Mobile marketing space demands tough trade offs

Companies that want to invest in mobile marketing and advertising face a range of complicated trade-offs.

August 28, 2012

Companies that want to invest in mobile marketing and advertising face a range of complicated trade-offs as they try to define their strategies and decide where to allocate their limited budgets in a market that is fragmented and still fairly immature.

That’s according to Richard Mullins, director at Acceleration. He says that one of the challenges that marketers face is that the mobile market isn’t even clearly defined yet, with feature phones, smartphones, tablets and notebooks all given people mobile data access yet all offering a markedly different user experience.

“In the future, I am confident that the term ‘mobile’ will apply to all devices and applications that allow people to access content and services wherever they are. But for now, marketers need to decide where they will invest their spend and how much they’ll allocate to each platform,” says Mullins.

Mullins says that mobile platforms don’t yet offer marketers the level of engagement the industry has promised for years. One reason for this is that smartphones are not as pervasive as many people think they are.

Though everyone working in digital carries an Android device or iPhone, the same is not true of the mainstream market quite yet, says Mullins. “It will take another two to three years for smartphones to reach the penetration that will deliver the sort of results marketers are hoping for,” he adds.

Mullins says that in addition to relatively low market penetration, marketers face a range of environmental and technical challenges as they try to reach users with smartphones. One reason that engagement rates in the smartphone environment often disappoint is that data costs are still high in South Africa.

This is changing as operators invest in base station, national and international cable infrastructure, but we have some way to go before engagement is as cheap for the user as marketers would like, says Mullins.

Other challenges arise from the immaturity of analytics and content tools for smartphones and other mobile devices. Marketers that decide to reach their audience with native mobile apps will need to invest a lot of money in writing apps for different smartphone and tablet platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android).

Alternatively, they’ll need to decide to ignore part of the market and service only the platforms that are most prevalent in their user bases, says Mullins. The other option is to opt for HTML – which brings its own set of challenges in terms of tracking and interactivity.

“Smartphone platforms such as Apple’s iOS don’t support Flash, limiting options for cross-platform rich media content on the Web. And the fact that many browsers – especially on feature phones don’t support cookies or Javascript means that it can be hard to track users with traditional analytics tools. Around a third of mobile Web users can’t be tracked, “says Mullins.

The picture becomes even more complicated when users delete their devices’ default Web browser and install another.

HTML5 is often positioned as a possible solution, but Mullins believes it will not be a silver bullet. “Adobe and Flash will not disappear overnight. And HTML5 won’t help much to reach the large number of feature phones in the market,” he says.

Mullins says that content and analytics tools will mature in time, and it should become easier to deliver one set of engagement with one set of content for customers across multiple platforms and devices. But until then, marketers will need to make some difficult choices about where and how to invest in the mobile market.