What makes North America the most exciting mobile market in the world? Interview with Michael Becker, MD, North America, MMA

In the second in a series of Q&As with the Mobile Marketing Association regional bosses, mobiThinking catches up with the MMA’s North America managing director, Michael Becker.
• Also get the Asia Pacific perspective Rohit Dadwal, MD Asia Pacific, MMA.
• The annual MMA Forum conference and Mobile Marketing Awards comes to Los Angeles on November 17, 2011 (mobiThinking readers receive a 10 percent discount for this event using the code MMAF/mobiThinking10).

Q1. What makes North America the most exciting mobile market in the world?
There are number of factors that make North America an exciting mobile market including a rapid increase in smartphone penetration, new innovative 4G rollout by carriers and innovative brands such as Coca-Cola, Best Buy and K&G Men’s Wearhouse that are having success in engaging with their consumers both “through” and “with” mobile marketing (explained in Q2).

Q2. What makes mobile such an excellent channel for brands to engage North American consumers?
It is important to remember that mobile is not simply one channel, but rather eight separate mobile media channels – SMS, MMS, email, content, mobile Web, interactive voice response (IVR), proximity channels (e.g. Bluetooth) and apps – that brands can leverage to engage their consumers. Brands can market “through” these channels, i.e. communicating with the consumer via text or video message, alerts, mobile sites or apps, providing their consumers with a relevant, personalized and value-driven experience. Or brands can use mobile in conjunction “with” traditional media (newspapers, flyers, billboards, magazine, radio and television) campaigns, i.e. adding a mobile call-to-action (e.g. an invitation to engage with the brand via SMS or hyperlink to the mobile site via a mobile barcode) to a print or billboard ad helps to build brand awareness, loyalty, customer care, social media and ultimately a long-lasting brand-customer relationship.

Q3. Would it be a mistake for a global brand to assume that what works with an Asian, Europe, Africa or Latin American mobile audience would also work in North America? Why?
Yes, it would be a mistake to assume that a mobile campaign will work in different regions without modifying it to maintain local relevance, because mobile is such a personal medium and the context of what makes something relevant will be unique for each region. The general mechanics and framework of a particular mobile campaign can be leveraged from around the world, but brands cannot assume that campaigns will work across regions without customizing and tailoring for local relevance.

Q4. What distinguishes the North American mobile market from the rest of the world? What are the main differences – and similarities – with Asia Pacific, Latin America, Europe and Africa?
In common with many more developed markets, North America has above-average penetration of smartphones (about 30 percent adoption, compared to 10 percent worldwide), more use of mobile apps and mobile Web and greater interest in mobile commerce and rich media programs than the global norm. However mobile marketing – in many respects – is still in its early days in North America, however the future is bright.
While smartphone adoption has been a driver for the industry in North America, it’s important to note that mobile innovation doesn’t require high smartphone penetration. In many countries where there are far fewer smartphones than North America, there are excellent success stories using basic mobile functions like SMS. For example, in Kenya one of the world’s most advanced mobile banking communities M-Pesa has been set up without needing smartphone. In Malaysia, AXE ran a program that saw over 760 million IVR minutes, 35 million unique users and a 300 percent increase in sales, all by leveraging the voice channel. At the MMA, we describe this sort of strategy as “global reach and local relevance”. To be successful with mobile, marketers need to understand the global capabilities of mobile, but tailor the use of these capabilities appropriately within reach region.

Q5. Compared with other continents, is North America made up of far fewer countries – does that make mobile marketing more straight-forward?
This makes things more straight-forward in regards to deploying a mobile campaign as countries have different cultures, languages, customs and rules that need to be taken into account. However, the North American market is still complex as we have a huge contingent of ethnic markets that need to be considered and marketed to appropriately.

Q6. Would it be a mistake for a brand to assume that what works in the US will work in Canada, that works on West Coast will work on the East and that works with the English-speaking will work with the Latin or Afro-Caribbean audience?
A mobile campaign that works in the US will not necessarily work in Canada. The Canadian marketplace has different rules and mechanics for implementing a mobile campaign than the United States, so a mobile campaign needs to be adapted to fit the specific guidelines and rules along with the different cultures. Campaigns that work on the West Coast can work on the East Coast and vice versa. However, brands still need to take into account the regional context when deploying a mobile campaign such as considering the weather and the time difference between regions.

Q7. Are there particular parts or demographic groups within North America that have been particularly receptive to mobile marketing/Web?
The minority markets tend to be very responsive to mobile programs. PepsiCo presented statistics on this topic at the MMA Forum New York in June, which showed that African Americans have the highest recall of mobile ads. A survey for PepsiCo found that 50 percent of Fortune 100 consumer brands will run mobile marketing campaigns specifically targeting the Hispanic audience in 2011 – that will be more than double the number of Hispanic-orientated campaigns run in 2010.

Q8. Compared with many parts of the world, Internet penetration (and hence Web marketing) in North America is much more pervasive – how has this impacted the rise of mobile?
Internet penetration has impacted mobile in a lot of positive ways. Since the majority of North American consumers are already familiar with the Internet, it has been a natural adoption for them to perform Internet functions such as search and accessing the mobile Web through their mobile devices.

Q9. What companies have had the most success with mobile marketing in North America? What are they doing?
There have been numerous organizations that have had success with mobile for many different reasons. Companies can use mobile to engage consumers through a variety of different entry points in the consumer consideration life cycle such as customer loyalty, brand awareness, social media enablement and customer care. The more than 115 presenters who spoke at the MMA Forum New York can attest to the success of mobile marketing.

Q10. What are the most popular mobile sites? Are many of these local, national or multinational?
According to ComScore, in terms of a pure engagement perspective (average minutes per user), the most popular sites continue to be social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Sites such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Weather.mobi, AOL and ESPN are some of the most popular mobile sites in terms of audience reach.

Q11. What are the most successful mobile commerce sites?
North America is witnessing successful mobile commerce sites across a range from of categories including retail, auctions, payments, banks, credit cards and stock trading. According to ComScore, the leading mobile sites in their respective fields are: WalMart, Target, BestBuy, eBay, Craigslist, Google, Paypal, Bank of America, Chase, eTrade and Fidelity.mobi. The important point to note is that most of the leading mobile commerce sites are strong online or retail brands that have made a significant investment in building their mobile presence.

Q12. What are the major hurdles to exploiting the mobile channel in North America?
Brand metrics and consumer education are two key areas that we need to focus on in order to continue to move the mobile marketing industry forward. Brands need to understand what metrics are important and incorporate them into their mobile campaigns. Consumer education is important as there needs to be transparency between brands and consumers, so that consumers understand the brand’s value proposition and can make informed decisions on their level of engagement with the brand.

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