Fearful of creating a massive consumer backlash, US mobile carriers are cautiously building standards for direct marketing and "customer engagement" on the handset, reports Kirk Laughlin
Big name consumer giants like Pepsi, Nike, Lufthansa and Coca-Cola see the mobile platform as the last great frontier to put their products directly in front of buyers, at the right time and the right place.
Brand marketers are especially excited because the inherent characteristics and features of mobility - things like contextualisation, preference, location and interactivity - combine to make mobility a potent way to cultivate brand awareness and affinity.
“We truly believe that mobile is a must in the marketing mix and represents a great revolution in engaging with customers,” Ugur Oglu, marketing director at Pepsi recently commented.
While commercial interests argue that mobile marketing will add to the mobile experience, consumer groups have condemned many mobile marketing practices as invasions of privacy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said it is closely monitoring the behaviour of marketers, especially with regard to the way they promote services to more "vulnerable" young users. Privacy groups charge that consumers need to be made fully aware of the conditions around opting-in, which may well include releasing user profile information.
Carriers uniformly anticipate major windfalls from the mobile marketing boom.
But, at the same time, they are being especially cautious around first defining the line between appropriate and inappropriate solicitation and – more directly – how to actually define mobile spam.
“On the mobile device, people have a lower tolerance for spam than they do anywhere else, and they often have to pay for messages," Mike Wehrs, president and CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), recently said.
For those reasons, the association representing wireless providers in the US, the CTIA, as well as the Mobile Marketing Association are working to develop a set of best practices which will create frameworks around mobile couponing, advertising and other promotional programs. The framework is scheduled for completion later this year. Although Forrester Research and the MMA have already developed a set of industry guidelines, the current work between the CTIA and MMA is seen as a further way to codify input from carriers.
A Forrester study from two years ago found that 79 per cent of consumers regard the idea of mobile ads as annoying. But Forrester analysts also noted that there is a growing acceptance of mobile advertising as long as it offers perceived value to the end user. On the carrier side, AT&T has already taken steps to enable customers to block unwanted text messages and short codes.
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