Friday, 26 September 2008

Visiting the Mobile Marketing Conference

I went to the excellent Mobile Marketing Conference in the Gresham yesterday, organised by Dan Morrissy, it was a real eye opener, and a great conference.

Picture the scene: cynical media measurement guy (me) sits at back of hall with no less than four net connection tools at his finger tips. I was at a conference, but I was ready for anything. My shiny new and oh-so-lovely 3G iPhone which requires a blog post all of its own; my recently out-of-date XDA orbit, which I still love for all its windows mobile features, though it only connects at the speed of Edge, or GPRS unless you're borrowing someone’s free WiFi; my funky little Vodafone 3G modem for the lappy, and the Gresham free hotspot I wasn’t banking on. Vint Cerf would’ve been impressed. What could go wrong? Well, I forgot my power cables and as luck would have it I would be offline in approximately 22 minutes, if I didn’t use the machines for anything. At all. If I did? 3. OMG. I quickly get them couriered to reception and it was a good job... as emails needing immediate attention streamed in throughout the day like a child’s runny autumn nose. Everytime I thought I’d got it all mopped up... there was another little drip starting that was only going to get bigger if I didn’t get a good blow in right now.

All these phones and connections and I was at a conference about phones, and connections. Christ. I really thought I’d had enough of technology as a whole for one day, but the quality of the speakers was nothing short of utterly compelling. They were all saying different things. All were coming at the topic from different angles and all agreeing somewhat while defending their own patch as if there was a siege on, but I felt they were just not putting all the bits together to get a wholistic view. That was for the audience. It’s not an industry that meets often, which is why such conferences are important. And, it’s a new industry, which means that, with a few notable exceptions, many have been working in isolation to carve a business out of their slice of their vision of how the business of mobile advertising and market will work, and works best and, of course, trying to put bread on the table. New businesses need to turn a buck, or they quickly become no businesses. Quality of note came from Ogilvy, Parvenio, Puca, Return2Sender and Peter McPartlin and many others were inspiring, interesting and entertaining.

One speaker (Mark Congiusta from Irish International if I remember rightly) started by saying... “Just so you know, Google is getting into the mobile space, so everything is going to be OK.” All laughed, because thats what most of us felt. If the big G is getting involved, they have a plan... a huge one that governments couldn’t even afford, couldn’t even understand in fact. A plan that will fix the mobile phone market just like they fixed the Internet. And Google is even bidding for radio spectrum in the states. Oh... Those guys. It’s so scary when people that are so rich and successful do stuff we haven’t even thought of. You have to love them or hate them... and they don’t care either way. How cool it is to have a kid in your class who’s that big and smart and potentially dangerous. Stockholm syndrome is inevitable.

There was some confusion initially as to whether the GPhone was a phone, or an operating system. Bit of both? Well, no. It’s a phone that has the operating system – Android – on it. Google seems to be trying to pull the MS Dos trick from yester year out of their wizard bag. Get everyone using the same operating system, or one of a few, and, as happened with choo choo trains, then we’re all sitting on the same gauge line and can start to concentrate on designing better rolling stock. Think about it. Isn’t it wonderful for home computer users there are only really three operating systems? PC (with Microsoft, windows, XP or Vista), Mac (with Mac OS), and Linux (with open source resilient free systems so popular for notebooks in the developing world, on servers and with the Asus eee). We have Bill Gates and MS DOS to thank for that. It’s an utter disaster in the world of the mobile on the other hand. Someone said casually there were around 1500 handset types. Jesus wept.

And the carriers don’t talk to each other, so there’ll be no joy soon from there. Each carrier will have god knows how many phones they’re selling, or has sold in the last few years. When you speak to them, they know everything about their users, but there are two problems. They’re only talking about their own users, not the users of other carriers. Of course, I hear you say... but no. It’s a mess. And worse than that. They can’t really text all their users with ads. It’s against the law. Users have to go to the mobile home page portal. Wisps of memory come to mind of the sunny Internet days of the Internet hompage giants, Oceanfree, IOL and Back when everyone was on dial up. In fact because there were only three pages that almost everyone had to go to at some stage, the JNIR online sample was an extraordinarily valid one for its time, and the online more robust than the offline. But, thank god, all of that has changed. People choose their own homepage, because they know how to use the net and because they can access it in so many ways, and they’ve discovered the wonders the web has to offer, not just the quality of the default telco portal.

