A change is afoot, and its name is mobile. Cutting through the hype surrounding mobile can be difficult, but making sense of the situation and possibilities offered by the mobile channel is the major challenge facing marketers today.

Let’s face it. Mobile makes it easy to reach out to large numbers of users in a way that is completely different to the scattershot approach offered by broadcast media. Sure, it makes sense to send out marketing material in large quantities hoping that the target consumer will turn the right page in the magazine, or see the right billboard, or watch the right television commercial. Mobile offers an even greater opportunity to connect to individual consumers one-on-one, sending them personalised communications that accurately reflect that person’s taste and interests.

Unfortunately, the savvy consumer of today is faced with even more options. Existing media has become more sophisticated for a start, and combined with that, the internet offers even more distractions to take consumers away from marketing messages. That savvy consumer is also a more powerful consumer – the ever-evolving capabilities of mobile phones, combined with more affordable mobile data connections puts even more power and more choice in their hands, and that’s not even taking into account the possibilities offered by tablet devices.

Social media, too, comes with its own costs. Satisfied customers can more easily share their good feedback to friends and family, earning precious personal testimony that works greatly in the brand’s favour. But the reverse is also true. One unhappy customer can attract a disproportionate amount of attention, and reversing the situation can take a great deal of very delicate manoeuvring.

The situation is simply this. Now, more than ever before, marketers must approach consumers with great caution, choosing an approach that serves consumer needs without being seen to be intrusive or offensive, while still engaging consumer interest. Fortunately, the mobile channel holds great promise for such an endeavour, especially considering the way that mobile is changing at the moment.

Mobile makes connections. The ever-changing slate of functionality offered by mobile devices is ripe for exploitation. Mobile apps represent a cheap and easy way for consumers to add utility to their mobile devices, but these apps also let enterprises connect to their customers in new and unprecedented ways. The important thing is to offer utility together with messaging, so for example, some print publications have created apps that deliver a portion of their content to mobile users, who can then choose to get more by subscribing. Public transport companies, too, have started offering their passengers the chance to access timetables and other information through apps, even to the extent of facilitating advance booking of taxis and so on. Apps can also function as easily updated catalogues, which include purchasing functions, so the entire process of selection and purchase can be done through the mobile device.

Mobile identifies people. Similarly, banks and financial institutions are rushing to offer financial services like banking and payment to users. This effort is suffering a little from a lack of a common standard, but that is normal for the early stages of development. Eventually, consumers will be able to use their mobile phones to identify themselves, and that will facilitate all manner of mfinance. Consumers will be able to bank with their devices, and perhaps even use them in place of credit or debit cards to facilitate payment. Right now, mobile handsets equipped for near field communication (NFC) are already available, and some countries are looking to make nation-wide NFC transactions a reality, which opens up even more options.

Mobile is another screen. While tablet computers might not be as powerful as their laptop equivalents, they have already gained great popularity for light computing and as consumption devices. Their longer battery life and larger screens make them ideal for the consumption of media. Mobile tablets, equipped to connect to 3G or 4G networks, will be able to stream information and entertainment directly to users’ devices. Combined with cloud storage (which is another recent development) consumers may be able to accumulate their own media collections in the cloud and access them on the move through their tablet devices or mobile phones. Streaming data may be the future – perhaps not a direct challenge to traditional media, but certainly changing the way that it is consumed.

Mobile changes the retail experience. Mobile consumers are already changing the way they shop. In preference to PCs, consumers use their mobile phones to do the research needed for their shopping decisions. This means that consumers can, on the spot, check specifications, read reviews, compare models, and engage more fully with the products they are considering purchasing, right at point of purchase. Retailers are beginning to take this into account, including ways for consumers to access information about their products on the shop floor, linking to online videos or websites through URLs on labels or using QR codes. This new level of engagement, on the spot, is only possible because of mobile devices.

For marketers, these developments and the others that will definitely appear in the next twelve months represent challenges… and opportunities. Finding ways to market effectively that take into account the way that people are using mobile devices will be the key to remaining useful and relevant to consumers. Marketing that is neither useful nor relevant may be too easily tossed to the side, as other, more compelling offerings take its place.

Rohit Dadwal
BY Rohit Dadwal ON 23 December 2011
Managing Director, Mobile Marketing Association Asia Pacific Limited