Critical insights into the marketing communications opportunities associated with mobile communications
The prevalence of mobile communications technology has opened up new opportunities for marketing communications on a scale that is unprecedented. The emergence of advanced wireless network technologies and the widespread use of mobile phones by a vast majority of individuals across different market segments and consumer groups now make it possible for marketing practitioners to explore this medium for marketing communications purposes. Although there are a variety of methods through which mobile communications have been employed for advertising and marketing purposes, one of the most popular and widely used method is the short message service (SMS) which has proved a successful means for communicating commercial information to prospective customers (Bauer et al.
It is therefore clear that the considerably high penetration of mobile phones and other mobile communications devices is an indicator of high potential for marketing communications (via mobile marketing). Indeed, the unique characteristics of mobile devices is such that facilitate marketing techniques that are not possible with other media, especially because of the high degree of personalization associated with such mobile devices – particularly mobile phones, which are almost always exclusively used by the owner. It is because of this unique character of mobile communications and the marketing opportunities it represents that it is deemed a viable means of marketing the Blast range of skin-care products to its target audience. Considering that the Blast brand of skin-care is targeted at teenage girls, and seeks to encourage them to adopt the habit of cleansing and moisturising routines, mobile communications represent an interesting marketing opportunity through which the brand message can effectively be communicated to this target audience. Although the use of mobile phones and communications technologies is prevalent among individuals of different age groups and consumer segments, SMS use is arguably more popular amongst teenagers and young adults (see for instance Rettie et al., 2005), and this indicates that it could be an effective means of launching marketing communications towards the target audience of teenage females.
This briefing paper therefore focuses on presenting critical insights into the marketing communications opportunities associated with mobile communications, and highlights the main issues that have been discussed in the academic literature in this area. The defining elements of mobile communications would be addressed with a view to ascertaining the pros and cons of using the medium for mobile marketing purposes. In order to facilitate a functional understanding of the issues, a few case studies of brands that have employed the mobile communications framework would be presented side by side with relevant practitioner perspectives. These would help the decision-making process pertaining to adopting mobile communications as a tool for marketing the Blast brand of skin-care to the targeted audience.
Fundamentals of Mobile Communications
While it is not necessarily relevant to the purpose of this briefing paper to examine the workings of mobile communications in technical detail, it is nonetheless important to note that the technology behind it is complex and constantly evolving. From the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) which is used to describe digital second generation (i.e. 2G) cellular networks, mobile technologies have advanced progressively to include third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) standards that support improvements in communications and connectivity between phone users (Mohr, 2004). These technologies have largely enhanced phone users’ ability to communicate with each other, and to gain access to diverse information through a variety of network-based channels.
Mobile phones are different from computers and other devices because they possess some distinct features; mobile phones are personal, they are often considered as fashion, and they are used as a badge or form of self-expression (Nichols, 2008). The element of personalization is particularly emblematic of the very essence of mobile phones, given that they are deemed to belong exclusively to the owners who do not need to share it with anyone else – unlike personal computers or landline telephones. The fashion and self-expression element inherent in mobile phones is also reflected in the attachment and sense of style that many phone users associate with their mobile phones. This explains why certain phones (such as the Apple iPhone series for instance) inspire a sense of personal style and fashion in addition to its primary communication functions. Understanding these unique elements, and how they collectively define mobile phone usage, would help marketers determine the best ways of streamlining market communications efforts by targeting their marketing, and building and maintaining relationships with customers.
From a marketing communications perspective, a key feature of mobile communications is the element of interactivity. Interactive marketed has been defined as an “integrated exchange process by which a firm uses technology and the understanding of customer behaviour to create and manage collaborative relationships and customer value through relevant ideas and messages that are communicated to the right customers through suitable channels at suitable times” (Shankar and Malthouse, 2006, p. 3). As such, the considerable development in information and communications technology has made it possible for organizations to personalize communications across several channels and media platforms, this has led to increasingly interactive, two-way communication between firms and their customers. This is clearly contrary to the previously common one-way communication that was prevalent in marketing. Accordingly, interactivity represents the “hallmark of the paradigm shift that has taken place in both marketing and communication” (Duncan and Moriarty, 1998, p.8).
