Category Archives: Mobile Marketing

iPhone changes several games at once

iPhone and Steve JobsYesterday Steve Jobs showed off Apple’s long-rumored mobile phone. The iPhone combines cell calling with a widescreen video iPod and WiFi-driven Internet communicator. It will change many games.

It will certainly improve the growth of mobile marketing. Apple truly understands how to provide pleasing user experiences, so I suspect that the iPhone’s broad, 3.5 inch color screen will make viewing video and web-based email not only easier, but fun. And the ability to browse your voice mails the same way you do emails will certainly add to the calling experience. Other cell phones would have to struggle to catch up if this interface resonates with users.

But another game-changer will be in movies on demand. David Denby wrote in this week’s New Yorker about how the tiny screen is changing the big screen. Hollywood is scrambling to adjust to a new type of movie viewer, one who is “platform agnostic,” and really doesn’t care if a film is projected in a theater, played from a DVD or downloaded in some form. This person is still in the minority, however. Denby explained that the tiny hand-held video players are fine for movies about talking heads, but the blockbuster, action/adventure films look sad and flimsy. They also strain the arm of the user, as you work to support a tiny player in your hand. Or you have to loom close to it as it rests on something, placing your body into some rather uncomfortable contortions.

The iPhone won’t change this film-viewing limitation, or reduce the crick in your neck. But it will add a new reward to the early adopter — a cool, hand-held analogy to the ever-growing home theater flat screen TVs. It will be perceived as the biggest little screen in town, and will make hand-held screen size an important bragging point.

Denby ends his analysis by speculating that dreary, uncomfortable multi-plexes will have to respond to this tiny threat in a way that can benefit every type of movie-goer. They may have to reinvent themselves, offering amenities and settings that once again make watching a movie in a theater a pleasure . If this comes to pass, no small part of the reason for these innovations will be from the iPhone and its nascent imitators. Many theaters, according to Denby, will even have ushers, to personally remind audiences to turn off their game-changers before the lights dim and the feature begins.

A content explosion is helping to drive mobile media adoption

Which came first: The mass production of the first home radios or the programming broadcasted to them? The answer is both. Radios spread like a contagion as consumers heard a distant studio’s music, news and laughter coming from their neighbors’ open windows. It seemed to promise something for everyone.

We’re seeing the same push-pull with mobile media. Take podcasts.

According to a survey of nearly 3,000 adults, conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the number of Internet users who are listening to podcasts has nearly doubled in six months. Since the spring of this year, podcast listeners have grown from 7% to 12% (of all adults who use the web).

To understand this surge in popularity you need to look at two trends. First, the prevelance of portable music players. By some estimates, one out of every four Internet users now owns an iPod or other music player. True, you can own one and never listen to a podcast, just as car ownership in the middle of the last century didn’t mean you automatically went to drive-in movies. But the growth of one fueled growth of the other.

Then there is the vast depth and breadth of content. The report cites as an example Podcast Alley, a podcast directory. In two years its listings shot up from 1,000 to over 26,000. This content is also easier to access. It also doesn’t hurt that the popular iTunes system has provided even more content on its iPod-friendly download service.

Are pocket videos the next podcasts?

It appears that podcasts have hit a critical mass, and are well on their way to becoming mainstream. Will the same two trends — hardware and content — fuel a cell phone video explosion? This week I may have experienced a taste of things to come. First, I was genuinely surprised at what a hit my video-recording cell phone was.

My mobile device, The V from LG, was small enough to unobtrusively record the fun around the Thanksgiving dinner table (with my family’s consent, of course). Well after dessert was served, we were playing a guessing game called Taboo. The next morning I could show the 15-second segments on my notebook computer. Here’s an example. It was a surprisingly fun way to use this gizmo, and one that enhanced the get-together.

Not that it’s always Amateur Hour on my phone. There is also a modest selection of professionally-produced streaming video available on it. But the ability to make homegrown videos that can be played and shared with friends will only accelerate adoption of the mobile medium as a whole — especially with today’s news.

