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AndroidWho Among Us Can Argue with the Time-Tested Wisdom Of “Whoever Denied It, Supplies It?”

There are few gadgets, mobile or otherwise, more eagerly anticipated than the release of the world’s first handset running on Google’s Android operating system.

So when leaked details from HTC’s upcoming Android handset hit the web late last week many were quick to take notice. The handset, dubbed “Dream” by HTC’s Philip K. Dick-loving creative team, includes “a large touchscreen and a full (flip/slide out) QWERTY keypad,” this according to Infoworld. According to an unidentified source “close to the situation” the “HTC’s Google handset is just over 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a keypad underneath the screen that either slides out or swivels out… Internet navigational controls are situated below the screen on the handset.”

The source claims that “the handset will likely hit the market near the end of this year” and that the handset may be the first “Google Android” phone on the market. HTC would not comment on any specific details of the handset, other than to confirm its existence.

The HTC “news” comes on the heels of a string of related Android-related rumors of variable accuracy. Back in January Dell was rumored to be working on the world’s first Android phone that many speculated would be announced in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress the following month. This rumor ultimately turned out to be false, as not only did Dell officially deny any such handset or future Android-related products were in development, but it was also a no-show at 3GSM.

Not to be left out, serious rumors began swirling around Samsung’s Android designs following a Robert X. Cringley post claiming that the Korean handset manufacturer would be releasing two Google-branded Android handsets in 2008; a high-end model in September and a lower-end device around the holidays. Cringley also cites an unnamed person (“you know who you are”) as the source behind the leaked information, who goes on to claim that “both [devices] will include WiFi… The high-end phone will look somewhat like a Blackberry Pearl, but the screen flips up and there is a keyboard for texting. No word on pricing for the high-end phone, but the second model is intended to be less than $100 — AFTER Christmas.” The post identifies both T-Mobile USA and Verizon as potential carrier partners.

We find it curious that the Samsung handset described by Cringley is eerily similar to the leaked details of HTC Dream (including the swing out QWERTY keyboard), perhaps giving more credence to the adage “Whoever Smelt it, Dealt it.” Regardless, mobilestance.com will continue its Android Watch series until an actual sighting appears in the wild. In the meantime, please send us any unsubstantiated rumors, gossip or just pure speculation relating to what will likely be the biggest moment in mobile for 2008: Day one of the Android Invasion.

 

 

sxsw-2008-groundhog-day-mobilestance.jpgIf this year’s SXSW is any guide, we all may have to wait a little while longer before the arrival of Springtime for mobile marketing.

SXSW. Four letters that have come to stand for authenticity, innovation, and unrequited cool.

Yet unlike last year’s festival, mobility and mobile marketing at this year’s show seemed content with recycled tactics pioneered at other festivals, some of which are now more than three years old.

On the consumer facing-side of the festival, ringtones, SMS mobs, giveaways, mobile blogging and the ubiquitous “mobile festival guides” ruled the day, while the mobile-related panels at the industry-focused SBSX Interactive Festival seemed equally content with sales-heavy “forums” and other the conference mainstays.

Mobile marketing-related festival highlights are as follows:

