A lot of coverage has been given to mobile phones recently, especially with Google’s Nexus One looming, the ongoing battle of platforms and the continuing onslaught of the iPhone. 

I’ve already opined that although 2010 “won’t exactly be the year of mobile, but it will be a big year for mobile”, so with this in mind, marketers need to be thinking about what kind of options are open to them in this rapidly developing area. 

But understanding and navigating mobile marketing can be a bit of a minefield. I caught up with Zoe Sands from Cisco to discuss the various issues within this often complex area.

Mobile marketing seems to be very much a rising star. What are your thoughts about where this currently sits in relation to other digital marketing channels? 

I truly believe that mobile has great opportunity for brands to optimise and use as personal communication platform with their respective target audience. 

I like to think of mobile as hitting a new wave rather than saying this is definitely the year of mobile, a statement which has been bounded about for several years and has lead to much hype and disappointment around mobile. However, I definitely agree it is becoming more of a rising star. FMCG, Gaming, Sports and Media are all doing a great job with mobile. 

The majority of industries are still missing a trick with this marketing method, as it is very much seen as a consumer channel rather than a communication channel. In terms of B2B, I think this is a huge untapped opportunity. 

At Cisco, I’ve led the European Mobile Programme, which includes the launch of 17 local country sites in 12 languages. My strategy was to use this channel across Europe for brand awareness, starting with a mobile site in each country to get people to understand the mobile medium, then to move into SMS marketing and then onto local app development.

At a Global level the site is more advanced; there has been a big investment in SMS marketing which links in with the site updates and now a new iPhone app is currently in development due to be launched in February 2010.

What would you say are the core foundations of mobile marketing? 

The core foundation for anyone wishing to start out in mobile marketing is to understand what your purpose is first, then research whether your market wants a mobile brand channel from you. At Cisco I adopted the following approach:

1. Start with a mobile website, get used to the small screen. The mobile site should not be an exact replica of the main corporate site. Offer content which your audience needs.

2. Once you have the site up and running you then need to look at creating a dialogue with your audience, which can be achieved through SMS marketing. You need to be very careful that you have a double opt in and only send appropriate messages to your target audience as the mobile is such a personal device you don’t want people to create disengagement with the brand.

If you use SMS too much you may start to annoy people, they will unsubscribe very quickly and then you have lost that communication channel.

3. Finally, start to look at personal ways to engage with your audience such as a mobile app or widget. Often brands make the mistake of going straight to creating the app first without testing the other approaches. The app market is very competitive and you need to stand out from your competitors and other apps. So careful planning is required here, as you don’t want to invest an app that is never used.

How fast are you seeing an uptake (by advertisers) of mobile marketing? 

I think advertisers are quite slow to take up mobile marketing, and this is partly due to lack of understanding, the availability of appropriate properties to advertise on and the functionality offered. 

Most properties have limited appeal and functionality available to advertisers, although I do feel that search is probably the unsung hero of mobile marketing: Google, Yahoo and Bing all have mobile search opportunities and are worth investigating.

With Google covering many more countries than its rivals, I chose this platform to run our European mobile search campaign. This campaign has been live since July 2008 and has been a great way to drive traffic to the local country mobile sites. Additionally, none of Cisco’s competitors are actively using this channel at the moment, which means the brand can easily dominate within this space.

Can you walk us through the basic steps as to how Cisco uses mobile?

In terms of our overall strategy, mobile is an exciting opportunity for Cisco and fits naturally with the organisation’s brand value of innovation, as well as supporting the mobility product lines. It has now become an important part of Cisco’s long term web plan. 

The first Cisco Mobile site was launched in the US during October 2006. From 2007 to 2009 a European programme was setup to optimise the mobile channel with 17 mobile sites created in 12 local languages. The aim was to enable a targeted set of content to extend Cisco’s brand awareness and engagement, mobile leadership and customer intimacy.

Guiding principles for creating mobile sites in Europe were to:

  • Highlight Cisco as an early adopter of advanced mobile technology.
  • Deliver content of value to the mobile user, avoiding duplication of Cisco.com.
  • Develop and promote Cisco’s European Mobile websites through SEM and SEO.
  • Extend a personal communication by targeted event marketing SMS messages.

Overall, this channel has been a cost efficient method of raising awareness of the Cisco brand. By embracing mobile outside of the popular entertainment sector, Cisco is advancing its position as a technological leader.

Do you operate in this way on a local, national or international level – and which do you think produces better results?

Each country in Europe has a local language site so is operating on a national level, it is not necessary for Cisco to operate on a local level as the products are not specific to a small geographical region.

What kind of user-engagement or uptake have you seen, and is there evidence that this is growing, or are you finding that audiences are resistant to mobile marketing? 

Response and usage has been slow and gradual for Cisco’s mobile sites. However, there has been a significant push to build awareness of using the mobile channel internally, educating the digital and marketing teams to buy into this communication channel. 

In terms of building awareness and usage externally; there have been some challenges to build traffic and usage levels, but this has not been an inhibitor to stop using this channel. I think there are very few early adopters in the market place willing use the internet via their mobile device due to two factors: data plan charges and that the user experience is not often great. 

Although, the service providers are now packaging unlimited data plans within the traditional call packages, making it easier and worry-free for consumers to access the internet. Over time this should improve usage levels of mobile in Europe.

Let’s talk metrics. Are your marketing objectives being met through the channel and how are you measuring them? 

