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How the Mobile Decade will change marketing, media and commerce

The nation stands today at a pivotal point where mobile will soon infuse every marketing, media and retail decision just as the Internet did in the last ten years. The Mobile Decade is upon us.

Marketers have only to look around this country and see the one thing that consumers today cannot be parted from: their mobile phone. And that device, as the decade wears on, will become the interface between consumer and society.

Are all stakeholders in this economy geared for the major changes down the road? Those who are prepared are already in some version of Mobile 2.0 with their marketing plans. Those who aren?t need some more validation before committing time, people and budget to adding mobile to the mix.

Of this all can be certain: mobile will democratize every institution just as the Internet did. It will enhance the value of marketing, content and commerce for some and cut the margins in others.

In other words, mobile will level the playing field, empowering consumers even more with information that shifts the balance of power even further away from the marketer.

How will this likely play out for marketers?

Brand knew
More consumers will rely on their mobile media to tap into news, information, shopping and entertainment. Brands who seek to maintain their edge in this decade will have to roll out 360-degree marketing plans that include mobile advertising on key sites.

In addition, they will have to debut mobile-friendly sites and mobile applications to enable an easy, user-friendly two-way communication with their target audience.

Brands will also need a strong SMS program to reach out to consumers who choose that medium along with email as their two primary choices for direct marketing. SMS will complement email in loyalty marketing efforts and, equally important, drive traffic to offline channels including retail stores.

Brands cannot afford to be locked out of a mobile relationship with customers and prospects. The alternative is to wish upon themselves the same fate that befell those brands who were stubborn to the attractions ? and necessity ? of an effective Internet presence in the early- to mid-2000s.

Ad agencies, for their part, cannot shelter under lack of education, complexity or inadequacy of metrics any much longer.

It?s been two-and-a-half years since the launch of the Web-friendly Apple iPhone. More than 100,000 iPhone applications are available. Consumers are smart. They get it. That?s why the Motorola Droid was the hit of 2009. That?s why Android has rapidly scaled up to more than 17,000 applications. That?s why BlackBerrys are as popular as they have ever been.

Sure, smartphones still account for only one-fifth of all mobile subscriptions. But, if some researchers are right, the market is only two to three years away from a point where as many smartphones will be in subscriber hands as basic feature phones.

That tipping point ? when smartphones gain majority acceptance ? will become the giant sucking sound of marketing.

Agencies cannot afford anymore to ignore this reality ? that mobile is rapidly becoming a critical-mass marketing medium, albeit with margins that are nowhere near print or television.

Indeed, agencies will have to restructure themselves financially ? lean, mean and with the same sheen.

On the creative front, it?s time copywriters were taught how to pen copy in 160 characters or six-word headlines on tiny screens. How to be creative and yet get to the point ? that?s the dilemma copy folks and art directors will have to face.

As for the account management teams at agencies? Better get used to pitching mobile to the clients and writing briefs that understand what mobile is all about: relationship marketing.

Mobile will not come at the expense of TV or radio or other older media. But advertisers will soon discover that mobile media are as efficient, if not more, in attracting and retaining customers.

Medium is the message
Media, the third pod in the marketing tripod, may have the least time before Mobile 2.0 hits in earnest. If the wired Web has cannibalized print media and not returned ad revenues anywhere near old media?s, then mobile will simply compound that mess.

The media world is about to come to a fork in the road: Either stick to an advertising-supported, free-access model or erect subscription walls to charge consumers for reading on mobile sites and applications.

The history of paid media isn?t good. Bar a few newspapers and magazines that can charge because their content is highly unique, most publications cannot afford to lose traffic over walls that may drive readers elsewhere.

Charging for mobile content will only work if content on the wired Web is also gated. Yes, consumers are conditioned to paying for content on mobile. However, for most consumers, news is not the same thing as content. News has become a commodity. Readers will only pay if the news is viewed as a brand. And that, in this 24-hour news-cycle, is highly improbable.

Which leaves the other possibility as the one to bet the house on: advertising-supported media.

Publishers will have to work double-duty to ensure that advertisers are offered media plans that include all formats ? print, online, broadcast and mobile.

That said, it is a shame to visit sites of noted publishers and see wasted advertising opportunities. Get a big brand to taste mobile. Give a free month-long trial to new advertisers. Let them experience the power of mobile. And work with them to tailor appropriate messages that resonate with an on-the-go mindset. Simply repurposing online ads for mobile won?t cut the mustard.

Make the buy
As for retailers, mobile?s benefit is obvious: driving traffic to stores or call centers. Check this writer?s article today on Mobile Commerce Daily at It explains the mobile prerogative for retailers. Mobile commerce will change the face of retail as we know it.

Now all of these developments hinge on a few factors.

First, wireless carriers will continue to support new Web-friendly smartphones with affordable data plans and upgrade networks to handle increased bandwidth demands. Next, that consumers are sufficiently convinced of the wider benefits and security of relating with brands through mobile. Finally, that marketers stretch to acknowledge mobile's strengths.

Either way, welcome to the Mobile Decade. Make it memorable for getting things right at the outset. Consumers want to talk. Listen.