy. In truth, mobile’s an emerging discipline, so it’s not an easy if, then statement just yet. Like your inbound marketing plan, no single aspect of mobile strategy alone will bring success. To be effective, a holistic approach must be considered — one that integrates multiple mobile techniques into your overall communications strategy.

Key Mobile Marketing Components. The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are a few tactics to keep in mind when developing a mobile strategy.

Mobile Web

Developing a mobile-friendly website should be the first foundation stone of your mobile game plan. There are several ways to optimize a site for mobile:

1.) Creating a mobile version of an existing siteGoDaddy.com and similar providers offer mobile domains that begin with ‘m’ (m.mobilesite.com) or end in ‘mobi’ (mobilesite.mobi). (Go Daddy offers a free instant mobilizer plug-in that converts your existing website with any .mobi domain purchase.

2.) Using a plug-in to adapt a site – WordPress and other open-source platforms offer free plug-ins to format sites for mobile devices. (Cloudtactix.com uses WPtouch Pro from bravenewcode.com.)

Work with an experienced mobile web developer to build a site based on in-depth analytics. You only have a 4-inch view screen, so you can’t include every aspect of your desktop site. Develop your site based on the pages mobile visitors view most often, along with a strong logo and 1 clear call-to-action.

Short Message Service (SMS)

SMS sends text messages to customers who opt-in to receives updates, deals, discounts, contests, and news from your business. Typically, SMS numbers are six digits in length, and B2C companies have had some success when coupling the technique with direct mail and other interruption-style marketing. Because text messages have a near 100% opening rate (compared to emails at 74%), SMS tends to be an attractive option.

However, SMS is a tricky game. Technically, it’s Inbound. However, a mobile device is perhaps the most personal of all hardware, and if overused, you run a very real risk of irritating customers that were once eager to hear from you.

There’s a whole host of SMS marketing regulations, as well. For example, an ‘opt-out’ must be available, and you CANNOT market to children under 13.

Mobile Advertisements

In general, mobile advertisements are difficult for me to recommend. However, there may be limited, case-by-case instances when they could be effective. Use your better judgement when pursuing this course of action. And put yourself in the mobile user’s hands: if you had one yellow bird left and were a pig away from victory, would you click a Mountain Dew banner?

QR (Quick Response) Codes

Yep, they’re ugly, but QR codes likely aren’t going anywhere.

QR codes are one of those things that pleases everyone involved in the sale cycle — retailers because they connect consumers without their actual presence, consumers because they provide relevant info quickly, and marketers because they can be creatively placed.

Oh yeah, and they’re free.

Google’s URL shortener can create a QR code, or you can get one from Qurify or Kaywa. QR codes are great for driving traffic to your webpage, but here again, they must be a part of an integrated inbound strategy. Use them to link potential customers to supplemental non-branded content, like recipes if you’re a food supplier or ‘how-to’ videos if you’re a home improvement retailer.

Check-in Apps

2011 saw a significant usage of location-based check-in apps among smartphone owners. According to ComScore, 76% had ‘checked in’ at least once during the year.

Jeanne Hopkins over at Hubspot summarized best practices for location-based social media in a recent blog post. In her article, Hopkins recommends to “get the ball rolling” on your campaign by “offering incentives for the first guest check-ins, and (surprise) combining campaigns with your comprehensive inbound strategy by linking frequent users through your CRM.

Past Successes. As always, we want to hear from you. How successful have previous mobile marketing efforts been for you and your business? And/or, how have you yourself responded in the past to the tactics covered in this article?

*Statistics from ComScore’s 2012 report Mobile Future in Focus.