There is currently low engagement with the mobile channel, but I’m comparing it against the internet as it was in the late 1990s when not everyone had a home internet connection. There are more mobile devices in circulation than PCs/laptops, but the majority of these devices are not internet enabled and networks generally don’t seem to allow data plans to be added to their customers’ contracts: These are the major barriers to entry for adaptation. 

Having said that, we are currently seeing people positively engaging with Cisco’s mobile channels; downloading the free videos, ringtones and wallpapers. The marketing objectives for awareness and driving innovation are being met, although huge traffic volumes are not being achieved as yet. 

The final thought that needs to be kept in mind when considering results is that you just need to be patient with mobile and generally think of it as a long-term strategy, where outstanding delivery can sometimes take a while to manifest. 

What advice would you give to those either starting out or considering running mobile activity?

You need to remember that mobile is a slightly different approach from the traditional digital channels, so you can’t just take the content and functionality from one platform and expect this to work within mobile marketing, you need a different approach. 

Firstly, try a pilot site. If you are an international organisation, then research which country has the biggest take up of mobile consumption. You will also need to research what your target audience wants to see from the site in terms of functionality and content. Then create a small mobile site this should be separate to your main site, but still linked, so that search bots can still find and index it. Here are some additional tips:

1. Content and context matters, so write for the mobile device, and keep it concise and to the point.

2. Remember the device is personal, so messages should be appropriate, concise and timely.

3. Rethink new delivery of old media. New technologies like WiMax mean it’s possible to deliver “old media” (e.g., radio/audio or video) in new ways.

4. Listen to your audiences and give people the opportunity to feedback. Consumer response to mobile marketing has not always been positive, so it is important to tread lightly and use feedback to determine what works.

5. Use the mobile functionality in your campaigns, such as GPS and location-awareness, video, cameras and photos. All these functions can help engagement and awareness.

6. People want to share their experiences so create a mobile campaign that can be easy shared via mobile across these properties.

7. People like to share cool stuff so make it easy for people to send on videos, images and messages to friends and family.

8. When developing apps, think about need and what will make a difference to someone’s lifestyle. Exclusive content and unique offers will help your message get noticed.

9. Integrate your mobile site and campaign with your main marketing strategy, as this increases the effectiveness of your message.

10. People love free stuff; free downloads, special offers, promotions and competitions. Providing a financial incentive will help make them more effective.

What warnings would you advise to look out for when operating in this channel and what kind of challenges do marketers face? 

There are so many challenges with mobile; lots of different handsets, many operating systems, and numerous browser types, so the market is fragmented, and it looks like there will not be much convergence either in the future. This is the reason why you need to start with a mobile site to analyse what devices your target audience is using to access your site. 

Another challenge has been understanding the best way to use WAP. It has been stigmatised in the past for being less graphically rich and not as robust, but things are changing. If you accept WAP as framework and design with this in mind as opposed to trying to get it to conform to what you want to design.

With these challenges in mind I would advise to keep the site and messaging simple. Don’t over-complicate the mobile site’s navigation and any call to actions should be simple. For example displaying “call now” text and a number, rather than an email form is advisable, as not all devices have a QWERTY keyboard. 

You also need to bear in mind that it is also going to be quite difficult to track and measure user-behaviour, as you can’t use cookies with the majority of mobile devices. Do remember to tag your mobile-site for web metrics, though. There are a number of analytical companies that can do this to an extremely high standard.

What can the digital marketing industry as a whole be doing in order to understand mobile methods better and, equally, what should mobile marketers be doing to understand how the channel fits into wider digital marketing?

The digital marketing industry needs to educate marketers on the opportunities and how to building strong mobile strategies and plans. Often, mobile is seen as ticking a check-box and not as an effective communication channel that can be integrated within the digital mix. 

Marketers need to understand how to use this channel for acquisition, nurturing and retention: it’s simply just not good enough to have a “me-too” approach and following others blindly. You need to build mobile campaigns that fit into your organisation’s overall marketing strategy and planning.

What kind of developments or innovation do you expect to see in the next twelve months and beyond? 

2010 will be an exciting year for mobile, Google is now starting to invest more in mobile with plans to launch its own branded handsets and with its proposed takeover of AdMob, which is still yet to be finalised. Both announcements will improve the awareness of mobile marketing within the marketing community and draw marketers attention to sit up to the fact that mobile is a huge opportunity. 

Apple’s iPhone has made some inroads on the optimisation of the mobile channel with its mobile app store, although this could be seen to be rather niche and aimed more at the consumer pop culture. 

More organisations will start to use mobile as part of the infrastructure rather than just mobile marketing. For example, Cisco is trialing the use of QR codes to track products and provide guides and specs instantly, as those products are installed. 

I’m also expecting the mobile market to stay fragmented, with more new mobile devices and application stores being developed. However, this may over-complicate the choice for the consumer. Consequently, some organisations will find that their app-development programme will need more investment to cover the market in more depth. With the launch of the new android devices I would expect a huge growth in applications on the Android platform which should close the gap on Apple’s App Store dominance.

Beyond apps, service providers will facilitate the growth of rich media content that is simpler, faster and offers a better user experience. Media publishers will start to experiment with micro-payments, subscription service models and alternative payment methods on mobile sites which has already been highlighted by Rupert Murdoch’s decision to charge for online media content. 

Consumers will continue to demand more data services as they enjoy and value their mobile experiences, which will put great pressure on the service providers to provide more data allowances for the same price tariffs. 2010 could see the service providers out-bidding one another on data package allowances, although this will depend on the service provider’s infrastructure.