Very soon, V CAST-equipped mobile phones will become a two-way conduit to amateur videos on a massive scale. YouTube made it official today that they will be providing content to Verizon phones. In addition to user-generated content, YouTube offers brief videos that are professionally produced and categorized for easy search and retrieval. These myriad videos, appealing to nearly any taste, are likely to further fan the flames of demand for entertainment that follows you wherever you have a cell phone signal.

Hey, come here. Take a look at this miraculous, pocket-sized video screen. Let’s watch what happens next.

Have some fresh Carnival of Marketing with that turkey sandwich

It’s a holiday weekend and, not surprisingly, this Carnival of Marketing installment has a little less to chew on. But there’s good stuff nonetheless. It’s been a pleasure hosting it these past two weeks, and I look forward to doing it again. If you can’t get your fill of actionable marketing news and advice from this batch, check out the leftovers — last week’s Carnival!

I’m starting off with a very personal recommendation, written in the spirit of gratitude that this holiday week engenders.

I grew up in a small town in the wooded, remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), at a time when we were so cut off from the rest of the state — and the country — that many U.S. maps didn’t bother to include us. We were depicted as part of Canada. As a boy I was a bit of a runt, and not interested in sports or hunting. Instead I gravitated toward books, and they became beloved teachers and companions.

But the U.P. was a poor part of the country. Books didn’t figure prominently in a typical household. Luckily I could still feed my passion, thanks to my town’s Carnegie Public Library. Astonishingly, Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy reached deep into the mining and logging outposts of the Northwoods.

I am convinced that Mr. Carnegie’s library saved my life (if only by keeping me indoors, lest I get the tar beaten out of me). So when I was driving through my hometown on Friday, midway through a nine-hour drive to my Milwaukee home from a family celebration in Lower Michigan, there was only one boyhood landmark I couldn’t drive by without taking pause.

I pulled the car in front of the building wistfully. Long ago sold to private owners, to God knows what purpose, it has been usurped by a newer library down on Main Street. But this classically designed stone landmark still looks the same, regal and welcoming. Perhaps what’s keeping it looking so good is the psychic force of fond memories, from hopeless dorks like me, now well into middle age.

Which leads me to my first Carnival entry.

In her debut to the blog 800-CEO-Read, Rebecca Schlei recommends a business biography of this great man by David Nasaw. You’ll find it in her The Other Side entry:

[The book] Andrew Carnegie is a cross-genre event, much like the man himself. While Carnegie’s lifelong philanthropy is a major thread in the story, Nasaw also focuses on his early scoot up the corporate ladder and aggressive business practices. An advocate for disarmament, a champion of free and public libraries, a writer and a visionary, Carnegie towers — in spite of his small build — as one of the most fascinating characters in U.S. history.

Hey! He was even short like me. I like this guy more all the time.

Is trust scalable through social networking sites? Or is business guru Charles Handy right when he says that trust is too personal to be replicated through bits and bytes? Charles H. Green examines that question, along with presenting some interesting definitions of what trust is as it pertains to sales and marketing, in Charles Handy vs. Web 2.0 posted at Trust Matters.

You don’t have to be a hardcore sports fan like me [wink] to enjoy End It Like Beckham posted by Starling David Hunter at The Business of America is Business. Major League Soccer (MLS) is changing a rule about who gets to play on a team.

Nicknamed the Beckham Rule, because it would allow a team to hire such a superstar (without giving away its ability to afford to hire other players to join him on the field), this change is ultimately about getting the sport in front of more fans, and on more television sets. But will it work? Mr. Hunter is skeptical.

When it comes to feature / benefit selling, which should come first in today’s time-pressed sales environment: the features or the benefits? Jim Logan explores this in The Role of Features and Functionality posted at his company’s blog.

Using an interesting metaphor, Barry Welford suggests in Walled Gardens – The Walls Keep Tumbling Down that although some companies have adopted the Walled Garden approach to their mobile technologies and services, others are dropping this closed approach when they see the advantages of more open system. It’s posted at StayGoLinks.

Customer service is more important today than ever. So Juuso Hietalahti poses the question Is Bad Support Better Than No Support at All?, as it relates to the development of interactive games. You’ll find it on his GameProducer.Net.

