Mobile Marketers: Put Down Your Smartphones

by Kelly McIvor

Over the course of the last several weeks the graduate students in my Mobile Media class at the University of Washington have been seeking out and participating in dozens of mobile marketing campaigns. The idea is to get out there and experience what marketers and designers are doing to engage people via their mobile devices. And what an eye-opening experience it’s been!

“Is mobile marketing really so hard that it leaves today’s digital marketers fumbling around trying to get it right?”

Reading through their blog posts (students are required to blog about the campaigns they experience) I had sense of growing disappointment. So many of the campaigns they were trying, which leveraged things like 2D barcodes, apps, SMS and MMS, simply didn’t work. That is, the student’s experience on their phone was completely broken. In one example, Reebok promoted a new woman’s shoe line in Shape magazine via a SnapTag which, when sent in using MMS, resulted in an SMS containing only a link to a video. OK for some smartphone users but anyone else is out of luck. Another campaign – this one by Ski Utah – offered a look at their “amazing deals” via their QR code, which directed you to their regular Internet site; a very broken experience for anyone not using an iPhone or other smartphone. In fact it didn’t even work on those devices. I was becoming disappointed and a bit embarrassed. Disappointed by all the failed experiences and embarrassed by fellow marketers who can’t put down their iPhones.

The lesson: User experience needs to be considered for all mobile decvices, including smartphones.

The students, not all of whom carry smartphones, wondered aloud if mobile marketing is really so hard it leaves today’s digital marketers fumbling around trying to get it right. The answer is no, it isn’t really that hard but it takes some planning; you can’t just slap a 2D barcode on your magazine ad and call it a day. Sure, that approach may seem to work just fine on the Senior Designer’s Motorola Droid but he is the vast minority. Smartphones as a category only make up around 28% of all mobile users in the U.S.* and only a portion of those devices have the large screens for Internet browsing and can play flash video. Good mobile marketing gives a great experience to the smartphone holder but acknowledges the majority of non-smartphone holders as well by providing an experience appropriate to their device.

A quick how-to:
Knowing that your customers will be accessing your site from their mobile devices (they’re trying even if you’re not telling them to) you start by planning for some level of ‘graceful degradation’. When your site detects a mobile device, just as it would a regular browser, the elements that get rendered should change according to the capabilities of the device. However, with hundreds of devices it’s nearly impossible to accommodate each one individually so try this: create two mobile sites, one for smartphones and one for everyone else. (There are companies like Atomic Mobile who can help you do this.)

So, marketers and designers, put down your smartphones and plan mobile efforts that work for the majority of mobile users.

# © Kelly McIvor #

*Neilsen, November 1, 2010

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