With billions of mobile devices in use by consumers around the world, and with those devices getting more and more capable every year, it’s no surprise that many industry observers believe the future of mobile marketing is bright.

How bright? Some have gone on to suggest that mobile ad spend will eventually overtake that of television. A bold prediction given that brands spend well over $100bn globally on television ads ever year — magnitudes of order more than they spend on mobile ads.

While those predictions may prove a little bit too optimistic, and recent research indicates that consumers are annoyed more by mobile ads than their television counterparts, few doubt that mobile marketing will see significantly more investment in the years to come. But when it comes to impediments to increased investment, there’s a leading culprit: ROI.

According to a study conducted by Forrester Research on behalf of staffing agency Aquent, which polled 155 executives in charge of hiring marketing staff, “[proving] that mobile marketing has a positive ROI” was the most commonly cited barrier to growing mobile marketing staff. All told, 68% of the executives polled suggested that they would need to figure resolve the ROI issue before they could hire more mobile marketing staff.

As detailed by MediaPost’s Steve Smith, the ROI question appears to be holding overall spend back too, with Forrester Research finding that just 15% of the executives participating in its study predicting significant growth in mobile marketing budgets.

A larger problem?

The fact that proving mobile marketing ROI seems to be a challenge for many companies is somewhat surprising. Most run-of-the-mill mobile marketing campaigns aren’t fundamentally different than campaigns in other traditional digital channels from a technical perspective, meaning they don’t (or shouldn’t) suffer from the ROI calculation challenges introduced by social, which have proven to be vexing.

So what gives? The answer, perhaps, is that ROI is generally a problem. Yes, in many cases it should be incredibly easy to calculate in most digital channels given how accountable digital campaigns are, but when one considers that more than a third of businesses can’t calculate email marketing ROI, it is evident that figuring out what makes money and what doesn’t make money is more difficult than it would seem to be.

There are numerous reasons for this. Some companies don’t have the tools and expertise; others are simply lazy when it comes to tracking campaigns. That means one thing for companies looking to assist businesses exploit the mobile marketing opportunity and cash in at the same time: doing more to prove the efficacy of the campaigns they develop and inventory they sell, even if they shouldn’t have to.