Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mobile Viral Marketing

By Tony Davis, Executive Chairman, Cascada Mobile
The explosive growth of mobile devices from niche to mainstream in recent years has resulted in increasing interest by marketers in this lucrative market.
Mainstream marketers are only beginning to explore options in mobile. While the most common mobile marketing campaigns use SMS, in Europe and Asia numerous brands are also known to provide mobile content and applications to customers. This encourages customers to interact directly with traditional marketing campaigns and extends brand reach. SMS and MMS coupons, logos, ringtones and branded games and applications are all used to various degrees depending on the campaign and desired result.
As the capabilities of devices in the market increases, it makes sense to take a more serious look at branded games and applications as a marketing vehicle. The improved user experience and interactivity provided encourages a much more engaging relationship.
However, running a mobile campaign is not an easy task for anyone used to the openness and general homogeneity of the browser-based Internet. The fragmentation of devices and the closed nature of the carrier networks, at least in North America, requires a considerable learning curve for the uninitiated. Carrier, industry association and government-instituted restrictions on marketing campaigns can create roadblocks and hoops through which marketers must jump. From the consumer perspective, these restrictions are not a bad thing – unlike the Internet, every activity in mobile costs subscribers money and protecting the market from unwanted charges has merit.
Viral marketing has considerable value in the mobile market as it takes advantage of the inherent nature of cell phones as communication vehicles, enabling people to share information and content within circles of friends and colleagues. By adding a viral component to branded applications, marketers can significantly expand campaign reach.
An Untapped Market
The opportunity presented by mobile marketing is exceptional – especially when considering analysts estimates that by 2009 the global wireless market will top 2.3 billion subscribers .
For brand managers, reaching a fraction of those global users is a dream come true, especially since the majority are consumers with disposable income and comfortable sharing information of interest with friends and business colleagues.
A survey by SKOPOS on behalf of I-Play however, reveals that only five percent of consumers have downloaded any game to a handset, while only thirty percent of mobile subscribers are aware games can be downloaded to mobile phones.  The same research also states that the majority of subscribers that have never used a mobile application would download content if a friend recommended it. 
With this type of research, it is clear to see that consumers require simplicity when deciding to embrace new technology for the first time.  It also illustrates the tremendous potential for mobile viral marketing. 
Mobile devices represent a potential gold mine for marketers with an opportunity to engage both customers and prospects on an ongoing basis. Marketers are just beginning to explore the opportunities that are available to them. Mobile coupons, branded games and shortcode contests are only the beginning.
Roadblocks on the Path to Revenue Generation
The advantages of direct access to something as intimate and connected as a consumer’s cell phone are great.  There are, however, a few regulatory and carrier imposed hurdles to rolling out viral marketing programs. These hurdles range from incompatibility of devices to licensing fees and geographical limitations for content delivery. There are also concerns that ‘cross-pollination’ between various carriers and the devices that each offers would entail costly infrastructure upgrades, to which few are willing to commit.
Mobile viral marketing does, however, have the potential to overcome one key challenge that marketers faced when embracing the Internet as a marketing channel for the first time in the mid to late 1990s.  Companies that tried to use e-mail with any level of success were constantly challenged to find the appropriate balance between value to the recipient and pure marketing (or spam). While carriers and government bodies have already created strong policies against mobile spam, information that is referred by a colleague or acquaintance through viral mobile marketing may not fall into this category.  Customer privacy is however, a critical consideration and must be taken into account by marketers to ensure that mobile viral marketing does not run the risk of an early demise as the result of a few ill-considered missteps.
Delivering on the Opportunity
The mobile world remains a virtually untapped marketing territory. And although downloading of mobile content has been slow so far, this promises to change in the near future. 
When the technology becomes available to enable the seamless sharing of content across devices and carrier boundaries, marketers will be able to push product and/or messaging to an unprecedented number of users, at relatively little overall cost.  This will create opportunities for limitless exposure of a product or brand across consumer networks.
In addition, organizations such as the MMA and others are taking a proactive approach in finding business and technology models that address such critical areas as consumer privacy and protection, monetization of carrier networks and access to customers by marketers, among other regulatory/logistical hurdles.
The Bottom Line
The concept of viral or peer-to-peer marketing has been proven to be highly effective in achieving a critical mass for top selling brands. With the right technologies and systems in place, there are no limits as to the revenue this type of model can generate in the mobile world.  

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