Friday, February 19, 2010

On Marketing Through Digital Signs

We’ve been in the mobile marketing game here at Unwired Appeal since 2003. Way back then, mobile marketing usually meant text alerts, or if we had a really daring client, a text trivia game. The challenges were 1) interoperability between carriers, and 2) educating agencies regarding what text messaging was and how it could help engage an audience.

Today the carriers have figured out how to play nice with each other (usually), and we no longer have to educate agencies regarding the value of mobile marketing. Marketeers and agencies know that mobile was one of the only areas of marketing growth in 2009. As such we do plenty of business with text trivia, text polls, text-to-win, etc. But another medium seems to be getting more and more attention from our customers: mobile interaction with digital screens. I wrote a bit about one of our first digital screen integrations in last week’s post about the BBC screen. So text-to-screen, or Digital Out of Home (DOOH) integration seems to be a growth market, and one in which we are devoting more and more time and resources. Beyond the obvious revenue implications, however, the integration of mobile marketing with large, outdoor, digital screens is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

Up until a couple of years ago, I thought the main reason mobile marketing was effective was it allowed marketers to target customers individually. Whether your customer read “Maxim” or “Better Homes and Gardens”, if you were good you knew where your target demographic was and when they wanted/needed to be contacted. The whole “reach your customers where and when they want to be reached, rather than shouting indiscriminately from the rooftop” approach works. We’ve seen it tracked and we see how the coupon redemption rates are better for mobile coupons than they are for print coupons. And yet, ironically, or maybe precisely *because* it was so easy to personalize messages for individual demographics, there was something impersonal about the mobile marketing medium. When you get *too* good at targetting, you message never crosses the chasm between cliques or demographics. A Better Homes and Garden add, for example, might be seen by a 20 something male in a doctor’s office, or by an onlooker on a crowded train. But rarely, if ever, does someone other than me or maybe my closest friend see a text message that is sent to my mobile phone. If we think about marketing to consumers as unique sets of individual customers, we also somehow lose the sense of the melting pot as marketing becomes more and more individualized. Is there common ground between the Maxim readers and the “Better Homes and Gardens” readers? Marketers don'tt care – or don’t need to care, because they could tailor their messages to appeal to both groups, separately. As this type of marketing becomes more and more effective, perhaps society loses common ground. At the risk of stretching my analogy a bit to far, maybe the effectiveness of Obama’s campaign (AdAge's "Marketer of the Year") actually contributed to the rise of the Tea Party movement. Obama’s campaign became so effective at targeting their “fans” that they never had to or never tried to appeal to the far right. The right thus was in a vacuum and was further radicalized. In a commercial, ROI sense, synergies between potential customers and fans are lost.

Into this fragmented market, enter mobile integration with the digital screen. When campaigns like the Intel “You on Tomorrow” (Unwired Appeal provided the SMS service)
appear in Times Square, they suddenly engage customers across demographic boundaries. In the "You on Tomorrow" campaign, we asked pedestrians viewing screens to text the answer to the question: "What do you want the future to bring". The only common demographic in Intel’s case was that the person interacting with the screen happened to be in Times Square or Berlin. If a 20 something Gen Y'er saw a suit looking up at a screen with a phone is his hand, he/she might be tempted to look up as well. Suddenly people in different target groups are interacting with the same sign. For the Intel campaign we received text messages from the USA and Germany. When we integrated with the Intel's microsites on the web, we received web messages from dozens of different countries, moderated them, and displayed them within minutes. The digital screen, in this case, acted as a unifier.

In a world of individualized messages for individual audiences, creating something that brought a cross section of communications of people together felt good.

In the end, our clients, and our client’s customers, seem happier for it as well.

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