The World: Insider's view - US

Companies must adapt their torpid approach to mobile phone marketing to take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital convergence, Robert Horne says.

The US is, in many ways, an enigma. Take the schizophrenia plaguing mobile phone marketing and how limited American companies have been at utilising the mobile phone to reach and engage with people.

More than 70 per cent of the US population now owns a mobile, and it's reported that more than 110 million mobile phones were sold in 2006. "Convergence" is finally taking place, as advanced voice features, mobile media and mobile PC services are all being packed into the handset. Digital convergence is creating growth opportunities not only for mobile phone carriers and handset manufacturers, but also companies wishing to leverage the mobile as a marketing tool.

As expected, the highly coveted 18- to 29-year-old target is most likely to appreciate and use the multitude of mobile features. To this tech-savvy group, the mobile phone is basically a digital appendage - never leaving their side.

Digital convergence around the mobile is also fuelling the "life caching" trend, as mobile users are collecting, storing and displaying their personal information. While this core desire to always be connected has led them to become content aggregators, they are also becoming content providers. They not only preserve their experiences, but share them as a means to facilitate social interaction and flaunt any exhibitionist tendencies. From blogs, photo sharing and digital scrap-booking to real-time mobile sharing or "moblogging" of experiences and events - all it takes is a camera phone and the mobile internet.

Mobile phone marketing has, however, barely been a drop in the bucket of total marketing spend.

There are many reasons given for this, starting with the major US carriers wielding disproportionate control and being reluctant to permit ads associated with their content partners. Further, the carriers don't want to be the bad guys, accused of irritating their users with intrusive advertising, and risk defection to the competition. Advertisers themselves have been slow to table given questions on the tracking, cost and effectiveness of mobile advertising.

Finally, many leading mobile marketing companies are still small "mom and pop" organisations, so it's hard for large agency networks to align all the advertising and promotional resources behind a single turn-key programme.

So, there are a lot of roadblocks, but us marketers will have to find a way to make mobile marketing a win-win for ourselves, the carriers and users. We need to reach the mobile owner with content, when and how they want it. Otherwise, it will be the digital equivalent of inventing the car without any way of reaching the driver - no billboards, transit ads or radio.

- Robert Horne is the chief marketing officer of Cheil Communications America.

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