Mike Murray presents The Decline of Hardball posted at Episteme: Belief. Knowledge. Wisdom. He’s referring to a book on how women can learn to compete in business using zero-sum tactics. Its revised edition recognizes that the rules of business (and Mike suggests marketing as well) have changed quite a bit since the book first came out.

Using blogging as an example, he explains, “Rather than learning to play hardball, we all need to spend more time learning to play softball – to build relationships and create connections that allow us to collaborate rather than to compete. The benefits of a relationship-based, collaborative strategy have never been more clear to me as they have been since I have started blogging … I am developing friendships with those out there who, in an age of hardball would have likely been viewed as competition.” It’s a thoughtful piece by an interesting writer.

Last but not least, Priya Jestin offers up Customer Satisfaction Online: Simple & Tough (as in difficult) posted at CRM Lowdown.

Leaping the chasm to a plugged-in construction site

In the past I’ve had chances to help clients market to the construction trades. These include carpentry, plumbing, masonry and others that send their practitioners home with stiff joints and calloused hands. These occupations account for a surprising amount of spending. So the prospect of segmenting the groups and reaching them online is tantalizing. There’s just one problem. You won’t find them there. Probably not after work, and certainly not while they’re plying their craft. No way.

I was talking about this with my cousin, who at one time made his living as a high-end carpenter and continues to keep his hand in it. My theory is it’s the user interface keeping these craftspeople off-line, and that made sense to him.

Computers and network connections have become easier and faster, but when you’re on a construction site trying to decide how to negotiate an oddly angled room, so you can cut and install crown molding, a keyboard and mouse are not among the tools you reach for. Which is a pity. Although there is little content out there now to assist the construction trades, there could be.

Think of the digital craftspeople. If you develop software, you can find a galaxy of computer expertise online, through user forums and help sites.

The complexity of building in the real world cries out for similar networked knowledge, but for the most part, all this knowledge remains trapped at individual building sites because it’s not easy to contribute, or access the tips when you need them. The rest can be solved by the need for knowledge-sharing. The real chasm to traverse is the last 10 feet leading to the construction site.

What sort of tips can be shared? I mentioned earlier the challenge of cutting crown molding that negotiates tough corners. This requires a skill that most carpenters choose not to master. My cousin explained, “Most carpenters know that to make the angled cuts properly, they need a way to calculate the angle perfectly or they need to guess.”

Most job sites won’t tolerate the waste of guesswork, so the guys who have these angles down cold make a lot of extra money. My cousin is one of those wizards. “I’ve literally earned thousands of dollars more from this one skill,” he said. He learned it online.

He told me that the absence of online carpentry resources struck him every time he went online, which for him was often (he’s an extraordinary person, in this and many other ways). But he did luck out with this skill. His Net search returned a set of calculations that a professor somewhere made available. The formulas allowed my cousin to do the math on-site with a science calculator. It was that easy to become the crown molding go-to guy.

That was proof enough to me that valuable knowledge can be shared digitally. But how to cross the chasm? I told my cousin, probably sounding more confident than I should, that it’s the next generations of cell phones.

I base this on the phenomenon we’re seeing today of large portions of the world that are skipping PCs completely and doing business in fields and other outdoor settings using cell phones. Text messaging to central databases is allowing for the trade of crops and livestock in a virtual auction, all financed with microcredit loans. But this doesn’t eliminate a keyboard. It just shrinks it to the 10 keys of a cell phone. That’s nowhere near an interface a builder can live with on the job.

Calling For Help

I’m imagining a time when the next generations of cell phones will allow for voice-to-text conversions, so online forums of knowledge and advice can be accessed remotely. Insights can be traded like wares in a marketplace similar to today’s developing world swap meets. All by talking into a cell phone.

(The skilled trade that would lead the way in the use of this new user interface would also be the most meticulous. I’m thinking of surgeons. Today surgeons and other physicians are sharing a tremendous amount of data as they consult across geographic and time boundaries. But an interface that allows for accessing this knowledge through speech instead of keystrokes could be a tremendous boon for someone whose hands are otherwise occupied.)

