The Great Untethering Of Marketing

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Mobile is no longer about what you can do on your cell phone. Mobile is all about doing more, all of the time.

A long while back, I made a decision to make the switch from marketing on the Internet to the uncharted world of mobile. Slowly, the idea of using phones for other than calling people was becoming more commonplace. The devices no longer looked like someone was screaming into a cream-coloured brick and the idea of sending short text messages via these devices was taking off in places like Japan and Korea. It was starting to no longer be frowned upon or considered rude when a telephone was ringing during a romantic dinner at a restaurant. Can you remember the good ol’ days when someone was considered a crazy person if they were seen talking to themselves in car?

Now, our society is mobile. If these devices could be implanted under one’s skin, I’m sure we all know a couple of people who would be the first in line for the procedure (can you see my arm being raised?). Even mobile flip phones seem just a little passé to us these days.

But what does all of this mobility and connectivity mean to business?

Some of the bigger hurdles of using mobiles have been overcome (for a long while you could only use SMS text messaging with people who were on the same wireless carrier as you were; now SMS is functional between all carriers). But some of the bigger hurdles are still ahead (devices have different size screens, the carriers all use different back-end technologies and the overall speed of delivering mobile content still isn’t great in North America). Most businesses weigh the adoption rate (how many people in the general mass population are really using these devices and applications) and then figure out if the market is there for them to pursue. For most, they think it’s not, and this should be of grave concern.

Here’s a common scenario…

You’re out for dinner with a friend and decide to check out what movies are playing. With a quick flick of some buttons on your mobile, you can not only find out, but how close and soon the next showing is. Beyond that, if you move into the realm of smartphones (Apple’s iPhone, a BlackBerry or similar devices), you can see movie trailers and robust reviews. Now, let’s say you have a couple of hours to kill before catching the flick, and you want to know what time Borders or Indigo closes, and if any cool new books have come out this week, you should be able to do a search and have that information at your fingertips as well. Most companies don’t have a mobile version of their website. Do you?

Having a simple and easy to navigate mini-version of your website for the mobile platform is a necessity.

It is (and should be) as basic as having a website. Everyday, more and more people are using their mobile devices to find out information about your brands, products and services. It’s also going beyond the basic who, what, when, where and why of information. At the end of 2008, Sears launched a mobile e-commerce platform in the U.S. titled, Sears2Go. Ravi Acharya, director of e-commerce at Sears Holdings, explained the rationale in a news item in BtoB Online:

“It’s a lot of the same customers who do research online and then go into a store to buy. We see people looking through catalogs, and then they call the call centre to purchase or go online … or into a store. Adding mobile as another convenient channel is a good fit for us.”

The usability and functionality is still primitive because of the limitations of the mobile device, but Sears2Go allows consumers to research and buy stuff like electronics, jewelry, tools, toys and more. You can even buy it from your mobile and pick up the merchandise in the store.

The truth is, Sears does not have a choice.

Amazon created an amazing application for the iPhone where you can take a picture of anything you see in a store, and it will recognize what the picture is, and return to you a set of search results for where you can get that exact same product cheapest. You can also scan reviews and, if Amazon sells it, you can buy it right from your iPhone. This is not something that’s coming in the future, this is an application you can download right now, for free – and it works. Considering the built-in GPS capabilities of your mobile device, and the possibilities become endless. Urbanspoon, another iPhone or iPod Touch Application, figures out where you are and will recommend a restaurant to you based on types of food, neighborhood and price. As if that were not enough, you can read reviews, it links into Google Maps to give you exact directions and you can even make reservations.

The obvious question is: why did I make the switch back from mobile marketing to the Web in terms of my professional career?

I didn’t.

Those two worlds are intrinsically connected. While we may not have full convergence between mobile and Web platforms, we are getting closer by the day. Anyone trying to understand the Web and what it means to their business needs to also understand the implications of a world where we are accessing information, buying stuff, and doing anything and everything we’re doing online on our mobile devices as well.

This is not about marketers blasting your mobile devices with offers when you are in a particular hot spot or about inundating your mobile browsing experience with banner ads and contests.

This is all about creating more value and chances to connect and stay connected with brands that consumers are actively engaged with.

The bigger question is this: how connected is your brand?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Mobile Marketing 101.


  1. Nice, for me this article brought some light to what the mobile marketing experience needs to be targeting. When users are out and accessing web applications through their phone, I’m presuming that they are doing it with a much higher ratio of having a specific intention vs. just the browsing people do on computers.
    It seems to mean that the idea of contextually relevant ads based on context are nowhere near enough to satisfy the very specific needs of the consumer at a point in time, and to do that, which seems to be the main portion of the article, is that user experience and helping users solve very specific problems should be %80-%90 + of a mobile marketing program. Where going beyond relevant ads means finding ways to help the consumer in an almost ESP manner within the consumers original sphere of intent.
    No doubt using the tools of analytics to improve user experience, and application usability is going to be as important as ever.

  2. Thank you Mitch for this insightful and interesting article. BTW, I read this article via a Face Book link and NOT in the Gazette, but more on the future of traditional newspapers another time, now we’re talking mobile.
    You raise some interesting and timely points regarding mobile marketing and more broadly the emerging mobile lifestyle. Images of implanted mobile devices in our body is truly disturbing!
    Shouldn’t successful mobile marketing campaigns incorporate the ‘best of breed’ of everything we’ve learned from what that works (and especially what doesn’t) in all media? This of course includes Web and all the traditional media (eg radio, TV, print, billboards, etc, etc.) that we consume on a daily basis.
    Additionally, there are many other unique attributes that mobile offers that add tremendous value to peer-to-peer and social network opportunities, which I think everyone will agree we are just beginning to understand and in the process of pushing the limits to new and exciting levels.
    Finally, other unique advantages that mobile offers is relevancy of location, time and if I may add profile or interest(s). You cite the example for directing people to their favorite restaurants based on both location and preference. If organized in an opt-in/permission-based environment (see Seth Godin for additional insight) the possibilities are extremely compelling.
    US-based Loopt ( has developed a what they call “social compass.” The concept is simple; let my friends know where I am at all times (or when I want to) , lets say when I’m out for a night on the town and we can meet up and hang out. Interesting twist is that 80% of people like the idea of knowing where their friends are, yet only 20% of people are willing to share that information.
    Ok, so there are a few personal privacy issues to be worked out, but I’d bet a chunk of change that the concept behind Face Book wasn’t a slam dunk for many people upon its conception.
    Lets hope we can learn from the past and use the opportunity to get it right.

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