The number of people using the fastest growing technology known to man (faster than radio in the 20s, TV in the 50s and the Internet in the 90s) is starting to plateau. We’ve all got mobile phones! Ok almost all – emerging markets are still ramping up to 100% penetration of handsets per head of population. That said, with almost ubiquitous global take-up of a device led form of communication, as with TV, one might expect the associated advertising practices to have become routine. Marketing over mobile however, mainly due to the myriad of competing networks, device manufacturers and software platforms, is far from standardised.

Just 3 years ago, record companies were installing Bluetooth transmitters in concert venues and beaming promotional offers to music fans mobile phones, safe in the knowledge that they would reach around 50% of the audience. Google, via its Android mobile operating system and good old Apple with iOS soon put a stop to this practice by disabling the one-to-many proximity marketing functionality that Bluetooth technology afforded ‘back in the day’. They updated their respective mobile operating systems so that people have to agree to accept a message from the sender before getting the message – not exactly Snapchat! This made Bluetooth marketing too clunky for the instant gratification commanded by out of home consumers.

Apple iBeacon (Based on the same technology as Bluetooth)

I’ve been experimenting with Airdrop, which along with ‘iBeacon‘ may go some way to redress Bluetooth’s proximity marketing utility. Apple’s ‘iBeacon’ is an Apple trademark and API enabling developers to access Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology in its products, not a physical Apple device (note Apple’s surreptitious claim and re-branding of Bluetooth technology). Manufacturers with the know-how can make physical cross-platform ‘Beacons’. Their potential is greatly increased as these ‘Beacons’ represent a bridge from the ‘walled garden’ approach to technology that we are used to from Apple, in that they are built to transmit to both Apple and non-Apple, Android powered devices that can be paired with Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology. NFC, in turn, is the non-Apple wizardry that allows people to act upon integrated offers and ‘transact’ by bumping an enabled handset or smartwatch on a nearby thing (product, turnstile, pay-point, lanyard, etc) that also has an NFC chip or ‘tag’ embedded. Whilst they have a key roles, most notably in-store, Airdrop and (i)Beacons* do however require people to be within the proximity of specially installed transmitters and to agree to accept push messaging.

Proximity Privacy ‘Opt-in’ Settings (image credit: Beekn)

All this amounts to lots of gadgetry and careful campaign curation being required to make the two chime and deliver potential rewards. One enduring and much more ubiquitous technology however, that has so far remained outside the control of the Google-Apple mobile operating system monopoly, is the humble text message.

Texting is a significantly different messaging format because:

A. You don’t need a smartphone to access a text (so it’s accessible to almost everyone)

B. Whilst they may lead you there, text messages are not transmitted over the web**

C: You don’t necessarily need people to be registered with your company or service, or even know their mobile number, in order to reach them with a text message

These differences combine to offer marketers unique opportunities.

With mobile marketing in general context is everything. Consideration of time of day, location and activity should always inform the content of the message in order to make it as relevant as possible to the recipients’ situation. Sometimes we have some of this data but in the majority of cases, rarely an accurate location. Mobile networks can and do offer this, legally and securely to third parties, pinpointing individual mobile signals to within a 300m radius of a specific location – handy if you own a venue, store or restaurant that you’d like folk to visit. Moreover, for a modest fee, mobile networks can send your carefully tailored call to action to people who enter a specified area surrounding your establishment, a practice known as Geofencing. I’m not saying this makes text massaging more or less valuable overall than other communications methods, just that when you want an audience to connect with you based on their location, SMS is an alternative, often overlooked or mismanaged method of creating a perfectly placed call to action.

Example location based message inviting people at the 2013 Royal Windsor Horse Show to explore the #NewRangeRoverSport

There are as many claims of unrivaled return on investment from mobile marketing as there are of wasted marketing budgets. In that respect mobile is no different from other channels. To my mind however, as brands reconcile their marketing strategies with the real-time behaviours of increasingly connected communities, a technology that is independent of the internet and captures people both in and out of home in such a direct way, should be an essential consideration in the planning of any integrated campaign.

* Since Apple coined the term ‘iBeacon’, it is frequently used generically to describe physical Bluetooth beacon transmitters. One assumes Apple are comfortable with this so long as products marketed as iBeacons include iOS 7 and above device detection. At the time of writing, whilst there are several cross-platform products as I’ve described marketed as iBeacons, I can’t find any published cases of infringement of Apple’s iBeacon trademark.

** If you are familiar with mobile network infrastructure and aware that some network interconnect agreements do in fact utilise internet points of presence to enable the transmission of cross-network or cross-platform mobile messaging traffic over the web, you have my deepest sympathy.

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I set up Who'd of Thought It in 2010, as a blog and place to share and develop ideas. 

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