Mobile Goes Grassroots

I get my share of social and digital media newsletters to keep pace with the rapid advances of online communication. Most of the discussion these days is about the move to mobile. This month, Forrester, the pre-eminent online research group, predicted mobile shopping, known as “m-commerce” will hit the $6 billion mark this year and grow to $31 million in five years. While the story gives retailers insights for directing their marketing efforts in the future, there is little to advise nonprofit and government communicators about strategic directions. However, the report does point to expanded use of smart phones. That alone is something all communications experts can use to get the best mix in future marketing communications campaigns. That has not always been the case for mobile.

Two years ago, mobile marketers had few case studies to promote for social marketing. Advertisers experimented with mobile for their clients who could afford it and whose target audiences—primarily working professionals at the upper-middle income strata–used smart phones more than free phones. But times are not just changing, they’re moving at warp speed when it comes to mobile. No longer do the major wireless giants, Sprint and Verizon, have a monopoly on the spectrum wavelengths on which ring tones and millions of conversations ride. Upstarts like Cricket and other low-cost carriers are leveling the monthly payment field to allow poorer people to afford smart phones and the access to instant information they provide.

That is music to my ears, given the needs of budget-conscious, but underserved audiences I have sought to influence in the sectors of health, education and welfare. When Cricket advertises a $50 monthly payment plan for Internet access, texts and more, the masses have arrived in smart phone heaven. Even middle-income professionals should pause to reconsider they’re carriers after racking up wireless phone charges that look like car notes. Low-cost wireless carriers clearly recognize that “underserved” does not mean under- motivated to participate in as much of the American-turned Global “Tech” Dream as they can muster. Evidence points to both the Pew Center for Media Research and Arbitron research about Hispanics and African-Americans, being early adopters of new technology and particularly heavy users of mobile. The latest data should clearly point social marketers to the need to get moving on the mobile informing tip when putting together plans for multi-cultural and underserved outreach.

So thumbs-up to Baltimore Harbor Hospital’s communications team for tapping upstart mobile advertising company Mobilozophy, a Tampa-based company with offices in Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., and Chicago, to help reach residents within their closest zipcodes by using mobile advertising. Using mobile banner ads, SMS (text responses) and “call now” options, Harbor Hospital and Mobilozophy were able to demonstrate to nearby potential customers they were just a phone call away in a medical emergency. In other words, the hospital was sending the message that it welcomes mobile phone users making a personal plea, such as “I’m sick and I’m calling ahead to the emergency room.” Whether you’ll ever need such a service or whether wait times at Harbor or any inner-city hospital will be favorable is another story. The point is Baltimore Harbor Hospital made its closest potential customers know they wanted to be engaged, that they cared about being engaged. That’s the stuff of powerful branding in a city where the poverty level is among the highest in the nation.

If Baltimore is doing it, why not other urban centers where grassroots marketers are looking to influence behaviors of smart phone users? Mobilozophy is trying to answer that question with out-of-the-box mobile ad strategy, customer support and pricing packages that meet target audiences and clients where they are. They are backed up by low-cost (with the exception of reported phantom cell phone fees the Federal Communications Commission is investigating) wireless companies (as in Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS) that are putting handheld computing on cell phones within reach of an important critical mass—the working poor.

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Social Media Niche Management

Niche Knowledge

Fall 2010 may go down in digital media history as a major turning point in the mass media landscape. Searching online and separately noting today’s Washington Women in PR’s luncheon speaker insights about the use of social media as integral to marketing strategy brought back memories of the “dialectic” theory of historical events. The theory requires that major historical trends interact with “visionaries” or “individual actors” who understand and capitalize upon these trends to transform society, conventional thinking or business practices.

Dialectic theory seemed to emerge this week with the occurrence of two events–a presentation and a conference. Ironically, the sources of our knowledge are so technology-centered and diverse that many of us flock to “live” presentations to help us digest and sort out our Information Age overload. That’s exactly what was so powerful about Webb Media Group’s tech talk for Washington Women in PR over lunch today. In about an hour, WG’s Principal Amy Webb creatively outlined how marketing/PR executives could better sort out how to use social media applications for audience engagement, brand awareness and customer conversion.

Three focal points helped simplify Webb’s message for both novice and experienced social media marketers. The first was function, that is, what “utility” does a social media application perform? Webb identified seven social media platform trends that provide utilitarian niches for marketers to customize for specific campaign or communications analysis needs.

Her other focal points were strategic in nature: Are communicators engaging target audiences by using social media in ways that are habit-forming/effective and comprehensive?

As Amy posed those questions in Washington, digital media marketing executives in Boston presented case studies about products and causes that answered the questions raised in Washington. But they also posed new ones, about social media marketing and metrics, the next generation of digital marketers and more.

The two meetings clearly show that the so-called “changing media landscape” has reached the tipping point. The Brave New World of Digital Communications is our reality. Clearly, it’s a world in which–through social media–the individual can wield as much power (and sometimes more) as the amorphous brand. As communicators in uncharted territory, our best bet is making sure we understand social media and how to deploy it for our clients’ best advantage.

