Mobile Strengths & Limitations
Mobile is a permission-based communications channel. In order for any organization to communicate with stakeholders via mobile, the consumer must take the first action.
This permission can be gained in many ways: from a website sign up; via text message in response to a promotional call to action; by a click on a mobile ad or a visit a mobile website; by downloading an application and so on. Some of these forms of permission are more explicit than others. In all cases though, the consumer initiates the interaction.
At least in Canada, you cannot buy a list of mobile numbers. You cannot send unsolicited messages. You must provide a way for a consumer to opt-out of any marketing or communication program. In some respects this creates a barrier to reaching a target audience. But once the barrier is overcome, communicators can be confident that the audiences they are reaching have demonstrated an interest in what is being said or offered and have an explicit willingness to engage with the company, organization, or brand.
The power of this permission becomes clear when we return the Canadian Public Relations Society’s definition of public relations which says that the objective of public relation is to build and manage communication channels, and to use those channels to generate favourable attitudes to an organization’s operations, goals and policies. A strong argument can be made that your chances of creating favourable attitudes are greatly increased when you audience has actively volunteered to listen to what you have to say. Mobile becomes, in many important ways, earned media. Content is consumed because it was found to be useful and credible to the individual. The main difference between this type of earned media and traditional earned ‘coverage’ is the opportunity to have an unfiltered connection to the target audience.
When making those connections to a target audience, there are also other limitations and strengths of the mobile medium that should be considered. It’s a well-worn saying in marketing circles that marketers tend to initially approach every new medium in the same way as they approached previous ones. Early websites were digitized versions of print brochures, for example. The reality, of course, is that each new medium comes with its own operating principles, technical requirements and user or social dynamics.
From a content perspective, the mobile handset and its features requires communicators to pay close attention to limitations mandated by the device itself or, in some case, the wireless carriers that provide the telecommunications infrastructure. Text messages can only be 160 characters long (less in some cases and places). Any communicator using text should ensure the message can be conveyed within that limit. Distributing a single message or response over multiple texts undermines the consumer experience. Remember that a text message can act as a bridge to another destination. Phone calls or hyperlinks to downloadable content or the mobile web can all be activated from a text message.
If you are looking to engage consumers on the mobile web, the screen size presents both opportunities and challenges. The DotMobi Advisory, a mobile internet lobby group made up of leading companies within the mobile space, offers a guidelines for building websites that are optimized for handset browsing. Among their recommendations are to always keep the limitations of the device in mind. A mobile device has a smaller screen, no mouse, no printer, not always keyboard, restricted bandwidth, memory costs and any sites should be design accordingly. The same guide, Ten Mistakes in Mobile Web Marketing, also points out the opportunities that the mobile web can provide such as reaching new audiences, deepening relationships, delivering new services, demonstrating brand values and tying into wider campaigns and suggests ways to exploit the capabilities of the mobile device.
It’s also important to remember, just as in more traditional communications, that messaging and targeting have to be seamlessly merged. The right tone and content for one audience may fall flat with another audience. Similarly with mobile communications, it’s important to understand who you are targeting and their mobile consumption patterns. Larry Harris, president of Ansible Mobile offers this advice (p.16), “The best mobile programs are hyper-targeted. Use your traditional media channels to drive a clearly defined audience (engineers, doctors who are experts in a certain disease, attendees at an event, fans of a certain sports team, young males, pregnant moms, care-givers for certain disease indication, C-level executives, music aficionados, people near a certain retail outlet, repeat customers of a certain product or service, etc.) to interact with your brand via the mobile device. The more general your mobile campaign, the less likely the campaign is going to succeed and have a demonstrable ROO or return on objective.”
Though Mr. Harris is speaking primarily about marketing programming, the advice is equally true and relevant for public relations programs. When targeting youth or less mobile savvy audiences, text messaging programs might be most effective as that feature is used most widely and ubiquitous on mobile devices. A more urban and digitally savvy audience may be best reached through a mobile web or application experience as they are more likely to have sophisticated handsets and expansive mobile data packages. Jennifer Wasley says, in regards to which mobile features are most appropriate for public relations campaigns, “I think it really depends on the goals of the campaign. Do you want people taking photos and submitting them? Do you want them to text and have your spokesperson call them? The utility is completely dependent upon the needs of the campaign but each one does have a place in the PR mix – even if it’s just a line in a media release that says ’service X is available on your mobile phone’.”
Up Next: Some thoughts on mobile privacy and measurement
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