South African companies that want to make the most of the mobile channel for marketing need to shift away from the interruptive tactics they used in the past towards using mobile technologies to interact and engage with customers.
That's according to Diane Charton, managing director at Acceleration Media.
She says that companies need to be wary of the dangers of using a device as personal as the smartphone to communicate with their clients in an impersonal and disruptive manner.
"People carry their mobile phones with them wherever they go and leave it on their bedside tables when they go to sleep at night," says Charton.
"Marketers need to be careful that they don't alienate customers and prospects by sending them SMS messages at inconvenient times or by sending so many messages that they become annoying."
The model has changed dramatically in the past few years, but many companies remain attached to bulk SMS as their primary mobile marketing channel, says Charton.
"Mobile marketing is all about seeking the consumer's permission to engage with you," says Tony Sousa, Acceleration Media's CEO. "It needs to be done in a careful and sensitive manner since few people appreciate the beep of an unwelcome SMS message in the middle of the night or when they're in a meeting."
Sousa says that SMS marketing, the most basic form of mobile marketing, has traditionally served as a customer service tactic. However, mobile marketing offers a wealth of opportunities to build closer relationships with customers when it is managed in a more strategic manner.
Some examples of ways that companies can engage with their customers in an interactive manner include location-based applications and QR codes, says Sousa. QR (Quick Response) codes allow mobile devices with cameras to read 2D/QR bar codes providing one-click access to mobile content and services including marketing content.
This allows companies to interact with consumers in powerful ways, although one drawback is that consumers need to load special software onto their phones to read the QR code. But perhaps one of the most powerful and most neglected tools for mobile engagement is the .mobi site, says Sousa.
"Setting up a .mobi site is both simple and affordable when you have already invested in web content," he adds. "By giving users content tailored to the mobile web, you can interact with them and provide them with access to information wherever they are and reach many who don't have access to an Internet-connected PC."
Sousa says that the .mobi address should be prominently displayed on marketing materials so that users know that it is available and integrated into other mobile marketing tools such as SMS and mobile search.
A mobile site should be easy to navigate and fast to load. It should also be tailored to meet the mobile users need for quick-hit, context sensitive information. For example, they might be looking for data as simple as flight planes and a booking form.
Concludes Sousa: "Smartphone penetration is growing very rapidly in South Africa and there are also many users with WAP-enabled phones. That means SMS isn't the only option for mobile marketing anymore - companies can now use a range of technologies to interact with their customers. Mobile really comes into its own when it is used strategically to build long-term relationships with customers rather than to bombard them with SMS messages."