Laura Marriott: The mobiThinking interview

Laura Marriott presides over her last Mobile Marketing Forum and Award ceremony in San Diego this week. Under her stewardship the Marketing Association (MMA) has grown from under 50 corporate members to over 700. She’s clocked more than 200,000 air miles a year, so when the MMA find a successor, she plans to take a holiday from flying and redress her work/life balance. mobiThinking asks Laura to reflect on how things have changed during her three-and-a-half-year tenure as president of the Marketing Association (MMA).

mT: What have been the biggest changes in mobile marketing since you became president of the MMA in July 2005?)

LM: Perhaps the most significant change is that the brands are active participants in the MMA, both in terms of evangelizing the use of the mobile channel and helping to create the guidelines and best practices that govern our industry.

Back in 2005, the brands usually left it to their technology partners to participate in the association and help to create the rules by which we play. Three years later, the brands themselves are at the table, actively helping to define the path for the industry. We have built an industry and association where all players in the ecosystem work together to drive mobile adoption. Bringing these diverse groups together is a key differentiator. It is important marketers continue to share their stories of success, as this encourages new players to embrace mobile.

Since 2005, the MMA has launched a number of guidelines that have become the global standard for mobile advertising, consumer participation and so on.

mT: How have marketers expectations changed between 2005 and today?

LM: When I began at the MMA we spoke a lot about the technology, about the ‘cool’ apps you could launch. This approach just confused the marketer. So instead of pitching to them on MMS, SMS, WAP, etc etc, we are now focused on helping marketers solve their strategic objectives.

I think marketers expectations from mobile have evolved also. Speaking in New York at the MMA conference this June, adidas
director of digital marketing Chris Murphy, confessed that the initial goal had been high volumes of interactions with their consumers via the mobile channel. But marketers have now come to realize that it is about the quality of the interactions and the sustained dialogue with the consumer, not necessarily the volume of interactions. In this way mobile provides a unique opportunity to establish a dialogue with the consumer.

mT: What lessons have we learnt?

LM: We have definitely learnt a lot. The key lessons for any mobile marketer are:

  1. Respect the end user: Remember, choice and control should always remain with the consumer (Think consumer ‘pull’, rather than push). Follow the global guidelines, including the MMA Code of Conduct , and place the interaction in the hands of consumer.
  2. Take advantage of the tools: There’s lots of great industry resources out there – take advantage of them!
  3. Define your objectives and set goals: Clearly defining strategic objectives and goals from the start make it easier to evaluate the success of the mobile component at the end of the campaign.
  4. Integrate into cross-media initiative: Mobile is most effective when the mobile ‘call to action’ is integrated into other existing traditional and digital media channels.
  5. Drive consumer engagement: Once you have established the initial interaction with the consumer, maintain the dialogue and continue to interact with them.
  6. Keep it relevant: Value and relevance are essential to ensuring sustained consumer interactions.
  7. Keep it simple: Easy to follow campaigns are the most effective, so make your message easy for the consumer to understand and participate in.
  8. Choose your partner carefully: Particularly if you are new to mobile marketing take your time in finding the right partner. Assess their references, their prior campaigns and their fit with your overall philosophy and objectives.

mT. What has surprised you the most?

LM: What initially surprised me, when I first became president was that the MMA member companies actually collaborated. In July 2005, there were 40-50 companies mostly based in the United States, but the guiding principles have remained the same: trust, collaboration and working together to solve industry challenges. Even now with over 700 member companies world-wide, we have managed to maintain this ability to bring competitors and partners together to help define the guidelines and best practices that are shaping our global industry.

Through the MMA, we have built a strong mobile marketing community – and that I believe is what differentiates us (mobile) from other media channels. We had to collaborate from the start in order to drive industry continuity and revenue for us all. This remains our communal mission: As we like to say, the rising industry tide will float all boats and drive revenue for us all.

mT: Who have been the biggest movers and shakers?

LM: That’s a tough question because so many companies have influenced and moved our industry forward. But I can say that from an MMA standpoint, I am indebted to industry volunteers who dedicated time and effort to help create our industry and lead our association forward in markets all over the globe. Board members, committee members, speakers, sponsors, MMA members, partner organizations and the press have all helped to grow adoption of the mobile channel.

I should acknowledge those companies, however, that went above and beyond the call of duty in their support of the industry and the association. These include:

  • m-Qube – for supporting the MMA through its rebirth in the United States in 2003.
  • Enpocket – for leading the draft of the first revision of Consumer Best Practices in the United Kingdom.
  • US Wireless Carriers – for implementing the US Consumer Best Practices Guidelines into contracts with the aggregators.
  • Turkcell – for requiring that all vendors become MMA members and adhere to our guidelines.
  • Vodafone Group Services – for supporting the development of the first set of global mobile advertising guidelines.
  • And the list goes on

mT: What sites or campaigns have stood out?

LM: I have always been a fan of those initiatives that have leveraged cross-media integration effectively. The award winners from the MMA awards program over the past few years have been particularly impressive. These include Isobar, The Hyperfactory, Mobile Dreams factory and BBH. All agencies have effectively integrated mobile to drive consumer adoption and achieve excellent results for their brands.
The winners of MMA Awards for 2008 will be available here from Friday 14 November.

There are a lot of campaigns I really like. In my early days at the MMA, it was easy to pick a campaign or two that lead the industry. Today, today given the global nature and high standard of the industry it’s a lot harder.

But if you insist, here’s a few. I am a big fan of the Varitalk campaigns that integrate interactive voice response [IVR] services to connect consumer to brand through viral marketing. I was in Canada last weekend and was very impressed with the mobile website and mobile check in offered by WestJet (a Canadian airline). I like the ‘Please Call Me’ service from Vodacom in South Africa, which is an ad-supported text service – simple but highly effective in terms of both generating ad revenues and consumer adoption. The Hyperfactory’s United Nations campaign evoked strong emotions.

And I am a strong supporter of the opportunity for 2D coupons to drive consumer engagement and access to the mobile web (not forgetting the huge opportunity for ticketing, etc). The sun is rising over a great industry.

mT: What do you see when you look in your crystal ball?

LM: Don’t we all wish we could see into the future!

mT: What are the main challenges that face the industry in the future?

LM: The big challenge remains education and measurement. We need to educate consumers on how to use the capabilities of their mobile device, while educating brands on how to integrate mobile into their campaigns.

Ensuring effective measurement will also be key in helping to drive further brand engagement with the mobile channel. This means creating consistent metrics and analytical reporting regardless of operator, ad-serving network etc, so that brands get a clear picture of the effectiveness of their mobile spend.

mT: Sorry, but I have to ask: Have we reached the tipping point?

LM: Well, if we use the text-book definition of tipping point being the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable, then I think we are close but not quite there. We are seeing mass adoption of mobile media, by all industry sectors, but with the recent economic downturn I expect that we will see many marketers turn their dollars to more proven digital media, and we may see a temporary reduction in spending for mobile. (However, those who are convinced of the power of the mobile channel will continue to invest in and support mobile).

With over 3.3 billion devices worldwide, compared to only 1 billion PCs, it is only a matter of time. Always on, always available and anywhere, mobile provides the greatest opportunity for brands to connect with their consumer. Mobile is destined to become the first screen.

I am very proud to have had the opportunity to participate in the launch of this great media channel. And participate in building such a strong global community of leaders.

Catch Laura Marriott at the Mobile Marketing Forum and annual Award ceremony in San Diego on November 13 2008 and Mobile Advertising: Linking the New Value Chain in Macau on November 20, 2008

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