  • Festival Guides. Several SMS and mobile web-based apps provided attendees with a “mobile guide” to the countless panels, parties, performances and film premieres punctuating the hipster-friendly event. eZee, creator of WebClip2Go, created the most robust of the mobile show guides in their “SXSW Interactive Companion” mobile-web service, aggregating numerous show-related feeds into an easy-to-navigate festival portal. Other notable mobile show guides included SXSW’s official mobile site, sxsw.mobi (including a version formatted for iPhone), and an impressive offering of SMS alerts, indexed by close to thirty keywords correlating to specific festival topics such as “musicparties”, “pizza” and “wifi.”
  • Mobile Marketing. As if the above mobile festival guides weren’t enough, Toyota and Urban Outfitters also offered SMS show alerts as a compliment to their sponsorship of “Free Yr Radio”, which touted itself as “an online resource to make your SXSW 2008 better than ever.” An online promotion also featured a “Win YR Way to SXSW 2008” sweepstakes, as well as an online form to sign up for mobile alerts from Toyota and Urban Outfitters. An “Airport Pickups” service rounded out the Toyota sponsorship (a glamorous ride in a Toyota Yaris, no doubt).
  • Panel Sessions. There was no shortage of mobility-related talk at the SXSW Interactive Festival. Hats off to anyone willing to brave the hours of laborious sales pitches masquerading as info sessions in order to glean the occasional “key learning.” Mobile marketing-related panel topics included “Video Production for Mobile Devices” (Jason Meil, Sr VP, Current; David Todd, VP Content & Strateg, Eyespot; and Hank Blumenthal, Program Mgr of Emerg, Schematic), “Increase Revenue by Mobile-Enabling Your Services” (Shawn Bose, Director of Prod Strategy, uShip; C. Eric Smith, Pres, UnWired Nation Inc; and Bill Flitter, CEO, Pheedo Inc), “Mobile Media You Can Move To” (Michael Epstein (Founder, Untravel Media Inc; Silvia Vergani, Untravel Media), “Mobile Phones: International Devices of Mystery” (Nathan Eagle, Research Scientist, MIT; Jonathan Donner; Neil Churcher, Head of Design, Orange) and “Using Entertainment to Create Effective Mobile Advertising” (Adam Zbar, CEO, Zannel Inc, Lathan Hodge, Co-Founder, Rapstation; and Eric Eller, SVP Prod/Mktg, Millennial Media).
  • Awards. In the “11th Annual SXSW Web Awards” Mosio took the top prize in the “Sites optimized for handheld and portable devices” category, which is odd in that Mosio is a text message (rather than web)-based application. Similar to ChaCha, Misio features a human-powered search engine whereby helpful Netizens happily answer your mobile queries (this, unlike ChaCha, which utilizes paid human “search responders”).
  • Miscellaneous. Location-based mobile social network Loopt teamed up with Filter Creative Group to provide original, geo-specific editorial content to Loopt subscribers, this according to Fierce Wireless. The service “deliver[ed] real-time, location-based broadcasting from [SXSW]… Eight correspondents from Filter magazine provid[ed] location-specific mobile commentary to alert attendees to the most promising bands, events and parties.” Finally, Opera debuted version 9.5 of its mobile browser, releasing it at their “Rock Opera” party, an event which seemed to be noted more for its swag than for the software it was promoting. While cherished by some, it seems that at this pace Opera will finally be ready for mass use around the same time as full HTML-capable, cookie-supporting mobile browsers become commonplace (thus making Opera altogether obsolete)

Analysis: While unfortunately none of the aforementioned mobile applications (other than the Loopt piece) seemed to break any meaningful new ground in terms of functionality and consumer application, what is truly disappointing is the lack of innovation displayed by the festival’s sponsors with regard to their application of “mobile marketing.”

While giveaways and alerts have their place, how many “show guides” does a consumer really need? None of the mobile web applications referenced had any real mobile advertising component to speak of, other than “The Interactive Show Guide”, which gave a half-hearted mobile adverting effort in that it was running Google Mobile AdWords ads. Perhaps it was a simple lack of sales effort (or desire) on the part of the application developers to integrate marketing offerings from the festival’s sponsors (or competitive brands looking to ambush the show), but either way this was a real missed opportunity to extend actionable, relevant, branded messaging to festival attendees and fanboys alike.

mobilestance world of WAPcraft warcraft GFXThis week was marked by an extraordinary series of high profile Mobile Web developments… which, when viewed in aggregate, were seen by many as evidence that the nascent channel has finally reached an inflection point.

All three major areas of the mobile web “ecosystem” (carriers, publishers and advertisers) announced significant site launches, partnerships and traffic milestones, including several blue-chip advertisers and content publishers such as American Airlines, YouTube, Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, A&E and the New York Times.

Despite these encouraging developments, several notable marketplace events served to point out the shortcomings of the emerging mobile web space, including a reminder of a glaring limitation of the mobile web from a metrics and reporting standpoint, as well as accounts of a public tirade involving nearly the entire mobile value chain – from one of the mobile industry’s more prominent (and animated) executives.