QR-code: Just because it’s cool?

QR codes, or Quick Response codes, admittedly were hardly on my radar six months ago. But it only took seeing one of the pixelized codes on the back of a Google sales executive’s business card during a recent convention to make me re-visit it as a marketing tool. Communications World published an article about the increasing popularity and uses of the codes in March. But I had not seen them in use first-hand until the small business convention and the direct mail insert I received from a local printing company. That was enough to send me searching for more information about the QR codes and how they can be used in a marketing campaign.

The first reason I consider using new technology is simply because I believe in innovation. New translates to being forward-thinking and creative. Trends, however, come and go. It is important for marketing communication strategists to analyze how we use new technology before we put it in our marketing mix for a client or cause.

Part of the analysis process for integrating new technology puts audience needs at center stage. With QR codes, your audience must have a cell phone with a camera to translate the embedded link or message to the phone. Most people have cameras in their phones, but not everyone. The World Edition of some Blackberrys have no cameras. Of those who have camera phones, how many of them have data packages to access the Internet or check their SMS messages? In considering whether to use Quick Response Codes in a marketing campaign, here are three audience filters I would use before putting them into play.

Is the audience high-technology savvy? If the answer is yes, the audience might be good candidates for offering QR codes as an information dissemination tool.

Are the end users in need of updated or rapidly changing information from a sole source with unique information for their needs? Two scenarios come to mind. In the first, the audience is comprised of air travelers who have boarding passes for a flight. They can capture the QR before leaving for the airport to find out if a flight is cancelled or on time. In the other case, a coupon update for a fast food chain might be worth checking to see if the latest is available for download. In this case, the customer may have an outdated coupon for one offering, but the coupon has a QR that when captured, provides the current coupon of the week or period.

The last filter is audience interaction. Is the audience confined to a small area or group gathering, such as a convention or spread out in rural homes? While QR codes have been used in both instances of audience interaction, their use must be tailored for the group dynamics of the intended audience. At a convention, the sharing of contact information through use of QR codes is fueled by the conversation among a tight-knit group. In a rural area, instructions may have to be spelled out about how to use the QR codes and why.

Based upon my own filter analysis, I believe the Webcomic community that I am helping a client reach might be perfect for QR codes. Comics fans pass at least two of the three filters because they tend to be tech-savvy, and they gather in book stores tailored for comics (or go to comics conventions). Posters and post cards promoting the Webcomic could use QR-codes to drive users to the client’s Web site instantly with the click of a camera. Will they deliver? Stay tuned.

A quick study on QR-codes can be found at http://www.scanlife.com/us/faq-landing.html.

Social Media, No Small Business

National Small Business Week Logo

Cynical readers would be correct to retort under their breath “no kidding” about the widely known fact that social media is no small business. After all, this was the week Time magazine put Facebook center stage with its in-depth look at the mega social media platform’s privacy transgressions. But my focus this Tuesday was the Social Media Forum at the National Small Business Week Conference at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest DC. I went because I always learn some new insight when I attend these free social media forums and webinars. Besides that, I believed that I might gain new insights that could assist with a start-up Webcomics website marketing plan that primarily uses social media to create buzz before its launch this summer. The panel and the small businesses in the audience delivered much more than expected.

Here are the social media insights for marketing small businesses I mined from the forum’s panel:

Think of social media investments to gain customer loyalty and promote transparency in terms of not just ROI, but ROTI (return on time invested.)” –Brian Moran, President, Veracle Media, and moderator for the forum

The bricks to clicks social media platform Yelp is the preferred social media platform for most retail businesses across the country. Businesses on average are spending about $3.60 per fan a year with Yelp.
-–Luther Lowe, business outreach manager for Yelp

Don’t just leave it to the interns. They may not know any more than you do. There was much discussion from the panel and audience about assuming that social media is a young professional’s province. Rather, the consensus was that social media marketing success requires a progressive learning curve from anyone who embraces it, at any age. Social media should be managed as part of a small business’ overall strategic marketing mix. This resonated, especially given anecdotal testimony from one company that adopting social media helped grow business by 30 percent.

Intuit is researching cloud analytics and integration into business ledgers. That means Intuit may soon help businesses analyze how much direct revenue comes as a result of email and other social media campaigns, according to panelist Angus Thomson, head of Intuit’s new social media division. Intuit’s entry into the business analytics side of social media portends social media’s share of the business marketing mix could be huge in short order. (Another sign: Microsoft’s big footprint, integrating social media into Outlook 2010.)

Young consumers are more tolerant of interruptions. That research tidbit from Small Business columnist Rieva Lesonsky indicates online entertainment businesses (like my client’s) may find success with intermittent ads and/or donation offers, especially among younger fans accustomed to mobile communication venues.

Outside of these social media info nuggets, small businesses made clear most are struggling to survive and keenly exploring how creatively they can use the new network of platforms that encompass social media to pull them through.