One speaker from Parvenio cut to the truth this fragmented mobile landscape gives us. Let’s say there is a campaign with a cool creative. Carrier: “we have 134,000 users for this target market”. Advertisers: “Wow, so, I can reach 134,000 with my ad then?” Carrier: “Em... no. Not all visit the homepage. 18,000 do though.” Advertiser: “Oh, 18,000. Big difference. And they’ll be able to watch the video too?” Carrier: “Em... no. Not all the phones will be able to show the video.” Advertiser: “Oh, right, of course. Different phones have different capabilities. So, how many will be able to see it? 15,000? 13,000?” Carrier: “Em.. no. Not that many.” Advertiser : “Aren’t you going to tell me?” Carrier: “Do I have to?” Advertiser: “ I think you do actually.” Carrier: “OK. Be gentle. Nine.” Advertisers: “Nine thousand?” Carrier: “No. Nine. JUST NINE OK?”

With all those phones, and different formats of creative, and different operating systems, and carriers that don’t talk to each other and agree some general standards – things could be seen to be a bit of a mess in the telco portal arena.

OK. But I have an iPhone. (Yey!) It’s my mini-Mac, my iPod in my pocket and I can choose my own homepage. And, I think, come Christmas time when hundreds of thousands, of iPhone style mobys are sold, most people will have left the portal homepage too, and will just Google and YouTube throughout the day. For example, I read the Irish Times on my phone on the bus on my way home while listening to the inbuilt iPod... very comfortably. I checked my mail. Sent and received texts. Simple, happy, and all with the one device. So, because there is a much better way, this homepage mobile portal situation just can’t last. Can it. It’ll get a whole lot better very quickly. Digital technology is like that.


3G provides enough bandwidth to allow users to stream video, receive TV signal, send large files and of course make voice calls.
3.5G provides improvement to voice calls, two way video calls, mobile TV, mobile broadband to laptops, and lots of other stuff requiring a superfast download and upload speed. 14 megabites per second download. Its fast!

You have to think of what thing that mobiles do best. If it’s not a full 3G mobile web smartphone, like the iPhone, that thing is SMS. There are opt in short code campaigns. Bar codes pictures and vouchers too. Enter Eamonn Hession and Donald Douglas who swept any cynicism out of the room and down the corridor. Response and Targetting SMS. Great campaigns, case studies, wonderful entertaining creatives, targeted advertising for small groups, interruptive and not, and, especially when mixed with other media, a great investment with a greater return. And not much investment too. Small beans when it comes to a full media mix, but it could be the plum on the icing on the pudding. From my point of view the best bit is its all elective. Opt in, free cool content. And, it should not be the result of the one big idea, Donald Douglas was keen to point out, but the result of dipping the toe in, or exploring, experimenting, trialling... having a go. Because sometimes when people are trying something new they try too hard to guarantee a success, they totally mess it up. They’ve over sold it internally, and they look really silly, or worse, they’ve blotted their copy book. Better to just do it, not expecting or investing too much... and, they assure us, you won’t be disappointed. It makes sense though. As with search engine advertising online when people are clicking when they are actually searching for something – elective mobile visitors are a better class of visitor. And someone electing to have something sent to their phone will be engaged, totally. It’s on their phone for heaven’s sakes. How could they not be engaged. Free content to be enjoyed, informed, shown.

Did anyone out there get shown the Carling ad on the iPhone. It’s really cool. It’s perhaps the first truly mobile viral video, the prize John West Salmon won in the netosphere back in 1998. It’s a simple, cool, cheap idea. All it took was innovation from someone who sat down and said... “What does this iPhone do? How can we use it to our advantage? And that’s what we ad agency heads have to think about for mobile phones. 120% of us have phones (some more than one) so what do they do... and how can we use it? What makes an iPhone special? It knows when it’s tilting. An internal gyroscope. OK. That's what sparked the Carling idea. But what’s special about phones? They’re in your pocket? Everyone has them? They’re mobile... and can be used in conjunction with location based systems or LBS (Big Brother can see the phone's location on a map).