Indeed, a number of studies have suggested that marketing activities associated with mobile communications – particularly SMS – are relatively effective both as a brand vehicle and in the stimulation of consumer response (see for instance Barwise and Strong, 2002, Scharl et al., 2005). It is also noted that the main attractiveness of marketing through mobile communications lies in the possibility of targeting consumers in very specific contexts. This makes it possible for marketers to deliver personalized, location-based, and context-specific messages to well-defined target audiences. It is for this reason that mobile communications may represent a viable marketing channel for Blast skin-care in delivering its brand message to the target audience of teenage girls between the ages of 12 and 17 years.
Case Studies and Practitioner Perspectives
Several companies in diverse sectors have sought to take advantage of the marketing opportunities presented by mobile marketing, with varying degrees of success. Indeed, global brands such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, Visa, and Pepsi among others have exploited mobile communications as a marketing tool and have achieved considerable positive results over the years (Sultan and Rohm, 2005). One case study that is appropriate to consider is that of Unilever’s mobile marketing campaign for its Axe brand of fragrance. With a target audience of young males between the ages of 18-24, Axe was marketed with multichannel 2D mobile barcode program in which a mobile phone user is allowed to access brand content including text, videos, and audio by taking a picture of a mobile barcode with the phone’s camera and sending the picture to a given number. The content is thereafter sent to the user’s mobile phone through the multimedia messaging service (MMS). Such marketing content was accessible to consumers that use both standard phones and smart phones, and this significantly increased the number of individuals in the target audience that the brand message could reach (Nichol, 2010). This approach to mobile marketing was quite successful for Unilever as it helped create greater awareness about the Axe fragrance among the target audience, and consolidated the brand’s reputation as an innovative user of mobile communications for marketing purposes.
Another example of a brand that has successfully used mobile communications to reach its target audience is Armani Exchange, which launched a mobile communications advertising campaign for the promotion of its 2009 A/X Armani Exchange Spring collection. The mobile marketing campaign was initiated to help raise awareness for the brand’s new spring line, encourage more consumers to opt in to the brand’s text messaging program, and employ the innovative environment of the Apple iPhone to consolidate the relationship of the premium brand with its niche technology-savvy customers. To achieve these goals, Armani created a mobile website that was specifically designed for the iPhone environment, and allowed customers to take several actions including viewing product galleries with pictures of the spring collection, watching video content of the products, directly buying clothes from the mobile website, reading the blog dedicated to the spring 2009 line, and signing up for Armani Exchange’s SMS program (Admob, 2009). This example represents a particularly interesting case of interactivity in marketing communications, considering the two-way communication the marketing campaign facilitated between the brand and the target audience.
In line with the two practical examples cited above, it is worthwhile to further consider practitioners’ and stakeholders viewpoints on mobile communications as a tool for marketing. Despite the tremendous opportunities that mobile communication present for integrated marketing communications, some analysts have noted that its use can be counter-productive if it is not strategic and measured. One key element in this regard has to do with whether marketers seek the permission of mobile phone users before sending them brand messages (Barwise and Strong, 2002). Mobile communications is arguably more interactive and mutually rewarding for the marketer and the consumer when mobile marketing communication occurs with the permission and involvement of the target audience (Barwise and Strong, 2002). In the case of Armani Exchange cited above, the consumers tacitly permit the mobile communications, and are indeed actively involved in it; this facilitated the interactive element of the marketing campaign and helped ensure its success for the brand.
A popular channel of mobile communications is the SMS, which helps companies advertise their products and services in a succinct manner. However, in spite of the possibly substantial advantages of using SMS as a marketing tool, some practitioners have noted that it is quite intrusive, and can irritate consumers if it is incessant and unsolicited (Nichols, 2008). Using this tool successfully therefore requires appropriate timing, feedback, and restraint.
