By Gary Corbett

Mobile marketing is one of the fastest growing areas of the advertising market globally and becoming a major part of the communication strategy of many companies and brands, particularly now with the prevalence of smartphone devices that support sophisticated, multimedia-rich web interactions.

For marketers, the mobile medium is special because it is personal, getting direct to the individual, however busy they are and wherever they may be, offering unparalleled immediacy and the chance to personalise marketing messages to a specific user. Importantly, because each user can be treated as an individual, tracking and measuring user responses is relatively easy.

The latest figures show that more than 88% of UK adults own a mobile phone, with similarly high market penetration across developed countries. In the UK, over 5 billion texts are sent each month. More crucially, 97% of these messages are opened immediately, presenting an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal to target customers within the tightest of timeframes. It is no coincidence then that analysts are predicting a 580% growth in mobile marketing over the next five years

As devices become more sophisticated, screens and keypads continue to evolve, and the reach of mobile broadband expands, marketers will not be able to avoid this essential channel, particularly as their rivals begin to realise its potential.

Smart, not tart

The biggest growth spurt in advanced mobile marketing has been narrowly focused, however. Betting on a future that belongs to Apple, brands have developed enhanced web-based applications that have been optimised for the iPhone, in their pursuit of deeper and broader interaction with potential customers.

This is all well and good, but it misses the majority of the market. Although the Apple mobile platform is now well established, with new ‘apps’ popping up at an accelerating rate, recent findings reported on theinquirer.net show that the iPhone is losing market share to Google’s Android. Media analysis firm Quantcast reported in March that, while iPhone-based devices currently continue to account for the majority of mobile web consumption, there has been a significant drop in market share since January — when the Google/Nexus One handset entered the fray. A plethora of additional Android-powered handsets have since been announced, fuelling speculation that iPhone’s early domination may be short-lived.

This is already affecting marketing campaigns, with mobile ad broker Admob confirming a 22% rise in its ads being delivered over Android devices in February, compared with a growth of 17% for iPhone handsets. Admob claims too that 70% of iPhone developers now plan to code apps for the open source Android platform.

It is clearly dangerous, then, for brands and service providers to place all their fruit in Apple’s basket. To truly optimise their web/WAP presence and realise significant gains, their applications need to be rendered on all smartphone devices including Windows Mobile devices, Android devices, Blackberries and bespoke handsets. Failure to achieve this will result in disgruntled end users, following a poor experience on their handset of choice if it is not Apple flavoured, and cannibalised revenue streams.

Seeding the market

In these early days of influencing consumers’ mobile usage habits, companies need to be very careful. E-commerce software provider ATG reports that, while 38% of UK consumers have attempted to shop online from their mobiles to date, more than a quarter of them have found this difficult. Putting users off in the early experimental days risks their buy-in later, whatever the marketing goals associated with the mobile medium. The danger of investing too much in developing applications specifically for iPhone users, which can be costly due to Apple’s particular coding standards, is that the same slick look and feel will not be replicated on rival handsets without further, discrete coding.

Don’t ignore iPhone users, by any means; just be aware that Apple is not the only fruit in the store. Maximising the potential of the increasingly important mobile channel means being as inclusive as possible and supporting the maximum number of platform options from a single marketing development investment. That means resisting alignment with a single provider, but instead basing applications and campaigns on an independent delivery platform.

With maximum audience penetration a given, the only limit is the marketers’ imagination. Brands can then concentrate on the sophistication and personalisation of their campaigns, honing the range of options open to them, including SMS and MMS campaigns, direct response and brochure requests, quizzes and competitions, votes, alerts and reminder notifications, community-based interactions, mobile coupons and ticketing.

Early innovators have the market to play for, as few brands have yet to exploit the mobile medium to maximum effect. There is no doubt about the future potential of this increasingly dynamic channel; the challenge is to yield full commercial advantage by being aligned with all of the opportunities as they emerge, which means being ready for anything. Dancing only to Apple’s tune is to limit that scope significantly.