A busy week in the World of WAPcraft to be sure… here’s some of the major highlights:

  • Carriers. Last week’s most significant Mobile Web development came from AT&T Mobility, who announced a strategic alliance with Yahoo! whereby the internet giant will begin serving ads on the carrier’s “MEdia Net” mobile portal. Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! and AT&T will divide up the on-deck advertising inventory for sale and/or for internal use. Additionally, AT&T ‘s yellowpages.com will now power local search on both AT&T’s Mobile and Wireline Web properties. AT&T has not yet announced when these changes will take affect.

    AT&T Mobility’s move follows earlier moves by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Collectively, the three carriers represent approximately 78% of the US mobile market. T-Mobile, the last of the “big four” US carriers without an on-deck mobile advertising play, has tied up with Yahoo! to serve ads on its UK “Web’n’Walk”mobile portal. Clearly the announcement from AT&T Mobility would inhibit T-Mobile’s ability to expand their Yahoo! relationship here in the US.

  • Publishers. This week witnessed an abundance of mobile website launches and/or relaunches from many of the larger content providers. YouTube announced the launch of its new Mobile Web site (m.youtube.com), as well as a new J2ME application (supported on Nokia 6110, 6120, E65, N73, N95 and Sony Ericsson k800 and w880). NBC announced the launch of 40 new WAP sites (as well as 3 new mobile video channels), including dedicated mobile web sites for NBC programs such as 30 Rock, ER, Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, ABC News announced that its mobile site (m.abcnews.com) would be providing “real time” US presidential election results, although Mobile Marketer reports that ABC refreshes its mobile website content [only] on an hourly basis.

    On the cable side, A&E Television announced the launch of mobile the A&E Network portal (mobile.aetv.com), as well as dedicated sites for The History Channel (mobile.history.com) and The Biography Channel (mobile.biography.com). The A&E mobile sites feature fairly standard mobile web fare, including “What’s on Tonight”, “Program Descriptions and Photos”, “Fan Polls and Trivia Games” and “Downloadable Wallpapers and Ring Tones.”

    Finally, moconews.net reported that the New York Times mobile website is now generating an average of 10MM page impressions per month, a 600% year-over-year traffic increase.

  • Advertisers. American Airlines announced the launch an extravagant new mobile web site that is sure to raise the bar for mobile websites in the airline category. The site utilizes a common URL approach (www.aa.com), which automatically redirects mobile users to device-appropriate site versions (although mobile users have the option of reverting to the full HTML site, an option that hopefully will soon become a standard feature on most mobile websites). Currently the AA.com mobile site features include the ability for users to “check in for a flight, view their itinerary, check schedules, check the status of their flights, get information on destinations, weather or airports and contact American Airlines.”

    Future AA.com mobile enhancements targeted for a Spring ’08 launch include the ability for users to “book flights, change their reservations, view fare specials, request upgrades and enroll in” American’s AAdvantage loyalty program. Additionally, the carrier states that “many pages also will be viewable in Spanish.”

  • Criticism. UK SEO provider AccuraCast cast a spotlight on Google’s inability to effectively track conversions generated from AdWords Mobile. The challenge faced by Google is that its ability to track conversions relies on either Java script (embedded on a publisher’s page) or tracking cookies – technologies not supported by most (if not all, in the case of Java) mobile web browsers. To its credit, Google acknowledges its system’s shortcomings, noting that “conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, cost-per-transaction and value/click are adjusted to reflect only those sites from which we can track conversions.”

    In lighter news, this week at the AlwaysOn Media event in New York City Cyriac Roeding, SVP of CBS mobile, unleashed a public rant against the complexity and inherent dysfunction of the mobile ecosystem. Apparently no one was spared from Teutonic executive’s assault on the mobile industry; From the carriers (there’s too many of them! lack of technology standards! too many pricing options! too many service packages! poor marketing!) to the publishers and handset manufacturers (poor usability! content poorly organized!) and even the advertisers themselves! (they don’t understand mobile or the value it brings!). While attendees reported that Mr. Reoding’s “marketplace observations” were greeted with wild applause, mobilestance finds it ironic that the current Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association Board of Directors would choose to publicly rebuke, ridicule and embarrass nearly all of the organization’s members.

