New Technology



Upwardly mobile

by Bruce Ackland

Is consumer mobile marketing right for the OP independent dealer? OPI explores the history, benefits and way ahead to integrate this emerging technology.

In the spring of 1993 I attended a press screening of a British film called the Young Americans. Just in case you weren’t one of the 10 or 12 people who actually saw that movie, it was about a NYC cop (Harvey Keitel) who flew to London to apprehend an NYC drug kingpin. At the very end, with the drug baron vanquished, Keitel is walking through the departures at Heathrow airport and sees group after group of returning English youngsters with mobile phones glued firmly to their ears. The screen dissolves just as a "oh no, they’re turning into us" look washes over Harvey’s face. The message was clear. American culture (good and bad) was imprinting itself ever more firmly on the British youth psyche and we were becoming the titular young Americans. The point is that back in 1993, mobile phones were still "the new thing" and nothing summed up the onslaught of rampant global consumerism better. Perhaps now, Harvey would walk past a row of Starbucks.

The funny thing is that it now looks fairly prophetic and in 2007 no country is more ingrained or mature in the mobile phone phenomenon than good old blighty. No where else will you find such a diverse range of users from 12 to 112 (ok that’s a bit old but you get my point). If the world worships the mobile phone then the UK is the Mecca to which all must pilgrimage. However, the rest of the world is no more than a yard behind and the proliferation of consumer-friendly smartphones like the BlackBerry Pearl and the blockbuster iPhone have continued to drive the obsession that has consumed us all. It’s all a far cry from the bulky brick mobile phones of the 80s that looked like they were army field radios that required a plucky colleague next to you to wind it up. Of course, with all these mobile phones comes a great opportunity for savvy marketing. After all, you can’t get a more captive audience and it’s not as if we ever ignore a text message that comes in and once you’ve opened it, you’ve read it.

Over the last few months, the OP industry has witnessed two significant announcements from major players regarding their interest and participation in using mobile services to boost business.

First off, SP Richards enhanced its web-based product information resource,, to accommodate mobile internet users. The move means that mobile phone and blackberry users can now use the primary search and rebate features of and the website will recognise when a user is accessing the site from a mobile device and automatically route them to the mobile compliant site.

On announcing the enhanced service, SPR director of eCommerce Paul Gatens said he was "pleased to bring this functionality to the office products industry road warriors out there".

Mobile location
Hot on the heels of this announcement, Office Depot revealed that it was working with web and mobile-based locator technology provider Where2GetIt to make it easier for customers to find their nearest store.

After logging onto on an internet-enabled mobile device, the user just has to enter their zip code or city and state to find nearby stores. Customers than click the phone number in the "location results" area to be directly connected to the nearest store from their phones. At just about the same time as this announcement, Depot also revealed that it was to embark on its first national mobile marketing programme with leading mobile media company go2.

The hook-up means that when customers access the go2 Office Depot site from a mobile phone, they can enjoy features such as store specials, sweepstakes and coupons as go2’s advanced location-based services (LBS) provide precise and accurate information of Office Depot locations.

Depot VP of direct sales Kristin Micalizio said: "Office Depot has always been at the forefront of new technologies, and this is another example of the company’s dedication to finding new and innovative ways to service our customers’ needs."

go2 CEO and founder Lee Hancock added that the mobile phone had become a "huge medium for companies looking to gain a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace" and said the partnership would present Depot with "a perfect opportunity to enter this emerging mobile market".

To further enhance the recent cosying up of the OP community to the mobile phone world (which always seemed a natural fit) Swiss OP retailer Office World is trialling a shop-in-shop concept with mobile phone retailer The Phone House, which is owned by Carphone Warehouse. The first two The Phone House stores will open up inside Office World outlets in Zurich and Geneva and, if the trial period is successful, the format will hit some of the other 18 Office World stores.

Phone advantages
So, the OP industry looks ready to embrace mobile marketing but just how successful is it and what are the tangible benefits.

Tim Dunn, head of marketing services at the UK’s leading interactive mobile services provider MIG, said: "Your mobile phone is the most personal device you own – it’s your social and entertainment lifeline. If we as brands and agencies can place a message compelling enough to get the user to talk to us via mobile, then that’s the ideal springboard for a two-way dialogue that really cuts through. Mobiles, and particularly texting, are now ubiquitous in the market, outnumbering both PCs and fixed lines, so there’s no limit to the audience you can target."

Dunn also insists that there are resounding success stories out there for firms using mobile marketing with laundry brand Colour Catcher, for instance, increasing sales by 60 percent through a well thought-out mobile sampling campaign.