Is that it? Is there an idea to spring from the obvious? People text their loved one? They buy new phones every year? Is that where the next bit of inspiration is that will make the big difference when mixed with the rest of a campaign – outdoor, TV, Radio,? It worked for Walkers recently. Text in your new Walker’s crisps recipe. This reached 5% of the English market. 5%? That is actually a huge huge number when you think about it. Especially for a crisp campaign. 3 million people actually. Yes, it was mixed with all the other media, but that’s fine. Mobile doesn’t need all the credit. But it made the whole campaign work really well. That’s the point.

OK. I was enthused. I was there... on song and my foot was tapping out the tune to a ringtone, the most expensive music on the planet. It was all going in, and then the venerable Peter McPartlin took the podium, and apologized in advance for the news he was going to impart to the floor. He put mobile in the context of all the other media available to advertisers. There were so many choices including outdoor (with maybe 20 formats), TV, Radio, Internet, Social Media, Google and more and more and more. His slide showed media planets spinning around the advertising budget sun, and I don’t think he used any other slides. It spoke both clearly and very loud. It stared at us. Mobile... that little planet there, on the outskirts of the solar system, like Pluto before it was demoted from being a planet to the status of 'big lump of ice'. The little freezing ex-planet Mobile. Spinning enthusiastically... and all alone. If it was a mobile, it would be out of coverage. This was a shock, and the very opposite of the all pervasive medium message we’d just received, but the point was along the lines that, all media compete for big budgets and like the Internet recently, mobile just doesn’t come out of the big bag, but rather the lets-give-it-a-go bag. The couple-of-grand-can’t-hurt bag. The will-make-me-look-open-minded-and-innovative bag. It was a great bit of clarity, there was no doubt.

And he was right, of course, but IMHO (in my humble opinion) he was wrong too. (Sorry Peter.) We shouldn’t see Mobile on its own, like a planet, but as part of a system, or a galaxy. On its own it is like looking at bus sides, or the back page of a regional mag as the risk, or the new thing when they all should be part of the system (campaign) that is part of a product's brand and market traction (galaxy) and all in turn part of the advertising universe. Typically its a single format. That is the point I would have thought. And sometimes, if a planet like cold planet Moby doesn’t have the creative gravitational pull to the central sun, it will drift off into space. And yes. Then the media buyers will say to themselves... Well, that didn’t work did it. I won’t be doing that again. But it won’t be the fault of the little moby service provider, but rather the fault of the planner, or the plan, or the strategist. Everyone has a mobile, so it’s up to all to come up with ideas that bring its strengths to play, and makes the campaigns better and improves the relationship with the brand. That’s the point. And there are lots of people, like Donald and Eamonn out there to help, but they too must keep things simple. They must make it turn on and offable. Simply buyable. Clearly reportable. In fact, Net Behaviour aim to find processes to make it possible to put mobile on every plan it suits, as we do with online advertising, search, SEO and research.

We need to step back. Recognise everyone has a mobile, and integrate. Not the creative from TV (though it can go on many mobiles), or the homepage portal into the digital buy, but rather integrate the thinking of the whole idea. Join up the dots so that the planets exist as a wholistic system. Ask some obvious questions. What’s so special about mobiles? Why does everyone have them? Why are they so important in people’s lives? Why are they using them while watching TV, or for listening to music or the radio. And making movies too. Recent research showed that if someone loses their wallet, they might report it missing within a day or so... maybe longer. If their mobile goes missing, the loss is reported within the hour. Other research showed that when women go on holidays, they were likely to be more upset if they left their mobile at home, than their boyfriend. We just need them so badly, so, how can advertisers, communicators and service providers leverage that need. What makes them so special? There must be a million good ideas out there, like there are little lumps of ice around the Sun. They just need to be linked. Do we have to wait for Google to link of them first? Will they promote mobile from being the distant lump of ice on Peter's chart to being Jupiter-sized planet a pervasive media yardstick indicates it deserves to be? Sheesh. I hope not. But if they do, I’ll congratulate them and secretly be sickened that I didn’t come up with the same idea or a better one sooner. Won’t you? So, for all our sakes. Think people. Think mobile. The future is out there... and it’s on the move.