Mobile marketing evolution

The rise of mobile marketing

Mobile marketing is an expression you’ve probably heard tossed around before. It’s a phrase that has, especially in the past few years, furrowed many eyebrows, stroked many chins, and drawn out innumerable moans. For people who’ve so much as thought about capitalising on this world that is mobile marketing, the mere expression alone presents both a glittering sunrise of unrealised possibility, and a paralysing encasement of incessantly wondering: But how?

Mobile Marketing Evolution - The Story Begins

Let’s start out with the first, most basic question: How do we define mobile marketing?

Technically, it’s arguable that the phrase ‘mobile marketing’ reaches back into the Medieval Ages. Of course, back then, people didn’t have mobile phones through which marketing could spread. What they had instead were mobile marketers – literally.

Remember the town criers? The bell-toting officers of the courts, who would, in their over-the-top robed velvet dress, make public pronouncements across the land? Well, in a way, they were mobile marketers.

Since many townspeople were illiterate back then, the town criers were responsible for relaying information regarding local bylaws, market days, and adverts. Sounds like mobile marketing to me: a means of making important messages known, to people on the move.

In fact, mobile marketing in this form still exists today. Think door-to-door salespeople, or even mobile promotional teams. You know how you often see groups of young, charismatic people roaming the streets, parceling out laminated brochures and flyers by the handfuls? Guess what – they’re mobile marketers as well.

Of course, this isn’t the picture most people would first think of upon hearing the expression mobile marketing. When we hear mobile marketing, we think of smartphones, maybe tablets – and the ways in which we can utilise these platforms as marketing tools. We’re in 2014, after all.

Nevertheless, when you think about mobile marketing, it’s nice to have an active picture in your mind of what the expression, at its archaic core, is referring to, which is: marketing that is mobile.

Now that we’ve got that out the way, let’s fast forward to a more recent time, to the time of the SMS.

SMS: Where It All Began

SMS first became a thing all the way back in 1999. At this stage, its use was very limited. Users could send SMS between different wireless providers. Marketers, being the nifty little critters they are, immediately started using this new technology to conduct surveys. Although the surveys had to be short, and could only collect a narrow line of data, this idea, broadly speaking, is what paved the way.

In 2003, the first commercial mobile SMS service launched. In other words, this is when mobile phones around the world became capable of receiving SMS marketing messages. Accordingly, it’s when the possibilities for mobile marketing showed the first real signs of swelling.

Two years later in 2005, Nike was one of the first major corporations to capitalise on this bright marketing budding – at least one of the first worth noting.

Their campaign was so big (quite literally) that you might actually remember it. Nike purchased a build-your-own-shoe media post on the 23-story-high Reuters sign in Times Square. People passing by could call a number on the sign. Using the dial pad on their phones, they could then build a shoe – customising the colours of the laces, the uppers and mid-sole, and then signing the shoe with a personalised tag. The customised shoe would then show up on the giant screen in real-time, giving its creator a live demonstration of his or her new shoe.

The Power of SMS

In 2007, the active number of SMS users reached 2.7 billion. Although this post isn’t supposed to be centred on SMS exclusively, when you’re talking about mobile marketing – and in particular, marketing through the smartphone – it’s hard to skim over the pioneering role that SMS has assumed.

Another ultra-successful SMS campaign that capitalised on SMS’ rapid user expansion and that has endured the test of history made its mark in 2008. The Australian branch of the media and advertising juggernaut Saatchi and Saatchi lent a helping the UN in their campaign: Voices.

Combining poster ads with mobile technology, Saatchi and Saatchi made it possible for people connect with heart-breaking stories. They asked people to photograph the mouth of a person whose picture was on a poster. Then they were asked to send that picture to the number on the poster in a text message. Using digital recognition technology, they would then, almost instantly, receive a call, a pre-recorded message from the photographed person, explaining his or her story.

A great illustration of how effective forward-thinking media campaigns can be on a mobile platform.

Advertising: Monetising Mobile Marketing

It’s all well and good to talk about rather brilliant mobile marketing campaigns when they’re backed by corporations like Nike and Saatchi and Saatchi. But practically, and in the narrower framework that is advertising, companies struggled to find a way to make the most of on this billion dollar mobile marketing industry. Facebook is one of them.

Only recently in 2012, Facebook’s shareholders were growing grey streaks over Facebook’s slowing revenue growth, after struggling to shake money out of advertisers wanting to connect with users on mobile devices.

The simple reason for this is because at around this time, a large chunk of Facebook’s billion-person user base began using Facebook in their smartphones or tablets. This meant that ad revenue from Facebook wasn’t bringing home nearly as much as they’d have hoped, generating only 11% of their ad revenue from mobile devices.

The glaringly obvious issue with converting advertising into sales on the mobile device is the size of the device. Banner ads are almost impossible to place on a mobile phone, and about five times as annoying.

With the advent of the tablet, however, and the complete saturation of smartphones in our now hyper-digitalised world, it seems that news shines resplendently for mobile marketers wanting to capitalise on ad revenue for the mobile. Since 2012, when Facebook faced its first quandary regarding its ability to excavate advertising revenue on the mobile, the numbers have soared.

In 2011, global mobile ad revenue punched in as a $4.84-billion industry. In 2012, that number grew by 82.8 % to $8.85-billion. A number that more than doubled in 2013, coming in at $17.96-billion. And now, in 2014, that number rests at a staggering $35.45-billion.

Last year, Facebook and Google accounted for more than two-thirds of mobile spending. Since 2012, Facebook has increased that 11% of net ad revenue on the mobile to 45.1%. Not a bad effort, I’d say.

What shape is this carving out for the future of mobile marketing?

Click here for the next instalment Mobile Marketing Evolution pt.2.