It is predicted the number of mobile phone subscriptions across the globe will hit 5 billion sometime in 2010, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In a world of 6.8 Billion people this means roughly seventy percent of the entire planet’s population will have mobile phones! On the home front recent stats from the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association state half of the phone connections in Canada are now wireless. More interestingly, the fastest growing segment of mobile phones are Smartphones, I.e. iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, and Palm Pre along with many others. Smartphones are basically little computers that also happen to make phone calls and they are finally at a stage where they make browsing the web on a small screen bearable. That said, already at least 80% of all mobile phones on the market right now can browse the web; some just do it better than others. Reaching prospects and customers through the mobile channel is now an important medium and the proliferation of mobile powered transactions (mCommerce) will add fuel to the fire. Pretty soon your mobile phone may also replace your wallet. But, lets not get ahead of ourselves since you would probably like to know what basic things you can do right now to take advantage of the mobile channel.
Optimize your website for mobile access. Most websites do not render well on a mobile device. Their layout and design is often compromised to display within a mobile browser and the user ends up looking at a jumbled version of the website you spent so much time trying to make pretty. It’s actually not expensive or overly difficult to optimize your website to display well on mobile devices. The simplest option is to have a custom style sheet implemented that activates when a mobile browser accesses your website. The stylesheet should be absent of most graphics and just focus on content. This approach works well if your website doesn’t rely too much on imagery. Another option is to create a separate mobile optimized version of your site with just the bare essential information a user would need when looking up your website on a mobile device. It should contain things like “about”, “contact”, “services”, “news”, “stock ticker” and/or some functionality relating to achieving a specific task (I.e. Accessing a boarding pass for a flight). A separate url may also be needed but you can install code on your site that can detect whether a mobile device is accessing your site and it will re-direct the user to the mobile version. It’s best to not have too much website duplication or multiple url’s, so if you have a separate mobile website make sure it offers value to the user by allowing them to perform a task contextually related to why they would be looking up your site on a mobile device (I.e. Store location and map).
Capture customer’s mobile phone numbers. Considering half of all phone connections in Canada are now wireless and almost 90% of metro residents have a mobile phone, collecting mobile phone numbers is a must. This is pretty simple to achieve and you can encourage customers/prospects to volunteer this information by offering exclusive coupons or promotions to mobile subscribers. Once you have a list you can implement campaigns using email generated notifications or SMS short codes. The simplest campaign is to send text messages and this can be accomplished with just your email program. As long as you have the number and know the carrier there are email formats for cell phone numbers you can use to send text messages directly from your computer (Try it: Send me a text message by emailing email@example.com). For more advanced campaigns using SMS short codes you will need to partner with a company that is linked with a gateway provider of the phone companies. Gateway providers have the platform and relationships with phone companies to execute a short code campaign (I.e. Text “win” to 5429 to enter a contest). There are two types of short code campaigns, non-premium and premium. The latter is much more expensive to set-up and is required for any campaign where you hope to generate revenues from the text messages (I.e. American Idol text voting). For non-premium campaigns you can get set-up relatively quickly and use the service for contests, coupons, text alerts, support, etc. There areguidelines around the use of mobile short codes for marketing purposes so be sure to review them before embarking on a campaign.
Use geolocation services to turn mobile users into viral marketers. A hot new trend amongst mobile phone users with web access and support for third party applications is providing updates as to their whereabouts and knowing the whereabouts of others. Services such as FourSquare allow people to send updates about where they are at and can turn it into a game by being recognized for claiming certain destinations. So what? Well, companies can leverage this desire of mobile phone users to update others on their whereabouts by offering promotions or discounts for those people that provide updates about the store’s location and related promotion which is then broadcast to everybody in their network. Now customers are advertising for you. Yelp is another service that is geolocation based but it’s basically a user generated review site for things like restaurants, bars, banks, coffee shops, hotels, etc. There are reviews provided for thousands of businesses in hundreds of cities and the application can automatically bring up reviews for establishments in your direct vicinity using geolocation technology. If you don’t have a listing for your business, especially if it’s consumer oriented, then getting set-up on Yelp is a must. Yelp has taken off in the states and is gaining popularity in many Canadian cities.
Develop a mobile application (that adds value). The popularity of the iPhone and Blackberry app stores has caused a frenzy of demand for companies to produce mobile applications to promote their brand. It may be a good idea for your company but before joining the fray and spending money on development you should consider what value you can provide that will convince people your app is worthy of download. For instance, an application for a jewelry franchise that simply lists store locations is not really valuable and not worthy of download. Jewelry purchases are typically infrequent and store visits are usually done by people with an agenda. The iPhone TimmyMe application for Tim Hortons, on the other hand, was a great success because it targeted a very brand loyal customer that makes frequent purchases and seeks out Tim’s coffee wherever they may be. In this case providing store locations based on the immediate vicinity of the user provided value. It is also a simple application that does one thing very well without need for much configuration.
Integrate QR Codes into communications. QR is short for Quick Response (they can be read quickly by a cell phone) and their use is already famous in Japan. They are used to take a piece of information from a transitory media and put it in to your cell phone. Instead of requiring a chunky hand-held scanner to scan them, many modern cell phones can scan them using a third party application. QR Codes look like a psychedelic version of a bar code and can be generated rather easily using services like Kaywa.com or you can use the Open Source code to generate codes for you if you have a smart developer on hand. You may soon see QR Codes in a magazine advertisement, on a billboard, or even a web page. Once it is in your cell phone, it may give you details about that business (allowing users to search for nearby locations), show you a URL which you can click to enter a contest, or it may give you a coupon which you can use in a local store. The reason why they are more useful than a standard barcode is that they can store (and digitally present) much more data, including url links, geo coordinates, and text.
About the Author: Harley Rivet is a digital marketing specialist who has been in the interactive industry for over ten years. He has worked with clients such as ESPN, CN Rail, Rogers and Tim Hortons regarding their website and mobile strategy.