Advances in a cell phone’s camera and display capabilities would also accelerate this type of mobile consulting. When you’re facing a tough construction problem, often a picture really is worth a thousand words.

These are all my own speculations, based on watching the technology evolve and the demands of users. I look forward to seeing how things progress, and invite any reader insights on the matter. One thing I know for sure. It will take a some major changes in technology before we see the most unlikely of working stiffs: The plugged-in plumber and the digital drywaller.

This week’s Carnival of Marketing

Welcome to this week’s edition of Carnival of Marketing. It’s my first time as host, and I’ve sifted through the many submissions to find those that offer actionable news, perspectives and advice. Those that didn’t make the cut? Let’s just say I’ve tried to leave the carnival pitchmen and women out on the midway. So, step into the tent, watch where you step, and let the carnival begin!

Do you want to market to twenty-somethings? Start by reading The Many Lessons of Scion, by ThirdWayBlog. David Vinjamuri is adjunct Professor of Marketing at NYU, and President of ThirdWay, Inc. He offers a dissection of the success of Scion, a car that most people my age think of less as a vehicle than the packing crate it came in. “Scion has excellent lessons for the modern marketer. More than many other brands targeting young adults today, Scion has understood that ubiquity and brand strength are not complementary goals and has been willing to forgo the former to gain the latter. The very brave decision to scale back manufacturing to avoid over-saturating the brand shows both the intelligence of Scion marketers as well as the commitment of Toyota executives to the brand promise.” Read on for other lessons, including one of David’s latest posts, about why Microsoft’s Zune will deservedly get creamed by the iPod. Good stuff.

Ever wondered how social causes get showcased in weekly television programs? Nedra Weinreich reports that “Getting your issue on TV is not as simple as sending a fact sheet to the producer of a show. People who are working in this field have developed relationships over time with writers, researchers, producers and others in the entertainment industry. They are trusted not to push an agenda or a specific plot line, but to provide accurate facts and ideas that writers can then weave into their storytelling.” Read about it in Social Marketing Product Placement, from her Spare Change blog.

Charles H. Green presents Advertising, Borat, Fairy Tales and Trust posted at Trust Matters, saying, “Once upon a time there was a ‘Chinese Wall’ that provided some sort of ethical boundary between marketers/advertisers and media content itself.” This excellent blog lists recent examples of where this wall has been breached, and how this trend has eroded our trust in both the storytellers and their sponsors. This is a new blog to me, and one I will be returning to often.

Here’s one that is already a favorite of mine. Kevin Hillstrom presents Williams Sonoma: Incremental Online Sales and Matchback Analysis posted at The MineThatData Blog. Marketers struggle with how best to allocate sales from one advertising channel to another. Kevin describes two popular methods.

Noah Kagan, founder of this Carnival, wonders WWSGS: What would Seth Godin say? What are the mistakes of this ad? Guess what they are, and then, buried in the comments, you’ll find what errors Noah found.

This carnival has several entries about blogging. Personally, I try not to write about the subject myself, on the grounds that my readers are mostly non-bloggers who want information without pondering how the content is delivered. Ironically, Jim Cronin’s is the best of the blog-related entries this week, with his Who Are You Blogging For? In it he offers that most fundamental marketing advice, Know your audience. It’s advice worth repeating.

Barry Welford has an interesting and carefully reasoned blog on mobile computing called StayGoLinks. In it he writes that the theme for XTech 2007 Conference, to be held in Paris in May, is The Ubiquitous Web. That is also the title of his blog entry. He explains, “The Ubiquitous Web describes efforts to ensure that all can be in touch and stay in contact with the Internet whatever device they are using, whether it be cell phone or desktop PC.” The problem in his view is there are no common standards, and his blog proposes a temporary solution, the Multi-web Practice.

Benjamin Yoskovitz has gotten several PR groups approaching him recently about endorsing books, and other products and services, in the pages of his Instigator Blog. That caused him to post this advice to bloggers: When Your Blog Gets Pitched, Pitch Back. He stresses there that, “It’s absolutely essential that you maintain the integrity of your blog and keep separate what you do for money and what you do voluntarily.”

