Is Mobile Marketing Ready for Small Business?

By John Joyce on 25 March 2011 (Updated 19 April 2011) 0 comments

This question is reminiscent of the discussions many of us had 10+ years ago when business owners were contemplating whether or not they needed a website. In hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see that Bill Gates’ vision of “a PC in every home and in every business” has been realized and online search is now universally available.

So, before you ponder the merits of mobile marketing and your specific business goals, let’s first take a look at evolving online marketing tactics and the associated opportunity cost of excluding mobile from your strategy.

Great Expectations

Pundits have been predicting “The Year of Mobile Advertising” as far back as 2000, but the always impending explosion has never really come to fruition. This has been due to several complexities of the technology, as well as a lack of knowledge and expertise among small business owners. There is, however, good reason to believe that we’re on the verge of remarkable growth in mobile marketing, for real this time:

  • A recent post over at Motomessage notes that “Mobile marketing ad spending will continue to explode in the next 5 years. In 2011, eMarketer predicts spending on text message marketing, mobile banners, video and other mobile based media to crack the One Billion dollar mark.”
  • The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) announced recently that the number of cell phone subscriptions worldwide has passed the five billion mark;
  • 9 out of every 10 people in the United States subscribes to some sort of mobile plan, with children now more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. (85% of kids owning a phone as to 73% owning books);
  • The published numbers vary, but 10% - 30% of all online searches now originate from a mobile device.

Perception vs. Reality

A study released last month by Network Solutions, LLC and the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business echoed the sentiment that small business owners don’t feel confident in developing and deploying a mobile marketing strategy. “The State of Small Business Report - January 2011 Survey of Small Business Success” uncovered these details about small business attitudes toward the new medium :

Mobile marketing is still cutting-edge. Despite their use of mobile devices for routine interactions with social media, small businesses are skeptical that a broader use of mobile marketing can provide tangible value to their businesses right now. Most owners consider mobile marketing to be “ahead of its time” (24 percent) for small business or “cutting edge” (36 percent). Only 15 percent of small business owners believe that mobile marketing would be “extremely” or “very valuable” to their enterprise, and another 20 percent feel it would be “somewhat” valuable. This attitude is largely unchanged after owners hear more about detailed uses of mobile marketing.

Mobile marketing consists of a range of activities like texting information on promotions to customers, listing a business on a location based website, creating a mobile site, creating a mobile application, and advertising on mobile sites. The majority of owners are aware of each of these activities, but few use them or consider them valuable. The most relevant mobile marketing activity is listing a business on a location-based website. Almost half (48 percent) of owners consider this to be at least somewhat valuable to their business; 19 percent have already done this while 33 percent will have done so in two years if owners carry out their plans.

Mobile marketing is an effective if not necessary tool for local businesses vying for the attention of a limited pool of prospective customers. Assuming you have a website, you’re already engaged in mobile marketing whether you’ve developed a mobile strategy or not. The bad news is that your website probably isn’t optimized for mobile platforms and, based on the numbers above, as many as 30% of your site visitors are unable to productively interact with your business. Regardless of your perceived value of mobile marketing, you can’t afford to alienate one third of your prospective customers.

Short Term Strategy

Your first order of business is to test the effectiveness of your website when being browsed from a mobile device which can be done fairly easily with various free tools such as:

Once you’ve “fixed” your online presence to include road warriors and mobile-only prospects, you have at least bought yourself some time to evaluate your options for deploying more proactive mobile marketing programs. There are plenty of free guides and white papers available online as well as books like The Mobile Marketing Handbook by Kim Dushinski.

Recently Apple CEO Steve Jobs let slip his vision of the future direction of his company – they would lead us out of Bill Gates' world and into a "post PC" world. In that future, mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets will supplant the PC as the ubiquitous computing (and Internet-connecting) devices. So don’t be afraid to wade slowly into the mobile marketing waters and leverage a platform that will eventually become the preferred method by which prospective customers will reach out to you – and you to them.

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