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What I learned at the Mobile Marketing Summit

Preparing for the holidays was the theme of Mobile Marketer’s Mobile Marketing Summit Sept. 2 in New York. There was a content-rich set of speakers and panels at the event. I have been to so many events this year that I should know the difference between a good and a bad set of speakers.

If you do go to several mobile summits or conferences, you see subtle shifts in current thinking of the “mobile group” – participants, attendees, vendors, retailers and marketers.

One of the early shifts this year was the recognition that mobile strategies must have a foundation in texting and the mobile Web, and not just an application approach.

Applications have a specific use case and that should be understood before marketers run to build an application and may be miss a significant percentage of mobile customers.

At this first Mobile Marketing Summit: Holiday Focus 2010 in New York Sept. 2 there were two underlying themes that I took away.

Email is already mobile
First, that mobile marketing is slowly integrating into traditional marketing plans. When a company initiates a plan to go to market with a product, mobile is now a bona fide touch-point that has to be considered.

Whereas many companies have previously considered marketing through mobile as a test – let us get the ROI, let us see if this is really a channel to market to and through – many do not realize that they have been mobile marketing for some time through email campaigns.

Indeed, think of how many people read their emails on their phone. Wow – mobile emails are here?!

This integration of mobile into marketing as part of a multichannel approach comprising television, radio, in-store signage, print, direct mail and online will take some time, but will pay big dividends to those that keep steady at it.

One thing is clear, and we heard this from Mobile Marketing Summit keynote speaker Tom Davis at Kenneth Cole, that people are using mobile right now to shop stores and research products and ask each other questions, whether a company has a mobile presence or not – mobile phones give customers that ability right now.

That means marketing efforts must recognize the need to reach out in the mobile space or risk losing sales.

Mobile consumers ahead of marketers
The second takeaway is that the year of mobile is now and not starting in mobile this very day is just a flawed strategy.

Customers are ahead of companies with the adoption of mobile into everyday lives and there is an expectation of customers that companies have a mobile presence. About 20 percent of consumers nationwide are currently accessing the mobile Web, not to mention the many more engaging in text activity.

We all remember the 2009 Retail Holiday Season Shopper Study which found in December 2009 that 51 percent of shoppers overall used their mobile phones for in-store shopping-related activities during the holiday season.

How can a brand doing business in December 2010 not have mobile firmly embedded in its marketing and commerce strategy?

Mobile commerce is now just another channel of commerce and the year of mobile is really here and now.

I realize that some may disagree, but if your definition of a recognizable demographic is one-third of the population, then you would have to conclude that the year of mobile is now.

This is not to say that the market has matured or that transactions have peaked. Far from that – it is simply a fact that mobile is big, very big and its getting bigger by the day.

This does not mean that it is easy to canvas mobile as an integrated strategy. No, it is quite difficult to really capitalize mobile customers, what with all the form factors, operating systems and wireless carriers out there.

But do not confuse tactics with strategy.

Checking in
As John Vail from PepsiCo said at the Mobile Marketing Summit, do not just “check the box” – meaning that you did something in mobile so that box is checked, what next? Hmm, something with social media, and then I can check that as “done.”

Some of the simpler things to start with right now and for the holidays would be text campaigns to acquire a larger opt-in database of customers for future use, maybe even coupled with a simple mobile Web landing page that has a coupon attached with a unique code to help track.

Low-cost efforts at least begin the engagement process, not just with the customer or prospect, but internally within the organization as well.

Heck, even that same landing page with the opt-in request built-in and a simple offer tied to your current email campaign can be done cheaply.

There were many other nuggets of good solid practical things a company can do right now to move into the mobile space. There are many great ways for a company that has had some experience in mobile to expand.

In the end, I think that the most profound thing I heard at the Mobile Marketing Summit was from ESPN’s John Zehr, who indicated that ESPN’s mobile site eclipsed the Internet site in uniques some months ago.

Similar information came from The Weather Channel’s Cameron Clayton.

What do these sites have in common? They have been working in the mobile space longer than about anyone. They are showing the rest of us where the trends for mobile usage are heading, and it looks like it could be a great holiday for mobile in 2010.

The Mobile Marketing Summit: Holiday Focus 2010 in New York on Sept. 2 was organized by Napean, parent of Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. The next event is the Mcommerce Summit: First Look 2011 in New York in mid-January. More details to come.

Steve Timpson is president of Siteminis Inc., Atlanta. Reach him at [email protected].