Analysis: While development of the mobile web ecosystem seems to be accelerating, it remains to be seen if a critical mass has been achieved – both in terms of users – as well as content. Still, all the major players in the space (carriers, content publishers, and advertisers) are taking the necessary steps to advance the channel towards reaching the seemingly inevitable goal of mainstream use. That said, it is clear that several prominent hurdles (most notably usability issues such as UI and network speeds, as well as the inability to cookie most mobile devices) still stand in the way of large scale consumer adoption and commercial exploitation of the mobile web.

twimm-sm-copy.jpgLast week was punctuated by a steady stream of mobile marketing-related announcements, studies, partnerships and launches – some interesting, some not so much… and none of which truly worthy of a dedicated post.

Nevertheless, taken in aggregate these moves represent an ever-advancing industry, charging forward on the backs of the innovators, the followers, and the “never say hype” over-enthusiastic forecasters.

We give you then, the first of mobilestance.com’s “This Week in Mobile Marketing”

TWIMM: We read the domestic Mobile Marketing trades, studies, announcements and insane market forecasts… so you don’t have to!

  • Mobile Search. Nielsen Mobile (formerly Telephia) announced that “46 Million [US] Mobile Data Users Used Mobile Search Functions in Q3 2007.” But before you get all excited, keep in mind that “The most popular form of mobile search among data users in Q3 2007 was 411 (18.1 million users), followed closely by SMS (text-message) -based searching, which was used by 14.1 million data users during the same period.” Yep… the “big news” is that folks are mostly using mobile search to look up local phone numbers – not exactly a headline generating statistic. Still, “while local listings were the leading search objective in terms of users, (27.1 million data users searched for local listings in Q3 2007), 14.8 million said they searched for information such as sports scores, news or weather, while nearly a quarter (11.3 million) said they searched for mobile content.” Good news for SMS Ad Networks such as 4INFO . Notably absent from the announcement was any mention of WAP-based search offerings such as those by Google, Yahoo, Jumptap and the like – other than a brief mention that “61% of 411 search users are female, while 60% of WAP (or mobile web) search users are male.”
  • Meanwhile in related news, Nokia’s head of search Jussi Pekka Partanen simultaneously hyped local search while taking shots at Google, as reported moconews.net. At the the Visiongain mobile search conference in London last week the handset giant contended that mobile search will be more context-focused than the existing page rank-driven engines currently dominating the desktop search market. Nokia’s current “Nokia Search” product seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, combining web search with local (meaning: on the device) content search.
  • The Mobile Web. 40% of web publishers have launched mobile sites, with another 25% planing to do so in the next year, this according to Jupiter Research in a report entitled “Mobile web sites: Designing for mobility.” The number is somewhat misleading, insomuch as “this number… likely reflects mobile versions that consist of frames and offer a kludgy user interface,” or so says Mediapost. The report states that only 3% of the above mobile sites are “mobile advertising enabled” – in that they have the ability to optimize ad delivery based on whether the user is viewing the page via a mobile device (versus a PC). Mediapost also notes that up to 1/3 of these pages enable mobile commerce of some sort, such as “instant transactions and the ability to drive shoppers into nearby stores” – a fairly vague definition of mobile commerce to be sure.
  • Notable Mobile Website launches included a dedicated mobile version of FIM’s Photobucket (m.photobucket.com), Discovery Mobile’s new mobile portal (discoverymobile.com, which houses the all of Discovery Communications’ mobile sites, such as Discovery Channel Mobile, Animal Planet Mobile, and TLC Mobile), and USA.gov Mobile (http://mobile.usa.gov – which seems to be a fairly straightforward RSS fed Gov’t info formatted for mobile).
  • Mobile Content. The NBA announced that they are partnering with Turner to handle all of its mobile-related content offerings, this according to Fierce Mobile Content. Fierce reported that “the cable network will assume operational control of the league’s digital efforts, including its mobile and broadband businesses. The partnership, effective for the 2008-09 NBA season and continuing through the 2015-16 campaign, also calls for TBS to take over programming, marketing and technical operations of NBA TV, the league’s 24-hour digital television network, and host and operate the NBA.com Network, which includes the NBA.com, WNBA.com and NBADLeague.com websites. In addition, TBS will operate NBA League Pass, the league’s out-of-market game package. TBS, Inc. and the NBA will jointly sell advertising for all of the league’s digital assets.”
  • QR Codes. In a rare break from our “US Bias,” mobilestance.com continues to cover The Sun’s “Babe-Infused” QR Code efforts (UK). This week the Sun announced the results of its experiment with the promising mobile marketing technology. According to the Sun, the “new mobile content service has achieved early success with around 11,000 users registered so far.” Buoyed by these numbers, the tabloid plans on publishing “another pull-out (supplement in The Sun) to further inform people on how to use QR codes.”
  • Research-Driven Market Hype. The results of two “hypefull” Mobile Marketing studies were announced last week. The first was on Monday from ABI Research, who announced that “mobile marketing is expected to grow to over $24 billion worldwide in 2013, jumping from just $1.8 billion in 2007,” this according to the research firm’s study/product entitled “Mobile Marketing and Advertising” (retail price: $4500). The second came from Advertiser Perceptions, who reported on Wednesday that “26% [of advertisers] said they were currently using mobile, 20% said they planned to use it in the next six months, and 54% said they are not currently using mobile,” as reported by Ad Age. These numbers were based on surveys of “2,000 brand marketers and agencies” as part of their “Wave Eight” study that seems to cover both “hot” hand held media channels, such mobile video and search -as well as “not so hot” channels such as podcasting.
  • Miscellaneous News. The FCC launched a probe to “determine whether mobile phone text messages and short codes are covered by non-discrimination provisions of the telecom act,” this according to RCR Wireless News. The FCC move comes in wake of Verizon’s recent high-profile decision to block text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America – a decision it quickly reversed under pressure from from a successful grass-roots campaign the organization launched against the carrier. Finally, Steve Jobs announced an underwhelming firmware update to the iPhone at last week’s Macworld 2008. Among the updates included features that now allowing users to send group SMS messages (something I can do on my two year old RAZR) and the non-GPS-based “Blue Location BEacon” feature in Google Maps (something I’ve been able to do on my Blackberry since Google launched the service late last year). Baby steps, to be sure. Forget a 3G version… I’m still waiting for such standard “features” as Cut and Paste!

