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SMS, QR codes and mobile video get vote of confidence

January 17, 2012

Janet Roberts is chief marketing officer of Syniverse

SMS, QR codes and mobile video get the vote of the top marketing executive at Syniverse as mobile channels that will gain the most marketer and retailer traction this year.

Indeed, marketers have yet to tap the full potential of mobile marketing and commerce, Janet Roberts, chief marketing officer of Syniverse, said in an exhaustive interview with this publication.

“Retailers and financial institutions will continue to lead when it comes to using the mobile channel to enable self-service, whether that’s making purchases or accessing account information,” Ms. Roberts said.

“Those sectors understand the bottom-line impact because they have been living it for the past few years,” she said. “They are a key source of success stories we can use to educate other verticals about the mobile channel’s benefits.”

Please read on for the rest of the interview with Ms. Roberts:

What marks would you give mobile marketing this year?
The mobile marketing ecosystem has been very effective over the past 12 months in terms of advancing mobile marketing’s reach, efficacy and bottom-line impact, but there’s still room for improvement.

For example, we have barely scratched the surface of what SMS can do to enable interactive campaigns, highly targeted promotions and the kinds of self-service options that consumers expect.

SMS usage is high across virtually every demographic, making it an effective way to reach a target audience based on how it prefers to receive information.

The text4baby initiative is a prime example. It uses SMS to deliver prenatal and child-care tips to new moms. The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, which spearheaded text4baby, says young women of childbearing age use texting more than email.

Looking beyond SMS, Nielsen predicts more Americans will have had a smartphone than a feature phone by the end of 2011, and this trend is playing out in Asia-Pacific and Europe, too.

This creates opportunities to build campaigns around smartphone capabilities such as apps and video.

For example, smart phone owners today are scanning QR codes to gather product information.

In the future, we’ll be able to engage in new ways, such as having the code launch a two-way video session so consumers can ask questions or get a live product demo.

Which mobile channel stood out for its effectiveness and ability to integrate with other marketing channels?
A year ago, short codes seemed to be in every advertisement. One of the primary benefits of short codes is that they can be remembered and engaged at any time while also being passed on via word of mouth. As a result, these are strong tools to leverage with radio and television media.

In 2011, QR codes suddenly emerged as a new fundamental component in mainstream advertising.

Different from short codes, QR codes are communicated via print ads, in-store promotions, digital signage, online and on TV, but they provide greater options in the types of URLs and applications to which they can be linked.

This dichotomy shows that we must deliver information in a myriad of ways based on end-user preferences.

I am confident that both SMS short codes and QR codes will remain viable engagement channels in the foreseeable future for a few reasons.

First, in both developed and developing markets, the installed base of feature phones will remain high for at least the next few years, and short codes are an effective way for brands and agencies to reach that segment.

Second, QR codes provide additional opportunities for consumers to interact with brands.

Finally, both technologies integrate very nicely with other channels to support cross-platform campaigns.

A year from now, mobile video may be a great visual complement to many campaigns.

If the brand or agency already has video for a campaign, such as a television commercial, it can be cost-effective to repurpose that content for the mobile channel.

Also, with the large and growing penetration of smartphones and tablets, and the wide availability of 3G and public Wi-Fi, the stage is set to support these new methods from both the technology and marketplace perspectives.

Based on last year’s performance, what hopes do you have for mobile marketing in 2012?
We’ve seen great progress in 2011. The mobile marketing ecosystem has another year’s worth of real-world success stories that we can learn from when developing campaigns for 2012, and the 2011 Mobile Marketing Association Awards – The Smarties – are a good place to start.

The awards program featured hundreds of innovative entries from some of the world’s biggest brands, including Coca-Cola, Old Navy, United Airlines and Nike, showing the increasingly important role of mobile in mainstream campaigns.

The mobile channel already has enormous demographic reach. In 2012, I am confident that reach will grow even deeper and broader.

In addition to the impact of QR codes in more advanced markets, developing markets with bases comprised primarily of feature phones will continue to see SMS serve as the foundation for many highly innovative campaigns.