A neighbor of mine to the south, whose name is simply Praveen, reports in his Branded Interactive Features Coming to DVDs about the use of new DVD formats to carry branded interactive games and calculators. This prolific Chicago blogger cites how Progressive Direct, the auto insurance company, has teamed up with Universal to create a “crash calculator” for the HD DVD version of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” Although Praveen contributes to more blogs than I have clean shirts, he chose to post this particular news at his My Simple Trading System. Thank you, Praveen. Your many blogs are interesting and full of helpful content.

Pushpa Sathish writes that it is, “Simple logic that the person who uses the product the most [is] the best to offer suggestions for its improvement.” Is this the case with major CRM systems? CRM Lowdown: Collaborating with Your Customer to Drive Innovation posted at CRM Lowdown, explores this question.

Finally, Mister Juggles, making his parents the Juggleses proud, presents How successful has Domino’s been in bringing pooplets to market? posted at Long or Short Capital. In what may be an attempt to drive down Domino’s Pizza’s stock price, Mr. J. suggests that the pizza delivery chain is selling something that even the makers of Soylent Green would find unappetizing, “To the Drunk/Stoned market, which is known to be both price and taste insensitive.” They also laugh at anything.

That concludes this edition. I’m doing next week as well. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of Marketing using this submission form. Past posts and future hosts, can be found on the blog carnival index page.

What the iPod Shuffle taught me about knowing my market

Product marketing and product design have the same goal (maximizing sales) and arrive there using the same focused approach (understanding the prospective users’ needs and tastes). Not taking one’s eye off the audience is mandatory for both disciplines.

I used to think the iPod Shuffle was brilliant marketing but terrible design. I’ve come to realize that it’s brilliant at both.

I admit it. My original opinion was based on snobbery. I thought the idea of a portable music player that only really has two settings — play songs in the order I loaded them or scramble them completely — was daft.

Why? Because the world revolves around me. Learning how to use a new gizmo doesn’t bother me. It gives me more control. And I like control.

But I’m not the market. The market for the shuffle is those who don’t want to hassle with one more thing. These people just want music. Duh. I’m now convinced that Apple’s Marketing and Design teams worked together from a clear understanding of their audience to a degree that even rivals their other products.

Old me talking:

Those Apple marketing people are the ultimate con artists! Marketing gave Design a challenge: “We’re leaving money on the table by not selling something for under $100. Go design something!” 

Design: “But we need to take away a ton of features to do that. Off comes the visual interface! Off comes the ability to maneuver through the songs. Out goes the hefty storage of a hard drive. That’ll be disappointing!”

Marketing: “Hey! We have an idea. We’ll just con them into thinking this is the best thing since the roulette wheel! They’ll even convince themselves that there is some spooky logic to the random playlist they’re hearing. It’ll be bigger than the Pet Rock! And guess what? They’ll pay a premium for this collection of parts that probably costs us all of $27 … with packaging! [Fiendish laughter]

The new me talking:

Apple’s Design and Marketing teams are brilliant at seeing an opportunity and seizing it. With the Shuffle, they weren’t too in love with their own complexity to remove it when the market dictated. So what if they’re making a fortune off of their brand and their reputation? They have once again earned their place as market leaders.

This conversion of mine, by the way, comes before my wife even charges and dons her brand new iPod shuffle. I say don because this new, brilliant design is more like a piece of jewelry than anything. It is as light as a ladybug and just as welcome clinging to her collar. It is a poem, and a haiku at that.

Apple iPod ShuffleYou’ve done it, Apple.

Your smallest product offering has convinced me of your massive and enviable understanding of your various audience segments. This one in particular. I would almost be afraid to admit that you know my wife better than I do.

I would, except it was me who picked this gift out for her, for her birthday. Now she thinks we’re both pretty swell.


Verizon and YouTube further doom ad-supported TV

My wife and I love movies. So last night, after watching the Bobby Darin biopic on DVD, Beyond The Sea, my wife was faced with a choice. I had gone to bed, and she could watch television or YouTube.