31849319-2-300-overview-11.gif Today at CES Yahoo! is planning on announcing that they are opening up their “Yahoo! Go” mobile application to third party developers, this according to the New York Times. The Times is reporting that MTV, eBay and MySpace have already created Yahoo! Go widgets that consumers can download either online or directly via the mobile application. Yahoo! Go has been ported to roughly 250 mobile devices, and comes preloaded on some phones made by Motorola, LG, Samsung and Nokia outside the US (domestic carriers force users to manually download and install the application prior to use, although this might change once device manufacturers start selling handsets directly to consumers).

Analysis: Yahoo!’s work on developing Go to a more mature platform is commendable. While the move does serve to further fragment the development environment for mobile (What, another new platform to write for? Better hire another developer!), the platform’s large (for mobile) install base of 250MM users worldwide will be attractive to major publishers and content brands (although some estimates confirm less than half of this base are actively using the application).

A no-brainer for Yahoo!, the move costs them little in oversight, while serving as a short-term defensive move against Google’s open Android platform. Ultimately the long term success of the play will hinge on the ease of developing third party widgets for Yahoo! Go, as well as any advantages that the development environment might afford (access to the address book? GPS data feed?). More on this as it develops.

mobilestance 2007 year in reviewThe slow news week after Christmas is notorious for the oft-derided “year in X” reports, but rather than take time exploring the value of such “Remembrance(s) of Things (less than a year) Past,” mobilestance.com would like to take the time to indulge in our own year end recap of the most notable US Mobile Marketing developments in 2007 (and yes, the illustration on the left depicts “Old Man 2007” knowingly handing an iPhone to “Baby New Year 2008”).