One innovative example to date comes from Africa where counterfeit products – particularly pharmaceuticals – are a widespread problem, and SMS is an effective way for brands to alleviate consumer concerns.

One company allows consumers in Ghana and Nigeria to use SMS to quickly determine whether a product is counterfeit.

The product’s manufacturer puts a unique code under a scratch-off panel on the product, and the potential buyer can send that code via SMS to get an instant determination on authenticity.

The yes or no response occupies only a few characters, leaving room in the SMS for those brands to promote their other products or survey customers – an option that’s particularly attractive in developing markets, where such research is difficult or expensive.

What will it take for a retailer or brand CMO to invest more resources into mobile advertising and marketing?
Overall, CMOs are significantly increasing their mobile marketing spend.

According to Forrester, mobile and social media marketing are the two fastest growing categories in interactive marketing spend, and U.S. mobile marketing spending will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent over the next several years.

As with any marketing decision, metrics that prove ROI will make or break the business case for aggressive funding of mobile initiatives.

The good news is we have another year’s worth of quantifiable success stories to reference.

We also need to educate CMOs about how they can use short codes, QR codes, apps and other mobile technologies to increase sales and foster customer loyalty.

To this point, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and the Mobile Marketing Association are working together on a global initiative to provide insights into how marketers can use mobile to engage with their target audiences.

The promise of ubiquitous reach will be another key incentive for CMOs as they consider their mobile marketing investments.

Marketers don’t want to bet their campaigns on each member of their target audience having a certain app or the hope that those who don’t are willing download it.

We do not want to worry about technical issues such as interoperability. We just want mobile to work.

Which sectors will you see in 2012 more readily accept mobile for marketing or commerce purposes?
Retailers and financial institutions will continue to lead when it comes to using the mobile channel to enable self-service, whether that’s making purchases or accessing account information.

Those sectors understand the bottom-line impact because they have been living it for the past few years. They are a key source of success stories we can use to educate other verticals about the mobile channel’s benefits.

The travel and hospitality industries are other sectors that are running effective mobile campaigns and are in the process of building their mobile presence.

Airlines and hotels are making progress toward optimizing their customers’ mobile experience by providing the opportunity to book flights and hotels, obtain discounts and check-in for their flight or room.

Consumer brands also will continue to be major users of SMS, particularly in developing countries.

One example is Procter & Gamble, which began using SMS for mobile marketing in the Philippines in 2002 and has since expanded throughout Asia-Pacific.

As Marco Gavin, who is responsible for P&G’s APAC mobile marketing, explained, “P&G mobile marketing programs in developing markets tend to involve more SMS and are more tightly integrated into different media channels, while in developed markets mobile Web and apps play a more important role and are often mobile-only campaigns.”

Mobile operators themselves now also can realize new marketing and customer service opportunities via the mobile services they provide by leveraging real-time intelligence of subscribers’ usage patterns gleaned from their own networks.

For example, operators can target subscribers with personalized special offers for data packages at the moment when they are most likely to buy them – for example, when they are approaching monthly usage limits.

Intelligence-based outreach ultimately will help operators increase customer engagement, reduce churn and drive revenue.

What’s your biggest prediction for 2012?
As we move into 2012, the mobile marketing focus will continue to move away from one-way display ads to customer engagement, and video will play an important role.

The necessary requirements are coming together on a global level: a large, growing installed base of video-friendly devices such as smartphones and tablets; wide availability of 3G; the arrival of 4G; the debut of solutions that eliminate interoperability barriers; and, most importantly, the consumer’s appetite for video-based information sharing as evidenced by the popularity of YouTube, among others.

Mobile operators and brands are working together to develop video campaigns in creative ways that benefit everyone involved.

For example, a brand might partner with an operator so that whenever that operator’s subscribers watch a video from that brand, it doesn’t count against their monthly data buckets.

The brand could cover the operator’s cost of delivering the videos in order to expand the campaign’s reach beyond just subscribers with big data buckets. Subscribers, meanwhile, do not have to worry about going over their data limits.

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Mickey Alam Khan is editor in chief of Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer and Luxury Daily. Reach him at

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