She chose the latter, because she figured she could view kinescopes of Bobby Darin, to judge how accurately Kevin Spacey depicted the 1950’s crooner. She was right, and YouTube once again rewarded her the way television cannot.

This afternoon we went to a matinee. Arriving early, we whiled away the time before the movie by watching Verizon’s V-Cast streaming video on my cell phone. In the darkened and quiet (pre-trailer) theater, we watched together more 3- to 5-minute eye candy. We chose segments of a favorite fake news program. Once again we were avoiding TV, and in fact circumvented the very ads that help to finance the basic cable programming coming out of my amazing LG 9800.

Bobby Darin on YouTubeThe only limitation to this harmonica-size idiot box is a dearth of interesting programming. But that may soon change.

Verizon and YouTube are reportedly in negotiations over the exclusive distribution of their content to their cell customers. This is exactly the magnitude of “pull” that domestic cell phone providers need to attract a critical mass of American cell phone users to this smallest of screens.

It seems inevitable that very shortly, far more people will be peering into their cell phones instead of at advertising-supported television. Watching the erosion of standard broadcast business models is almost as enthralling as finding on my computer, within minutes, a nearly 50-year-old video recording of Mack The Knife. And soon this idle fun may be portable.

And his teeth were … pearly white.

With Google for Print it’s all about reach

Last year Google tested their ad auction concept in the print advertising space. Bill Wise in MediaPost had a theory for why this pilot wasn’t a huge success. In a word: “scarcity.”

Google AdWords succeeds because there are only so many people searching for a term on any given day, and therefore only so many ad impressions than can run in front of this audience. It’s a finite supply of ads, and one that is perishable from one day to the next. Auctions are a perfect way for Google to optimize ad prices.

But printed publications are different. If a newspaper or magazine sells more ads, they can print more pages to accommodate those ads. (Do you remember how fat Business 2.0 was in the heady months before the Dot Com Bust?)

Google failed last year, but they aren’t giving up. They’ve just announced a deal that will include placement of select Google AdWords participants in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and many more. Later in this test they plan to expand into weekly news magazines.

It fascinates me that they are looking at getting involved in the very medium whose circulations they are helping to shrink. In the last six months the average circulation figures of daily newspapers have fallen another 2.8 percent, according to Dan Mitchell of the NY Times. True, he tries to put a positive spin on this news, citing a statistic that if you factor in online versions of the publications, readership is actually up significantly. But that actually helps to make my point: Why isn’t Google satisfied with running their ads on the fastest growing portion of the news business?

I can only think it’s reach. And I don’t mean just readers. I’m thinking portability.

Until this county develops a taste for news delivered to a cell phone or PDA, ink on paper is still the most reliable way to follow Americans into the many nooks and crannies of their day.

I’m only half joking when I speculate that Google may have realized that their AdWords were doing wonderfully in the American office and den, but were failing miserably in the bathroom.

The odds are stacked against this podcast advertising pioneer

I admire what Podbridge is attempting to do. They seem to have taken the lead in monetizing podcasts. I doubt they will succeed, though, unless other conditions change and change fast. Podbridge has created a podcasting advertising network, one that promises to match audio ads to podcasts that you download via iTunes (and, eventually, elsewhere).

Ads would be fed to you randomly along with podcast content. The ads, which would be dynamically stitched onto the podcasts, are served up based on your age, gender and location (such as ZIP code). Nice idea, but …

My skepticism has to do with whether people will volunteer this information (age, gender, location) to receive something that they are currently accustomed to receiving for free, and mostly free of ads.

Much more logical (but logistically challenging) is to follow the ad model that Podbridge claims to be mimicking — that of magazine advertising.

In this alternative, each major podcast producer would receive ad insertions and interweave those ads with their content. This wouldn’t provide the flexibility and customization of regional-, age- and gender-based targeting, but it would talk to people based on their enthusiasms. For instance, DVD rental ads would be placed on podcasts such as Filmspotting (as they are now, for PeerFlix).

These ads could still include Pay-Per-Call ads supported by Ingenio, as Podbridge is currently planning. It’s a brilliant use of this phone-based ad concept, which was first introduced and tested in limited Yahoo sponsored listings.

