Push and Pull

I was talking to Nick Lane in Barcelona last week. Nick was the excellent MC of the MMA Forum in Barcelona and ex-Informa Principal Analyst, now doing his own thing at d2Consult – if you’re interested in anything from expert strategic planning to investment proofing your business plan, get in touch with him.

One of the issues we talked about was the difficulty of defining what mobile advertising actually is, as opposed to mobile marketing. This is especially the case when many people (including brands and agencies) see the mobile channel as sms push.

The situation is also confused by surveys such as the one launched by Airwide Solutions, which entirely focused on push-based messaging as if this is the only way to get involved in mobile marketing. In fairness to Airwide, this is probably intentional as their business is based on messaging and corporately, they’re probably not going to be interested in researching or promoting the mobile web.

Airwide’s research concluded that marketers saw outbound sms and mms campaigns as a rich vein to be exploited, with 71% claiming to be spending 10% of their whole marketing budgets in two years. Apart from being wholly unbelievable – currently about 10% of marketing budgets go to digital channels in total – it’s also pretty unrealistic because the reality is that push campaigns like this really don’t work very well most of the time. But if it was true, Airwide are going to make lots of money, which was the point of the survey in the first place, namely that they’re a great partner for these types of campaign – fair enough then.

There’s another survey featured by eMarketer today which helps explains why push marketing doesn’t work terribly well. And that’s because users don’t want it – sorry all you marketers in the Airwide survey. 2/3 of respondents said that they wouldn’t subscribe to a service featuring retail offers delivered by text message. And 92% said that they’d find local business offers sent to their phones irritating. Note well, you Bluespammers.

The problem with using the mobile as a push channel is that even if you do get people to subscribe to the service (and don’t even think about a non-subscription based service), it’s very easy for messages to be quickly viewed as spam. Don’t forget that while spam is partly about permission, it’s also partly about perception. So even if the user agrees to get messages, if they subsequently find them irritating, they’re still spam. Thus, if the user is in a bad mood or the message isn’t very relevant, targeted or engaging, eventually the user will unsubscribe and that’s the end of that.

I know from experience a lot about this, having been involved in a start-up back in 2000 which operated location based marketing sms. email me for a free copy of the white paper I wrote, if you haven’t read it and are even considering launching something like this. It’ll save you a lot of time, money and energy.

What does seem to work very well though is mobile web advertising – I’ve been writing a lot about AdMob recently, so I won’t blow that trumpet again. But believe me (again based on actual experience) that pull marketing works very well. As does pull in the context of asking people to respond to another medium (like a poster) for more information via sms.

Where push sms can work very effectively is in CRM type marketing and it still amazes me how few companies use this to deliver timely, useful and valuable information, such as delays for travel companies, transaction details for banks or last minute offers for cinemas and theatres.

In sender-pays markets, the economics of Push Vs Pull don’t stack up either. Let’s say that an sms outbound campaign costs around 10 cents each and you have a 5% (very high) response. That means each response has cost you $2.00. If you run the same campaign on the mobile web, each response will cost you about 50 cents as a likely maximum on a pay per click model – and probably less than 30 cents in most markets, most of the time.

So where does that leave the debate about what exactly is mobile advertising? Advertising is inherently pull based, I would argue. Anything that isn’t pull can certainly be called mobile marketing, in the same way as a direct mail campaign is marketing, but not advertising. Which leaves us today pretty much with mobile web advertising as the only channel that can be described like that.

So mobile advertising = mobile web. Which is great news, as I always wanted to work in advertising.

What do you think?

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