The advertising economy in mobile, part 3: Five Commandments of Mobile Advertising and Promotion

In parts one and two of this three part series, I wrote about the mobile advertising economy’s smaller size, relative to TV and digital. I also shared views on why the mobile advertising economy lags its older siblings. In today’s post, I’ll offer some practical advice for those considering a leap into the mobile economy, which experience and common sense tell me will maximize your chances of succeeding.

Let me begin with an admission that comes from a friend of mine who works for one of the largest mobile ad networks in the world. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially he said, “No one has this figured out, and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they’re full of it.” He’s right, and this post won’t violate that observation.

Instead, I will propose some simple Do’s and Don’ts that may not represent a silver bullet, but still are likely to vastly improve your mobile strategy. I’ll call these the Five Commandments of Mobile Advertising and Promotion. Without further ado:

  1. Be useful: this was one of my grandmother’s favorite bits of advice. She favored people who had a coherent point of view, or a skill that enabled them to do things she appreciated. Mobile customers expect no less from anything that crosses their screens. Put yourself in their position. They are rushed. They are purposeful. Their daily calendars are chronically over-booked. If you choose to advertise via mobile, be useful to these people. That means offering something in clear, relevant, timely and preferably immediate ways.
  2. Do erect barriers between you and your customers: let’s say you’ve got something useful to offer. Do not place barriers between that offer and the consumer. Minimize the number of taps that separate a consumer from the offer. Build a user interface that makes it easy for a consumer to provide whatever is required to complete the transaction. Test that interface exhaustively and optimize it until it works perfectly, every time.
  3. Deliver without delay: if you’ve got an offer that works and a way for a consumer to express interest in that offer, you must deliver quickly or else explain why delivery might take time. Buying a movie ticket should result in that ticket being delivered in seconds, not minutes. Purchasing a toy for your niece should result in an immediate acknowledgement, delivered by email or text message. These things may sound basic, but they warrant reminding. I have relatives who still don’t buy anything online because they’re afraid of fraud. Even savvy mobile users worry about their data disappearing into the ether. The way to build their trust is to be responsive, to deliver the goods before they have the time to notice that they’re inconvenienced or worried.
  4. Do not rely purely on your past experience with digital advertising: it’s tempting to look to fixed internet digital advertising for guidance on mobile strategy. After all, the screens are just a bit smaller, the websites more compact, so a strategy of size reduction seems safe. It isn’t, and there are several reasons why. Mobile devices are portable and can know your location down to the meter. Combining location information and time of day opens permits an advertiser to deliver creative with the potential for razor sharp relevance. Users also use their fixed internet and mobile screens differently. On larger screens, indulging in longer form content makes sense and can be enjoyable. On smaller screens, we often don’t have time for such things and can’t imagine straining our eyes even if we did. In short, we need to decouple mobile from its fixed web counterpart.
  5. Get it right, right away: the rise of fixed internet gave birth to what’s called “beta culture.” Its adherents use the term to promote a fearless approach to trying, failing, and trying again. There is something comforting about this philosophy because some of us can be capable of great achievement when we do not worry about failure. In the world of mobile advertising, though, banish beta culture from your vocabulary. Given the intimacy and immediacy of mobile and the pervasive mistrust users have of advertisers who would exploit it, there is no margin for error. This does not mean leaving success to chance. Advertisers should rigorously test the entire mobile consumer journey, including the creative, back-end, user interface, data security, transaction fulfillment, and more. Just don’t test them in the real world. A mistake could permanently damage your brand.

We in the industry are obligated to find ways for the mobile economy to grow, if only for the purpose of self-preservation. Our jobs depend on it. With that in mind, there you have my Five Commandments for mobile advertisers. Though they may not guarantee success, I can say from experience that observing them can help you avoid potentially costly mistakes.

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