Hey, retailers, mobile marketing isn’t that scary

The mobile ad market continues to grow at an impressive clip as smartphone penetration increases and data usage ramps up. Worldwide revenues will reach $16.65 billion this year, according to eMarketer, nearly doubling the $8.8 billion generated in 2012. Meanwhile, BIA/Kelsey recently ratcheted up its projections for the U.S. market over the next several years, citing surprising progress from players like Facebook and Twitter, and ZenithOptimedia made headlines this week when it predicted smartphone and tablet ads will account for more than one-third of all advertising revenues worldwide by 2016.gargoyle

As we enter reach the height of the holiday-shopping feeding frenzy, though, it seems some retailers aren’t convinced that mobile advertising is a good investment – at least not according to this enlightening — if slightly depressing – piece from MediaPost. Writer Sarah Mahoney cites a recent study of retail CMOs from the professional services firm BDO that found only 38 percent of respondents said mobile figures in their marketing strategies this retail season, down from 50 percent the year before. That tepid interest indicates “retailers remain divided as to (mobile’s) growth potential and its ability to convert sales,” according to BDO’s statement. And a company exec quoted by MediaPost claims that retailers are indecisive because “an overwhelming number of mobile possibilities” exists. Instead of investing in uncertain mobile ad strategies, then, those advertisers are standing on the sidelines and watching their competitors experiment.

But this may be the most compelling data point in BDO’s survey: Mobile is expected to account for 15 percent of retailers’ overall marketing budgets this year, more than double last year’s 5.9 percent. So while many retailers are retreating from mobile, some others are upping their bets in a big way. That certainly implies that they’re finding success. Which means they’re building on their leads while the bystanders, well, stand by.

That’s a shame because mobile marketing is simpler and more affordable than many would-be advertisers realize. Yes, producing a breathtaking video ad for tablets is a pricey proposition, and yes, campaigns that leverage indoor location or augmented reality can be very complicated. But here are a few basic ways to leverage the power of mobile without spending vast sums:

  • Build a good mobile website. Whether optimizing an existing site for mobile (through responsive web design) or building a mobile-specific site from the ground up, create a simple online destination that takes into account what people want from a mobile site. Make it easy for potential customers to discover what you sell and find out how to get to your store, and make sure to enable them to call you with a single click. Make sure the site renders well across a wide variety of handsets – perhaps even feature phones – and track how your customers interact on it, tweaking as often as necessary. All that functionality can be costly, to be sure, but for many small- to medium-sized retailers it’s an affordable alternative to building native mobile apps.
  • Drive traffic to your site. Make sure the URL of your mobile-optimized site appears on all appropriate marketing materials, and use your PC-based site to let customers know they can visit the site on mobile devices as well. Use mobile SEO to ensure your site appears when consumers use the appropriate keywords when they search for businesses on their smartphones and tablets. While Google dominates today’s mobile ad market, consider smaller ad networks, including those that specialize in hyperlocal mobile advertising. Consider using a daily deal marketer like Groupon to get new mobile customers into your store. And use QR codes to help consumers get to your mobile site with just a few clicks.
  • Don’t forget SMS. Use your website, marketing paraphernalia and even a sign-up sheet at the retail counter to encourage your customers to sign up for SMS alerts. Use that database to establish a loyalty program that rewards users who patronize your establishment, and send occasional discounts or alerts regarding upcoming sales. SMS should never be abused – just ask Papa John’s, which faced a $250 million lawsuit last year for sending unwanted texts – but it can be invaluable for maintaining contact with your most important customers.