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Tina Whitfield believes there is one secret to unlocking mobile marketing success. That secret is accessing the treasure trove of customer data stored by wireless carriers and handset manufacturers.
As CEO of Equis Global, and veteran of several digital marketing companies, Whitfield says she is trying help brands bridge the gap between what they think mobile customers will interact with and what data shows they will interact with.
Econsultancy: You participated in a panel at last week's Digiday:Mobile event and you were adamant that customer information is being withheld from the marketing community. Why is it so important and why are you so sure this information exists?
Whitfield: First off, customer information is very important because without it, mobile marketing networks have what is essentially a radio rate card. They can tell you how many people are listening, but that's about it. They can't tell if you if those customers are tree huggers, or soccer moms - nothing. Carriers and handset manufacturers have information about customers because they track minute-by-minute usage and billing. But also they have a cultural history of information. More than any other industry, telecommunications has a history of creating intellectual property. Problem is, they treat this IP as proprietary knowledge. Brands and agencies need to learn how to negotiate with them for that information.
Econsultancy: Before asking you how to negotiate for it, what do you think is at stake?
Whitfield: Let's say a handset manufacturer is designing a new phone. That's a huge investment and before they do so, they're going to observe, survey and have focus groups to figure out what consumers use on their phones, what they like about their phones and what they would use if they had it. They get into the mind of the consumer. That becomes very important research and I think that if brands had more of it, they would know a lot more about how to advertise effectively.
Econsultancy: And how do brands unlock it? How do they negotiate for it?
Whitfield: I like the junior high school dance analogy. The brands are standing against the wall and the pretty girls from the carriers and handset companies are out there getting their groove on. Now the best way to follow up is for the guys to call their favorite girlfriend after school and ask if they can teach them to dance. Why not go to a network or an operating system company and tell them you need to understand how consumers use that system?
Econsultancy: What if they hang up on you?
Whitfield: Then the brand has to wonder why they pay for infrastructure overhead charges. RIM, Apple, Nokia, and all their competitors have to address the fact that there is only so much space on the phone interface and in the inbox. Brands need to know whether an iPhone app will work, or whether an SMS message will work better. It's up to the phone manufacturers to come through with that information.
Econsultancy: What can brands do in the meantime?
Whitfield: Deal in facts. Invest in research. I think the mobile marketing people are starting to quote each other too much, and they need to start living in the world of telecommunications. I don't understand why marketing people won't hang out with tech people. Once you have that conversation, marketing starts to be fun.