And what a year 2007 has been. Between the flurry of VC and M&A activity, the reality of a declining global ringtone market and the re-orgs that followed, the explosion of ad supported business models, growth in consumer use of key mobile data services, notable marketplace exits, divestitures and bankruptcies, new entrants in the wireless space (yes, I’m talking about Apple here), and the aggressive moves on the part of the internet portals (most notably Google, but also Yahoo and even AOL and IAC), 2007 may yet be remembered as the year mobile finally “happened” -much to the delight of the Business 2.0 crowd.

After reviewing the list please take a second and weigh in on what you feel was the most important Mobile Marketing event of ’07 by participating in the poll at the end of the piece. Also, since 2007 was such a busy year no doubt there’s plenty more that could be added to this list… that said feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add some additional insight or if you feel something crucial has been overlooked.

Thanks much… and now without further delay, mobilestance.com proudly presents “The 2007 US Mobile Marketing Game Changers.”

  1. Google Steps it up. Not content to merely sit on the sidelines and play by the rules set forth by the US carriers, the search giant spent much of 2007 re-writing the rules of the US wireless industry. With their conspicuous “open access” lobbying effort, leadership in the Open Handset Alliance, the launch of their open Android platform, and their plans to enter the upcoming 700 MHz US wireless spectrum auction has a legitimate player, Google has stirred the 2007 US wireless pot like no other single corporate entity. While it remains to be seen as what will ultimately come of its aggressive moves in the space (although it seems Google has single-handily forced the biggest hole to date in Verizon’s vaunted walled garden) , it is clear that Google is determined to usher in a far more flexible (read: marketer-friendly) US wireless marketplace… a market that will likely be a boon to innovative third party mobile application developers, hybridized business models, and – most importantly – accelerate consumer adoption of “beyond voice” mobile services.
  2. The Rise of MMS. 2007 was the year that US consumers finally got behind MMS in large numbers, exiting news for marketers not satisfied with the simple Joys of Text. In November of 2007 the MMA reported 33% of all US mobile phone users reporting monthly use of “Picture and/or Video Messaging” – that’s up dramatically from a paltry 16% in 2006. In the younger demographic segments the numbers are even more attractive, with monthly usage peaking in the 18-24 year old group at an astounding 55%. So what does this mean? Bottom line, now that MMS has reached critical mass in the US marketers are free to (finally) capitalize on the expanded interactive and multimedia prowess of the enhanced messaging channel. The possibilities are endless… everything from moblogging, MMS-based couponing, photo contests, video alerts, pattern recognition, html email-type CRM communications and so much more. Sure, there’s nothing actually new with all of these tactics… but now we’re talking about the difference between MMS-based marketing campaigns with real ROI back to the brands, versus the eternally frustrating”test campaigns” of earlier years.
  3. Enter the iPhone. So much has has already been written on the sleek Apple device that it’s become extremely difficult to assess its actual impact. Never mind the recent eye-popping stats released on the iPhone’s disproportionate share of the overall browsing universe, or recent efforts (while fascinating and seemingly quite worthwhile) by marketers to leverage the device to deliver hypertargeted messaging to the forward-leaning, early-adopting, free-with-the-dollars demographic. No, the real impact of the device lies in it serving as a “showroom model” for the full potential of the mobile marketing channel. An independently sold (from the carriers, mind you) Wi-Fi/GSM hybrid with a beautiful touch screen, snappy web browser (snail-like AT&T EDGE network speeds notwithstanding), usable video, music and photo management options… and coming in February, a public SDK for the development of third party applications and a (rumored) flash plug-in for the device’s browser – a first for the “mobile” web (and hey just because it’s the holidays let’s not get into a debate on what is or is not actually the “mobile” web – for now let’s just go with it). It’s amazing how quickly the standard for what is “possible” in mobile has been raised since the release of the iPhone less than six months ago – and how what once passed for cutting edge has so rapidly become not simply dated, but altogether irrelevant. More than any other event in the mobile marketing industry’s short history, the entrance of the iPhone has fueled a frenzy of interest in the space – both from brands and agencies alike. The motivational equivalent of the ’69 moon landing… with all the junior rocket scientists that followed.
  4. Mobile Advertising Comes of Age. After a few years of luring in the shadows of the mobile marketing industry, the mobile advertising market became incredibly hot in 2007, punctuated by major acquisitions by leading interactive and mobile firms, as well as a dizzying array of venture-fueled deals in the space. The two leaders in the nascent mobile advertising industry, Third Screen Media and Enpocket were promptly acquired by AOL and Nokia, respectively – while Microsoft, once again outmaneuvered in the interactive ad firm acquisitions game, was forced to settle on European Mobile Ad Firm Screen Tonic. The remaining independent mobile ad firms were also firing on all cylinders, with Amobee, Millennial Media, AdMob, Greystripe, and Quattro Wireless all expanding on the heels of fresh investment capital raised in ’07. Newspaper giant Gannett made a major investment in SMS-based ad firm 4INFO, while Google and Yahoo played a bit of small ball (we can gut Google a little slack here… they’ve been busy rewriting the rulebook for much of the rest of the mobile industry after all). The former taking the much anticipated step of expanding AdSense into the “mobile web,” while Yahoo! announced mobile publisher services and plans to integrate mobile inventory into their Panama ad platform. As for the internet display advertising giants, DoubleClick (soon to be Google) launched their publisher platform, while aQuantitative’s Accipiter Unit (now owned by Microsoft) tied up with NYC-based MoPhap to bring mobile capabilities to their publisher-side interactive ad serving platform. Add daily press releases by major web publishers bringing mobile inventory online, and I think you get this picture: 2007 was the year that nearly everybody in the space simply had to have a mobile adverting play. Sure, there was a bit of herd mentality going on, and no doubt we’re in for… shall we say, a bit of a “correction” in the coming years (this kind of activity surely cannot be sustained indefinitely) – but regardless, the business and technological systems are now in place for brands to reach out and communicate directly with consumers via the mobile handset. Keep in mind this is very different than previous (primarily SMS-based) mobile marketing activity that simply leveraged mobile as a direct response channel activating other forms of media such as television, print and radio (as so eloquently described by Jeff Minsky of OMD in a then accurate but increasingly outdated assessment of the channel – sorry Jeff, but I couldn’t take that one lying down!). Using mobile as a broadcast-type media may be a bit controversial to some, but as long as there remains checks and balances with regard to consumer privacy (yes, the carriers seem to be pulling their weight here, although some needed to be prodded a bit on the subject) an effective system of reaching consumers via their mobile devices should flourish in the months, years and decades to come.

