Is Mobile Marketing Right for Your Business?

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The web is abuzz with the potential of mobile marketing, and while the ever-increasing penetration of smartphone usage gives it a previously unimagined potential, it isn't right for every business. So before you decide to invest heavily in a mobile marketing campaign for your business, take a second to understand what mobile marketing is and what types of businesses benefit most from its adoption.

In simple terms, mobile marketing includes anything that has to do with marketing messages that are delivered via “on-the-go” technological devices. Although the concept was initially applied only to smartphones, the recent proliferation of tablet computers and netbooks has led to additional channels for the delivery of mobile marketing messages.

Of course, just as this strategy can be deployed across multiple platforms, the term “mobile marketing” doesn't refer to one particular type of advertisement. Mobile marketing can include SMS or MMS text message subscription promotions, ads located within Apple and Android apps, QR codes deployed exclusively for smartphone users and more.

Let's look at the most popular types of mobile marketing in more detail:

SMS/MMS Text Messaging

SMS and MMS subscriptions are the mobile equivalent of email marketing. Typically, you encourage someone to opt-in by asking them to text a code to a certain number, which gives you permission to follow up with them via text message. As you might expect, this type of mobile marketing is typically most effective on younger mobile users, who are more active with text messaging than their older counterparts.

In-App Advertisements

Many apps (short for “applications”) are offered for free through the Apple and Android app stores as long as the user agrees to sit through banner advertisements that appear throughout the app. Similar to banner ads on traditional websites, the conversion rates of these promotions vary widely, but they're more likely to be successful when the time is taken to ensure that the right message is being sent through the right app to the right market.

In-App Purchases

Far from being a simple way to deliver banner ads, apps go much further in terms of functionality, often allowing for purchases to be made within the app or for promotions to be delivered based on proximity. As an example, consider Groupon, which enables purchases of the deals within its group buying discount program to be completed via mobile app. Many other programs make recommendations for restaurants and stores based on the smartphone user's proximity to their location (as determined by the GPS features used in most smartphones).

QR Codes

QR codes are a little different in that they aren't deployed through smartphones, but instead rely on people to use their phones to access external content in the real world. QR codes are essentially advanced bar codes that can be used to share information, promotions or redirect users to websites when read with a QR code reader. Typically, these are most effective when used by offline companies looking to engage their tech-savvy customer base in new ways.

And although these types of mobile marketing can be used to deliver a number of different types of advertisements, one of the most effective uses of these various systems is the delivery of digital coupons. Data from a recent eMarketer report titled “Mobile Coupons” reports that nearly 20 million adults will redeem a digital coupon this year, and that this number is expected to double by 2013. According to eMarketer principal analyst Noah Elkin:

“Even as the sputtering economy attempts its recovery, the popularity of couponing has continued, spurred in part by the burgeoning daily deals space,”

So, Is Mobile Marketing Right for Your Business?

In a sense, asking whether or not mobile marketing is right for your business is like asking if it's a good idea to wear pants. It's probably a good idea, but you'll want to check the weather first, consider the type of event you're going to and evaluate a number of different factors before you can decide what the right attire is for any given situation.

Similarly, although there's plenty of promise when it comes to mobile marketing, there are a lot of other factors to consider before determining if it's right for your company.

The first is to consider your target audience. Are members of your niche particularly technologically active? For example, if your website caters exclusively to Baby Boomers or those in older demographics, consider that a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that only 11% of people aged 65 or older own a smartphone in the first place.

So, in this example, you might conclude that investing heavily in mobile marketing doesn't make as much sense for your business as it does for someone whose website targets young professionals aged 25-34 (where smartphone penetration is a whopping 58%).

But what if your website's target audience isn't bound by a single age demographic bracket? How can you determine whether or not your website visitors actually use the technologies that would enable you to deliver mobile marketing messages to them?

Well, you've got two options… The first is to simply ask them! Many website owners have found that they're able to determine their target audience's receptiveness to mobile marketing messages by conducting a simple survey. To set something like this up, use one of the many free survey providers online (such as SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang) to create a quiz that asks questions like, “Do you own a smartphone?” or “How do you use your smartphone?”

Be sure to offer an incentive for participating in your survey (like a free ebook or an exclusive discount coupon for one of your products) and then analyze the results. If you don't see a significant number of your target audience members actively participating with mobile technology, take a pass on this type of advertising at this time.

If you don't want to conduct a survey, but suspect that your visitors would be receptive to mobile marketing messages, consider going forward with a carefully-controlled, split-tested mobile marketing trial.

Basically, invest in a small test of the type of mobile marketing you think will appeal to your potential visitors most. Just be sure that you're able to track whether or not your investment is resulting in conversions so that you're able to track your ROI. The simplest way to do this would be with unique codes distributed through your mobile advertisements that visitors must enter on your site in order to redeem a promotion, allow you to track mobile conversions.

In general, entering the promising world of mobile marketing should be done with the same level of caution that would be given to any new technology. Although the potential of mobile marketing to increase sales and engage directly with target customers is huge, it's important to remember that it isn't a good fit for all niches or industries.

So before committing to a major mobile marketing campaign, attempt to get a feel for how your visitors and target audience use smartphones and run small-scale tests to ensure profitability before ramping up your efforts. By taking a careful approach to implementing this new technology, you can avoid wasted ad spends and ensure a profitable ROI for your investment.

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