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Turf wars within mobile harms overall marketing

March 21, 2011

Mickey Alam Khan is editor in chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily

The past couple of years have been dominated by one-upmanship within the mobile advertising and marketing ecosystem. It seems the only way one mobile channel can succeed is by demeaning another. This must stop.

The ongoing civil war – and it is a civil war – is doing marketing no good, forget the fact that it gives media buyers yet more excuse to delay serious inclusion of mobile in multichannel budgets.

Indeed, the camps are so clearly defined that it is embarrassing. And it goes all the way to the top.

Code language
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his company are clearly enamored with mobile applications – for obvious reasons. The whole Apple App Store business is predicated on creating a walled-garden where there is no need for the Web or any other mobile channel.

For Apple, it is clear that the Web is not of much use.

So that mentality has spilled over and created a cohort of app developers who have panicked legions of publishers, retailers and marketers to spend scads of dollars on apps when the channel’s long-term benefits have yet to be seen.

Nor is Apple or its rival stores – Google’s Android Market, BlackBerry AppWorld, Nokia’s Ovi and Hewlett-Packard’s Palm Catalog – upfront about repeat usage and deletions data.

Then there are the Web diehards who take every opportunity to predict the demise of apps. They sniff at those who they feel got snookered into spending tens of thousands of dollars on apps when mobile Web sites cost a fraction of those amounts.

Is there a whiff of envy here? Are those marketers opting only for mobile sites without the budget to add an app as well? Is the mobile Web the cheap brand’s app?

The current favorite whipping boy is the QR code. There’s extreme passion on both sides of the issue (see story). Both sides talk about the merits and demerits of QR codes, but it’s not about them.

For QR codes, the real issue is whether consumers will take to them. It’s simply not easy to scan codes given that many phones don’t have the right readers built in or that there are so many readers and technologies that it is bewildering beyond comprehension.

Why don’t the code folks knock heads together and come up with some standards before cudgeling each other to pulp?

Another battlefield is the debate over SMS and its use. Detractors find it too basic and not appropriate for branding. And yet they ignore the 99 percent of phones nationwide that can exchange texts without any sophisticated technology or special consumer skill set.

Not surprisingly, the delay in getting short codes provisioned by wireless carriers is a deterrent to most marketers. These grievances are aired publicly and have done nothing to move the carriers to shift to a more marketer-friendly time-table.

Indeed, carriers are worried about possible unsolicited text messages and the inevitable lawsuits.

Marketers see a wasted opportunity to build better, tighter relationships with their best customers in the No. 1 mobile channel worldwide – SMS.

And what of MMS? Thank goodness for the few providers of MMS services, because if it were not for their stamina, that channel would be dead as a commercial service.

Critics of MMS point to the costs of dispatching multimedia messages. Fans point to the sight, sound and text benefits of dispatching multimedia messages.

Tired of these skirmishes? Don’t even get the big guys started over tablets: mobile devices or computers? Let’s just say that Apple’s Mr. Jobs decided that once and for all: the tablet is a mobile device and used as such.

The point being made here is simple: most players in mobile marketing don’t seem to understand that pitching a channel is not going to take mobile to the big leagues.

If mobile marketing has to grow to rival online marketing budgets in the years ahead, then the approach must change.

Adds up
Marketers are looking for long-term solutions toward a strategy, not short-term tactics for spurt-and-burst marketing.

Media planners and buyers don’t want to be sold SMS, MMS, mobile Web, apps, bar codes: they want to be sold a package that best fits the overall marketing plan to acquire and retain customers for advertiser clients.

Ad agencies don’t want to deal with multiple platforms and thousands of moving parts. They want plug-and-play solutions that help their brand clients while generating a decent profit for the hard work put in.

Infighting within the mobile marketing industry and lack of clarity over consumer data, measurement standards, behavioral targeting, multiple platforms, privacy and security simply don’t do the world’s most promising medium any good.

While brands have realized that the time is ripe to move from tactical inclusion of mobile in multichannel plans to strategic, mobile marketing service providers are still bickering over who’s bigger, better and more deserving.

Guess who’s always going to be bigger, better and more deserving? The advertiser.

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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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