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What is holding some marketers back from mobile?

March 9, 2011

eff Hilimire is president and chief digital officer of Engauge

By Jeff Hilimire

After waiting years for the mobile revolution, I am regularly frustrated by the ongoing semantics debate about what mobile actually is.

Though SMS still dominates mobile messaging – 6 trillion text messages were sent in 2010 – mobile marketing is no longer limited to text, search and display. 

Mobile today is actually an amalgam of multiple platforms: online, social, video, music, gaming, payments, retail transactions, location-based services and augmented reality.

Mobile is social, too. In fact, social networking is now the fastest-growing mobile activity.

Yes, 2011 is the year for mobile, but even those headline-grabbing stats of recent memory are not telling the whole story.

Vote with feet
Mobile ad spending nationwide may be expected to grow by 80 percent this year and reach $1 billion, but $1 billion is an imperceptible dent in the total global ad spending of nearly $450 billion – not even a half of a half of 1 percent.

Sure, an 80 percent growth clip is impressive, but mobile is just getting started.

The rapid adoption of smartphones by consumers will soon outplace sales of personal computers as soon as 2012. That is just five years after the introduction of the first iPhone.

Then there is the launch of Apple’s iAd mobile advertising network and Google’s acquisition of AdMob.

Both have given mainstream credibility to mobile ads, making them a legitimate choice for mainstream marketers. 

So what is holding marketers back?

A big part of the problem for marketers is figuring out which foot to put forward first.

Those decisions depend on a careful calibration of brand, base and message. But generally, the best strategies emerge from continual testing and fine-tuning, because when it comes to mobile what is needed now is a little less conversation and a little more action.

Mobile requires flexibility.

Planning must be rapid, deployment swift and quick-and-dirty field-testing the norm.

Marketers must actively experiment with new applications to figure out what appeals best to their target consumer.

Here is my perspective on how companies can start embracing mobile.

It is OK to fail, just fail fast. In the startup world, the only way you get better is to try, fail, learn and retry.

The key with being good at failure is failing fast. Do not stall at every setback. Instead, be ready to adjust as you go.

Fight analysis paralysis. I am all for making sure you have a plan in place, and having research to support that plan is great.

But if that plan is being used as a crutch to avoid getting started in mobile, then you need to find a way to move through it. Which brings us to the third point.

Remember Henry Ford. Mr. Ford is often quoted as saying, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

Visionaries such as Steve Jobs often use this quote to emphasize why they do things that are contrary to what research might indicate is the right path.

Sometimes your customers do not know what they want until you give it to them.

Get it in your customers’ hands. Today, successful startups work hard to get their product in front of customers as soon as possible.

This allows them to get immediate feedback and fine-tune until they have developed a product that people will use.

With mobile, testing campaigns or apps in specific markets – and rolling out functionality as you go – is a great way to get invaluable and timely input from customers. 

Do you really want to be an immobile brand? Do you want to be a brand that is severely limited in where and how you interact with customers?

If you are continuing to find reasons why your company is not ready to start testing mobile, you will just keep standing still.

Jeff Hilimire is Atlanta-based president and chief digital officer of independent ad agency Engauge. This article is adapted from The Engauge 2011 Digital Outlook, a comprehensive report on the future of digital marketing. Reach him at

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