The Secret of Really Great Mobile Marketing

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Mobile advertising is a $20 billion opportunity in the U.S. - Mary Meeker, KPCB

It doesn’t take Mary Meeker to point out that this is the age of mobile. Whether you believe her estimates or not, the rise of true smartphones and tablets (thank you iPhone and iPad, but ditto for a growing number of competitors as well) has really convinced people to take mobile marketing seriously. And, yes, so many efforts at mobile marketing are really, really bad. The problem? They're treating mobile ads like they’re regular online ads.

And so we see the dreaded banner. I’m reminded of early TV spots when producers didn’t quite fathom the shift from radio. Early TV ads were basically the same as on radio: someone just stood in front of the camera and read copy. These ads failed to take advantage of what made TV special. That’s what we’re seeing today: too much mobile marketing that misses what makes mobile technology so special.

That key ingredient that’s missing is context. Working with a mobile device is a more intimate experience but also one that isn’t quite as deeply immersive. If people really need to dig in and work, they still use a computer, mostly. But with mobile, you rarely have that same sustained level of attention. Instead, it’s more fleeting and completely task-based. A banner ad that takes away from the task at hand isn’t just annoying, it can ruin the entire mobile experience. If someone is just trying to get a basic task done — like find a location on a map or take a photo — the last thing he or she wants is to be interrupted by an ad.

Mobile marketing needs to take the context into account. And that means a lot more than just location. For the better part of a decade, we’ve heard a lot of predictions about mobile marketing — “as you walk by a Starbucks, it sends you a coupon.” But that’s a terrible idea on its own. It only takes into account a single bit of context — your location — while ignoring everything else. Are you in a hurry to get somewhere? Did you just get a coffee down the street 15 minutes ago? Some bits of context an app or a provider may have access to, but other parts aren’t that easy to come by.

So, how should marketers deal with this? Focus on relevance and relationships. You do this not by being intrusive but by being useful and sought after. If you’re providing relevant and useful content when people want it, then they will seek you out. Create content that is compelling and useful, don’t just push people to buy your product. Create an app that has a ton of useful features — again, beyond just pushing people to buy your stuff.

Become integrated into people’s lives, not because you pop up an ad or an unwanted coupon but because you provide a ton of usefulness beyond just getting people to buy. Of course, mixed in with that, there are plenty of ways to then encourage people to buy. But that’s based on them choosing you and building up a comfortable relationship with you. They can’t feel like you’re invading the personal space on their device, but rather that you’re truly a trusted and useful partner.

Mike Masnick is the editor of Techdirt, a SAY Media partner.