This alternate business model also allows for the strength of product placement, something that started with the early days of radio and television, and has found a new life as a way for advertisers to get their products in front of viewers who use DVRs to blaze past television progamming’s commercials.

True, this lack of scalability makes it a less-profitable business model, since podcasts are typically today such a Long Tail phenomenon.

But the dearth of consumers willing to opt-in to receive ads makes the Podbridge concept fatally flawed in my opinion. At least until there is a critical mass of premium content podcasters who will only distribute their product with Podbridge-provided advertising. That day is a long way off.

Another mobile marketing paradigm shift: Beaming Zune songs

A couple of days ago Microsoft officially entered the portable media player marketplace. I’m surprised and impressed with their entry. Microsoft has launched the Zune, an iPod-like device with an innovation that marketing technology professionals should watch closely.

The feature that I find so exciting is its ability to do something that Palm users would refer to as “beaming.” What’s that? Here’s a scenario, overheard from the floor of some idealized trade show, where beaming could occur, maybe:

“Good to meet you, Mr. Jones. Say! I see you have a Palm organizer as well. Why don’t we point them at each other and beam each other our business cards?”

This was always far better in theory than in practice. It required these two people to both possess all of these things:

  1. A Palm-based device
  2. A properly configured “business card” entry in their Contacts list
  3. An infrared or Bluetooth port that’s switched on
  4. The habit of exchanging electronic cards in this manner
  5. And let’s not forget a thick skin for public ridicule, since you’ve now told the world that you’re a geek

As for the all-important #4, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say no one has ever developed such a habit anywhere outside of the fevered dreams Palm executives.

And it’s not technology holding us back. It’s a shift in paradigm and a habit that is best fostered when you’re far away from business associates.

So beaming is mostly dead. But Microsoft, of all companies, may help it become downright hip. They may be on the verge of training us to use a new marketing medium by making exchanging songs a social experience.

Bear with me a moment: What if your organizer was also your phone, and it also played music files, and instead of capturing a salesperson’s contact information on a tradeshow floor, you were getting far more valuable information. The information would include this person’s name and other facts, but it would also contain, say, a brief audio narrative about the product you’re viewing on the tradeshow floor, or some lavishly produced piece of audio branding. Perhaps it would even give you an offer that would drive you back to a web site when you return to the office.

If the place you’re in is an art gallery or pre-auction exhibit, this locally-shared podcast would describe the items up for sale or bid. It could even provide narratives on the people across the table from you, who you’re about to meet at a singles “speed-dating” event. The applications for “local-casts” are many and promising. And because we’ll already be listening to our portable device for our musical entertainment during our commute or workout at the gym, there will be no stigma associated with this new type of Bluetooth beaming.

This would require a paradigm shift. But it’s not as big or remote as you might think. And for those who say this won’t work because the Zune is not a cell phone, I only need to remind you that Bill Gates and others in Microsoft are themselves predicting that we will someday be listening to our downloaded music on our phones. At the product launch, Microsoft executives were telling reporters that a Zune phone is already part of the company’s plans for the product line.

As James L. McQuivey, a Boston University technology expert put it, “The fun has just begun.” So have the business possibilities.

Mobile marketing of tomorrow is beyond anything you can imagine

Here’s another long post, but I suspect you’ll find it worth the ride. It will paint a picture of what mobile marketing will be like, much sooner than you may think. Actually, it will paint a picture of what person-to-person retail (as opposed to digital retail) will be like, because mobile devices will merely be the means that will take us to this fascinating future.

If you’re a new reader, I need to explain why I write this thing. I strive not to be part of the echo chamber that is current public discourse. By echo chamber, I mean the repetition of the same hot concept or idea until it starts to sound credible. Many occupational blogs (as opposed to recreational blogs), merely convey the industry “news” of the day. Sometimes that’s worthwhile. But other times, the repetition contributes to a pattern of half-baked ideas taking on more significance than they deserve.