 

Reader Poll – 2007 Mobile Marketing Game Changers

[poll=3]

sun qr bombshellProps to the The Sun (UK) for making QR codes sexy. Today’s publication features a full page “spread” (sorry, couldn’t resist) introducing readers to QR codes, which they tout as “a new kind of barcode, [that] will revolutionalise the way you use your mobile – and the way you read your Sun.” By snapping a photo of the above QR code with a QR reader (a mobile application that can read and decode QR codes) the SUN’s mobile site will automatically launch in the reader’s mobile web browser. In addition to linking to a web page, QR codes can initiate an SMS, MMS or IVR event, or can be used to initiate the transfer of web based content, such as mobile wallpapers, games or video clips.

Personally I’m bullish on QR in 2008 here in the US, as they provide an excellent work around to the UI / URL issue inherent in non QWERTY mobiles (as well as the fact that you can’t WAP push on the Verizon network), and are in fact much easier to use that even the (somewhat) popular Shortcode / keyword mechanic. The barrier to QR code usage has always been getting the readers on the devices (historically only a few Nokia handsets have shipped with preloaded readers, and to my knowledge never in the US).

It seems that this barrier may be (slowly) coming down. I’m told many of the major US carriers are getting behind the technology, giving the downloadable readers some fairly prominent deck placement over the next few quarters (sources confidential). Also, Google has stated that Andriod will feature a basic, but functional “format agnostic” QR reader, to be preloaded on all devices shipping with the Android Open OS. More preload deals are apparently forthcoming in the next 12 months.