"Automotive brands tend to increase the amount of responses they get by 10 to 15 percent when adding a shortcode to their above-the-line advertising," Dunn added. "The good thing about mobile is that every text is measurable."

Laura Marriott, president of the Mobile Marketing Association, loves the whole "captive audience" appeal of mobile marketing.

"It’s always on, always available and everywhere!" she says. "Mobile is the most personal device you own and mobile marketing allows companies to target consumers anytime, anywhere. It also enables them to implement highly-targeted, measurable marketing initiatives, something not achievable with other traditional or digital media types." And the MMA has done its own research to examine the benefits of mobile marketing.

The results of the MMA’s third-annual Mobile Attitude and Usage Study showed that interest in mobile marketing remains high and the number of consumers who have experienced mobile marketing continues to grow. One in four surveyed, in 2007, expressed interest in mobile marketing.

Furthermore, the MMA held up Telenor Sweden, a leading provider of data communications and telecom services, including mobile, in the Nordic region, as a prime example of what can be done and achieved with mobile marketing. Telenor is working with Doctors Without Borders, an independent medical humanitarian organisation, to publicise its work and help collect donations through a new channel. This promotional campaign allows people to follow the work of a Doctors Without Borders volunteer. Every day, at different times, a video clip is delivered, in which the volunteer shows what he or she typically does at that particular time. The clips are personal and intimate, and shot in a field environment. The service is free of charge, and all messages have a link to the donation section of the campaign.

Proven success
The target group can subscribe to an automated monthly donation, including a mobile newsletter with a report from current crisis areas. Plus occasional donations can also be made by sending an SMS or by downloading screensavers, wallpapers and ringtones from the wap site.

The ongoing campaign has produced high traffic to the wap site. During the first day of the banner advertising, the click rate was 18 percent, and the average during the full period was 15 percent. Some 7 percent took action and ordered a service at the campaign website (such as signing up to donate or for the working week content).

Another case study highlighted by David Murphy, editor of Mobile Marketing Magazine, involves the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

When GlaxoSmithKline was looking for a way to achieve standout for its Flixonase spray hayfever remedy in a crowded marketplace, it turned to Vodafone Target to deliver a B2B SMS campaign.

Murphy says the campaign targeted pharmacy assistants, the key interface between consumers and products, using mobile as the communications channel. As a result, Flixonase stayed front-of-mind for customer-facing assistants throughout the peak hayfever season.

Mobile was used in combination with direct mail and the GSK direct sales team as pharmacy assistants were invited to sign up for a series of weekly SMS communications. After registering their postcodes, the pharmacy assistants received three Flixonase texts per week throughout the 10-week hayfever season.

On Mondays, they were sent a pollen forecast, predicting what levels of which allergens to expect, using data from the Pollen Institute. Using the postcode data, each assistant received information relevant to their own area.

On Wednesdays, a quiz was sent out, with questions relating to hayfever and its treatment, with prizes on offer for the pharmacy. On Fridays, the assistants received a text containing a useful fact about allergy prevention and treatment.

Well over 10 percent of the pharmacy assistants invited to register for the text campaign opted in to receive the messages and 50 percent of those who did responded to the quiz texts every week. Sales of Flixonase increased dramatically nationwide, and Murphy says GSK were delighted with the way in which the mobile element of the campaign connected the brand to its market.

So it seems that mobile marketing is a growing and persuasive way of getting your message out there but should the smaller businesses like OP independent dealers be jumping on the fledgling bandwagon? And, indeed, is it affordable for them?

Murphy says: "For smaller businesses the key benefit is instant communications. You can invite customers and prospects to register their number for updates when there is a new product or service or a special offer. There are lots of SMS broadcast platforms available at relatively low cost, either outsourced, or on an ASP basis, that a small business can use to keep in touch with its customers and prospects. However, I would not recommend that small businesses that barely have a website start allocating valuable resource developing a mobile Internet site, but, as I said, for basic SMS communications, they can get up and running at relatively little cost."

Consumer dialogue
Laura Marriott sees targeting as the key benefit for small businesses looking at mobile marketing. She adds: "With a relevant and worthwhile call to action as part of any mobile campaign, small businesses can reach their customers at the right time with the right message. The Mobile Marketing Association has long advocated opt-in as part of the overall consumer experience – ensuring that all campaigns are consumer pull, not consumer push. Mobile also enables a dialogue – engagement with the consumer. In essence, it’s a conversation between brand and consumer where the consumer elects to receive key and relevant information, when they need it. It is a powerful new marketing channel for businesses of all sizes."