My hope is to make sense of what’s happening or about to happen in marketing technology — and occasionally to pass along a juicy tip or two that you can use right now. Rishad Tobaccowala, chief innovation officer of Publicis, put it well. He’s with one of the world’s biggest advertising groups. Tobaccowala was quoted in The Economist as saying, “All of us have been classically trained, and now we’re in a jazz age.”

We’re all riffing, my friend, and I’m hoping this blog will help keep the improvisation going.

Let me steer us back from that digression. I mentioned The Economist, which you must understand is not just a magazine about economics. Although, to use a famous Seinfeld quote, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” On the contrary. Living, breathing economics is much like living, breathing history. By that I mean the following:

  • Economics bears no resemblance to what most of us were exposed to in school
  • Economics is extremely helpful in making sense of this furiously changing world

A case in point is the mundane and exciting observations of economist Tim Harford. In his recent book, The Undercover Economist, he sets us straight about Starbucks. We think they are larger and more powerful than they are because they have a location on every corner of major cities — or so it seems. He uses the example of how you cannot pass into or out of Washington D.C.’s Metro Station without encountering at least one Starbucks.

Yet that is proof not of the seductive draw of their products, but of the weak gravitational pull that they exert. By contrast, Mr. Harford points out that there is only one Washington D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. If you have a problem with your driver’s license, you must go there and suffer. And people do. They must.

That’s power. That’s scarcity! Conversely, Starbucks knows that the majority of coffee drinkers are quite fickle about where they buy their coffee. It just so happens that Starbucks is big enough to buy up those scarce good locations so that they consistently arrive in our faces when we round the next corner.

The scarcity is not in the lattes and cappuccinos, but in the prime locations from which they are proffered. This is why, he asserts, Starbucks is not nearly as wealthy, in relative terms, as the merchants of those selling opportunities — namely, the landlords who rent to Starbucks and the property owners and brokers who sell to Starbucks. A validation of this theory can be found in a recent New York Times article about the proliferation of bank branches and the property boomlet that this industry expansion has ignited.

Banks, too, know that they are selling a near-commodity. And so it goes: the tyranny of location, location, location.

Imagine if these industry leaders could say, “To hell with these physical locations. We’re stuck in place while our customers travel around the city. That’s just dumb!” Or more likely, what if this declaration was from non-leaders in their industries? After all, the leaders in gourmet coffees and financial services have much invested in their physical brand. It stands to reason that it is the upstart competitors who will stage the more nimble attacks, just as small bands of guerrilla-fighting American Revolution soldiers sprung out of the bushes to fight and ultimately defeat the legions of lockstep Redcoats.

But how will this assault be staged? I’m suggesting that there will someday be a mobile army of coffee merchants and bank branches. These establishments on wheels will find their customers around the next corner because they will see them coming from ever-changing maps of movements and probabilities.

Why maintain a brand address, after all, when you’ve trained your customers to expect you to show up exactly where and when they need you? Of course, this data will come from the only possession other than our wallets that we dare not leave home without (and soon enough those two will merge into one!). I’m speaking of course of the cell phone.

Already, privacy-protected surveillance is being done on a city-wide scale. You can read of several such studies on the following MIT web site, but I’m going to quote from one such study, about a “realtime” Rome, Italy:

In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic.

By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment.

How cool is that?

When I first saw these maps, which surge and pulse with life, I thought they were interesting but were like many technologies — a solution in search of a problem. Now I think I’ve found the problem: Taking power from the owners and renters of real estate and putting them in the hands of retailers. And in doing so, making life for their customers easier and more pleasant.

I’d love to go on and address the objections that I’m sure you have about privacy, and the ability to move branch locations through congested urban streets. Those answers will have to wait (unless you’d care to ask me in the Comments area — in which case I’ll be much obliged). But for now, I’ll leave you with this thought:

If a retailer …

  • Analyzed aggregate cell phone data about your movements as well as everyone else’s who want the same services as you, and …
  • Anticipated through statistical means where to locate itself to fulfill those needs, and …
  • Alerted you through that same cell phone where they are in real time (e.g., “We’re two blocks away — care for your favorite beverage?”) …

Would you choose instead to go out of your way, back to those place-bound merchants you visit now?

I suspect that this consumer choice is quickly on its way.