Jan. 5, 2009
Now more than ever, people are turning to their mobile phones for Internet access. From coffeehouse tables to New York subways, consumers are using their iPhones, Blackberries and other mobile devices to locate dry cleaners, taxis, stores and services.
While many businesses have an online presence, most are unaware of their potential reach across the mobile Internet. Globally, small businesses that have created mobile Web sites are experiencing a competitive advantage over those still in the dark ages of mobile marketing.
It's not as simple as setting up a Web site, however. The small screen size and high cost of transmitting data, for instance, create a number of stumbling blocks to transacting business by mobile phone.
The good news is that it's easy and affordable to establish a presence on the mobile Web and to begin attracting customers on the go. And the best part is that it needn't cost much. Here are five simple steps to getting started:
Create a mobile site
A mobile Web site is one that is optimized for viewing on the small screen of a mobile phone. When creating a mobile version of your Web site, ease of access and usability should be key.
Unless you're a multimedia programmer, chances are you're looking for a quick and easy solution. A great place to start is Ubik.com, a free-to-use online service which allows anyone to publish compelling mobile Web sites. With a simple step-by-step approach, Ubik.com leads you through the process of setting up a mobile site in less than 15 minutes.
By removing the clunky, mobile-unfriendly components of your traditional site, you can create a simplified version that conforms to the parameters of small mobile phone browsers. Coding for the thousands of mobile devices on the market, with varying screen dimensions and resolutions, would be an impossible task. Ubik.com achieves this for you, all you need to do is provide the text, images and menus.
Dozens of scenarios could be used to demonstrate the usefulness of having a mobile Web site. Here's one: A group of friends exit a movie theater one night with an urge to splurge on a pepperoni deep dish. Wondering how late your establishment stays open, someone flips open a mobile phone to find out. Here, having your mobile site ready to reassure them that they can satisfy their cravings until 11 p.m. is key to closing the sale.
Make it simple
Avoid inundating your mobile customers with text and slow-loading pictures. Mobile shoppers are looking for simple solutions that they can act on quickly, so keep your messages short. Even in these days of "all you can eat" data plans, many users are still paying for every byte they download.
Mobile customers need something far simpler than the average PC Web site. Say they are craving pizza while running errands. Adapt the mobile site to highlight information that's key for hungry people on the go, such as specials, menu, directions, contact info and store hours. Keep the look and feel consistent with your brand, while keeping the navigation simple, linear, and specific in the content that's provided. If you focus on quick and convenient access to pertinent information, you'll help drive new customers through your door instead of your competitor's down the street.
Market by text
Your customers are your community. SMS marketing is designed to generate an immediate response from them. People carry their mobile phones all the time, so keep in touch with them by offering an opt-in text messaging system to let them know about special deals and menu items.
You can even give them electronic coupons. People are more likely to read and respond to text messages than many other forms of communication. Increase your chances further by sending a text message to notify customers when their offer is about to expire and that if they act now, there will be an even greater reward.
In fact, according to the Mobile Marketing Association, 89 percent of companies used text and multimedia messaging to reach their audiences in 2008, with nearly one third spending more than 10 percent of their marketing budgets on advertising in the text message marketing medium.
As a means to boost sales and edge out the competition, many restaurant chains are introducing mobile ordering services via text message. Typically, the customer creates an account on your Web site, activating the text message ordering service by entering their mobile number and setting up a list of favorite orders, such as "large cheese." This favorites list correlates to an online customer account, letting you know to get that large cheese cooking when the "FAV" text message arrives.
Map your way to success
The latest handsets come with location-based capabilities and mapping software. How do you make sure your business is listed when someone nearby is searching for what you can offer? One answer is Google Maps for mobile, one of the most popular applications for use on smartphones.
This free, downloadable application puts your business listing, maps and location directions directly in the hands of mobile users. Google's local search engine allows people to search for your businesses by name – such as "Joe's Pizza Shop" - or by type – such as "pizza." Customers will find your business: your address, hours of operation, photos of your store or products, contact information, accepted forms of payment, coupons and ratings, and will be able to call or text you within a single click.
You can also link directly to your Google listing from your Web site. Embedding Google Maps on
To add your business to Google Maps: • Visit the Google Local Business Center "Add/Edit Your Business" page. • Before creating a new listing, it's important to verify that your business isn't already listed. One way of avoiding duplication is to search for your business name within your city. • If a business is already listed, select "Claim Your Business" and, if not, continue to signup in the Local Business Center. • You have the option to receive your personal identification number, either by phone or by mail. This PIN must be entered into the account before listings are activated, which can take up to a month.
your landing page allows you to provide an interactive means for customers to map their way to your location. To locate you, all they have to do is click on a link within your Web site and they are taken to an accurate road map with directions.
Bringing it all together
Mobile marketing is not an island; today it's all about the multi-channel approach. To most effectively communicate with your current and prospective customer base, integrate your mobile marketing strategy with traditional printed posters, menus, ads and other aspects of online and email marketing.
Make your mobile community part of a wider marketing community, not something you run alongside it.
For example, sending someone a piece of direct mail about the latest special offer puts something physical in the hands of the consumer but won't guarantee that it's available to them when they need it. Consider delivering coupons to customers on their mobile devices, so they are stored and ready to use. Use the traditional flyer to let people know about your text messaging services, for example by offering short code addresses to get them started.
By adding the mobile messaging component, you can expand your marketing reach to the multi-tasking, on-demand generation that would be otherwise have tuned out or away from traditional media.
Mark Watson is CEO of Guilford, U.K.-based Volantis Systems, a provider of mobile Internet middleware solutions. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org