Using mobile communications as a tool for marketing Blast skin-care promises to be an effective undertaking in view of the high level of attachment of the target audience to their mobile phones. Given that the skin-care products are positioned as fun, stylish, and ‘must-have’ items, it may be necessary to integrate these elements with a mobile advertising approach that is based on both SMS and MMS solutions to create a kind of self-image congruence between the products and the target audience. Most young teenage girls are very concerned with notions of their beauty, sense of fashion, and personal style. Accordingly, the mobile marketing campaign that Blast may choose to carry out should seek to emphasize the importance of clear, healthy-looking skin for the stylish female.
In view of the need to gain permission of the consumers for the marketing campaign, an effective strategy might be to encourage the target audience to sign up (possibly on the brand’s website) for weekly tips on how to achieve clear and beautiful skin, delivered via SMS. Additionally, the teenage girls in the target audience could sign up to receive pictures of the skin care products (as well as images of results of regular cleansing and moisturizing routines) delivered via MMS. Indeed, it may even be very effective to launch a sort of ‘clear skin contest’ in which interested consumers can upload photos of their faces if they are sufficiently pleased with the results of their cleansing and moisturizing routines. Irrespective of the strategy adopted, mobile marketing often requires a sufficient degree of interactivity and integrative framework for it to achieve desired results. As such, if Blast decides to employ mobile communications based marketing, it needs to determine the best ways of gaining and maintaining the attention of the target audience by communicating messages that are compatible with their mindsets and preferences. While it is important to devise creative and technologically advanced methods of communicating the Blast brand message to the young teenage female audience, it is nonetheless appropriate to ensure that such methods are simple enough for the audience to understand. This is because consumers’ response to mobile marketing often depends on not only the content and context of the message, but also on their familiarity or understanding of the marketing channel and technological elements involved in the campaign (Trappey and Woodside, 2005). Avoiding complexity in communicating the brand message would therefore help Blast to create sufficient interactivity and involvement for the target audience, and this would make it easier for them to embrace the idea that regularly cleansing and moisturizing their skin with Blast skin care products would help them realize their personal beauty and style objectives.
Reflection on the Information Gathering Process
The conventional sources of research material such as academic journals, books and associated publications are still largely considered most appropriate for academic research work. These sources are deemed more credible and supposedly more likely to contain accurate information and more valid, in-depth analysis than new and largely informal sources such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the other open online sources. The reason for this notion is based on certain obvious considerations. In view of the restrictive nature of traditional sources of information, there is likely to be more rigour in admitting material from authors, and this makes the information contained in articles published in academic journals and books to be putatively trustworthy to a reasonable extent. This is unlike open and informal sources on the internet that admits all kinds of material from diverse individuals with little or no verification. While these notions may hold some truth, new realities associated with advancements in research, information sharing, and information gathering have made it inevitable for these new sources of research material to be increasingly important for researchers that seek relevant and up to date information.
A notable advantage of these new, internet-based sources of research is the fact that they avail the researcher of far more current information than can be obtained from journals or books. Irrespective of the area of research, new evidence may sometimes render previous findings and hypotheses invalid; this represents a big challenge for a researcher that employs only such traditional sources of information as he or she may fail to take note of the new information that may have invalidated the materials upon which the research is based. Furthermore, access to social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offers a collaborative framework with which a researcher can share knowledge and ideas with other individuals in remote locations. This exchange of ideas may greatly enrich the understanding of the issues involved in the research, and avail the researcher of information that may not have been obtainable from traditional sources such as academic journals or books.
The relative relevance of the new and traditional sources of information depends on a number of contextual factors, especially with regard to the kind of information being sought, the nature of the research subject (particularly the time horizon), and the purposes that the research seeks to achieve. Where a researcher seeks information on theoretical and conceptual elements, it is often better to rely on traditional sources in order to obtain accurate, relevant, and thorough insights and analysis. On the other hand, where the researcher seeks up to date information on a current or ongoing phenomenon, and needs to obtain diverse perspectives on the issue at stake, it is more effective to obtain such information from new sources especially the internet-based online platforms. In order to ensure sufficient objectivity, accuracy, and credibility of the study, the researcher needs to determine how to achieve a proper balance between the traditional and new sources of information. It is important to know the kind of information that is best obtained from either the traditional sources or the new sources, as they are both relevant to modern research.
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