And what about affordability? Marriott explains "Using mobile can be extremely cost effective as well as efficient at delivering your message. Mobile is best leveraged when integrated into a cross media campaign. Embed the mobile call to action in print, on-pack, online – all of the traditional and digital media elements that you would already be using to reach the consumer."

Tim Dunn adds: "Although using location-based services are expensive and don’t run on all networks, there are plenty of options for smaller local businesses. Firstly, mobile is perceived as a national medium thanks to large TV services using shortcodes. However, due to the relatively low price of entry, local businesses can also use SMS, therefore offering a premium brand experience to leads that are generated. Many simple mechanics can cost as little as £1,000, so there’s no reason not to look into it."

Mobile marketing appears to be developing momentum but what does the future hold for this most direct of direct marketing. We know mobile phones are here to stay and will continue to advance in technology, so what’s around the corner?

David Murphy believes SMS will continue to drive advertising on phones although they will have to be clever to remain on the right side of the consumer.

He explains: "SMS will remain an important mobile marketing tool for some years to come I believe, particularly for CRM-type services where a bank or whatever sends a customer a regular text to let them know their balance or warn them that they are down to their last pennies. Instant messaging may also be big on mobile within a few years, but how brands can tap in to this remains to be seen.

"A lot of people think mobile advertising will be big and it may be. I think there’s a bit of work to be done here yet. Consumers may tolerate ads on their phones, but they will probably want something in return, whether that is free content, free talk time and text or maybe just an ad that doesn’t look like an ad but more like a humorous piece of content, like a YouTube funny, but branded/sponsored in some way."

Mobile media research firm m:metrics agrees that SMS is the key tool and reports that as many as three out of four mobile subscribers reported that they received an ad via SMS in the month of July with Spain having the largest audience for SMS-based mobile advertising with a whopping 75 percent of people receiving SMS ads. m:metrics has also revealed that while the volume of SMS ads is lowest in the US, with 17.2 percent of Americans receiving them, it also shows the strongest response rate of 12 percent. However, with the exception of Germany and Italy, ads that did not come from the respondent’s mobile operator were from companies that did not have permission to contact them.

m:metrics senior analyst Evan Neufeld says: "Certainly the level of interaction is impressive compared to any advertising vehicle available today. It is undeniable that text-based mobile advertising is both a highly prevalent and extremely effective medium for engaging customers".

As smartphones continue to grow in proliferation so will the sophistication of marketing that can be done on them (that’s just a natural progression) and it can also be expected that successful campaigns such as the ones mentioned previously will serve to convince more and more businesses that this is a form of marketing that can deliver real benefits and manageable costs.

Laura Marriott is especially bullish about the future. She says: "Mobile marketing will become the first screen, the way that consumers will interact with their favourite brands, given the ubiquity of mobile devices worldwide. We are starting to see significant developments around mobile advertising including mobile web, messaging, mobile video and television. But mobile marketing is not limited to advertising and is much broader. Creativity and innovation in mobile initiatives, by brands of all sizes, is continuing to drive the development of the market and the industry.

The number of brands engaging the mobile channel continues to rise, and we expect consumers will continue to benefit from these advancements."

Future of mobiles
Ultimately, it is the consumer that will drive the future of mobile marketing as well as the technology. If the consumer decides it has had enough of mobile ads then that will be a big hurdle to overcome but if they take it as a natural part of their mobile connectivity then it should be no different than ads in magazines or TV. Indeed, a recent 2006 study by m:metrics commissioned by the MMA found that among US subscribers interested in mobile TV services, 41 percent said they would watch mobile adverts in order to access mobile TV services free of charge. Another 20 percent said they would access mobile advertising if it meant accessing services for a reduced fee.

With a new year upon us once again, Tim Dunn sees 2008 as a key period in mobile marketing. "This year will see a massive uplift in the number of brands taking part, as traditional agencies start to see mobile as an effective part of the media mix," he says. "The launch of mobile advertising by the operators is also helping, as not only is this a very large and widely used new media channel, but it’s one to which the regular online models of display and search apply quite easily, so media agencies are dipping their toe in very early on as they understand the key metrics already, and are generally very pleased with the results so far."

So there’s plenty to suggest that the bigger firms are getting good and measurable benefit from their mobile marketing campaigns and that mobile marketing is a genie that won’t easily go back in the bottle. And, when it comes to smaller businesses like independent dealers, success in this area may come down to entrepreneurial spirit as much as the depth of your pockets.