All of this bodes well for activating “physical world” QR-driven mobile marketing applications, including QR integration on product packaging (for product information, or eventually purchase), print, outdoor, and even television advertising (yes, you can scan a QR code from a standard def LCD, plasma or even CRT monitor).

$5 to the first person who spots a QR being used in the US and posts it here… and $10 if it’s being used in a “scavenger hunt”-type activity.

Bloomberg.com published a piece today about how the carriers are keeping the cost of mobile advertising artificially high due to carrier revenue share. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are apparently upset that they must pay the carriers a percentage of ad revenues generated by carrier referral traffic (i.e. traffic coming from the carrier portal, or “deck”).

I’m a bit neutral on the topic myself. The carriers have every right to charge for what is a pretty big value add in mobile – generating traffic. If the portals feel they don’t need the traffic, let them try to survive on a 100% off deck model (as opposed to the hybrid strategy currently employed by most major mobile publisher brands). Obviously the portals value the traffic generated from their presence on the carrier deck, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place. What I do take issue to is the artificially high CPM “price floors” set by the carriers, but that’s a topic for another day.

I must (partially) disagree with Chad Stoller of Organic, who is quoted in the piece as saying that “the carriers are too busy trying to protect the money they are making now to look at the next way to make money.”  In my view the carriers are simply grabbing the money now while they can. Most agree that their walled gardens are on borrowed time, and with the open handset alliance and other initiatives, it’s only a matter of when – not if – the carriers iron grip on the mobile spigot will come loose. Until then, it’s hard to begrudge a company for leveraging their position for immediate gain, just so long as the long term prospects are not jeopardized.

Long term, the carriers face a bleak scenario anyway – one of the dreaded “dumb pipe” syndrome (ad integrated location data notwithstanding). But let’s face it, that’s really what they are… they’ve just been damn good at pretending they’re providing value in other business value chains (media, entertainment, commerce) for the purposes of immediate revenue streams.

And for those that are willing to do some digging…  quality off-deck inventory is available for way less than the $50 CPM often quoted in the industry press.

So much has been written in the last week or so following the announcement by Verizon Wireless that they would be opening up their network to handsets sold by third parties, and that they would be streamlining the (currently) painstaking process of third party application development.

Most have focused on the reactionary nature of Verizon’s move, that it was simply a defensive move to counter the coming Android threat, AT&T’s iPhone, as well as to satisfy the new FCC rules governing the upcoming Spectrum Auction… rules also pushed through in large part to Google’s marginally-successful Congressional lobbying efforts. In general, the bulk of the coverage from the mainstream media and major industry blogs have largely written off Verizon’s move as a token gesture that will have little impact on the market for at least the next several years. In many ways these publications are correct, yet clearly they have missed the larger picture.

But to the mobile marketing community, as well as the marketing community at large, the shift represents the beginnings of a long-awaited shift towards a working Mobile Marketing system. I say “working” because the current environment of carrier-specific technology standards and business practices makes for an overly-fragmented, cumbersome system that seems counter its own ends. Divergent carrier technologies notwithstanding, the idea that third-party developers can now publish applications on the Verizon network without having to be “approved” by the carrier is a watershed moment in US mobile marketing, opening up roughly 25% of the marketplace that was, until now, more or less unreachable to the “free to the end user,” advertising-supported model.

For US consumers, innovative and (just as important) inexpensive (handset and/or ad-supported) mobile applications will become far more commonplace, as handset manufacturers will now have the freedom of preloading applications that consumers (rather than the carriers) are interested in using. While these handsets will inherently carry a higher MSRP due to the lack of carrier subsidy, it is my prediction that pricing for “non-carrier subsidized” / D2C handsets will ultimately not become a barrier to purchase, as consumers will value the benefit of getting the handset they (actually) want, rather than being forced into the handset the carrier wants them to have.

Change is a beautiful thing.

google_wireless_logoNo one really expects that they will actually win the bid, or even wants to… why then is Google engaging in this escapade?

a) to further push open standards, so as to aid in Android penetration?
b) to aggregivate Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and others?
c) world domination, FUD-style

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