***AS PUBLISHED IN RCR WIRELESS NEWS*** LOS ANGELES – What a perfect setup for this week’s Mobile Marketing Forum. Barely a week ago, AdMob gets acquired by Google Inc. for $750 million, making it the third-largest acquisition in Google’s history. “If that’s not a validation … then I don’t know what is,” Mike Wehrs, CEO and president of the Mobile Marketing Association, said on stage, kicking off the organization’s flagship annual event. Mobile marketing is going to be a line item for many big brand’s budgets in 2010, Wehrs told the audience, before the day full of keynotes, case studios and interactive panels got underway. While there’s no denying the fact that mobile presents marketers with exponential opportunities going forward, executives working in the mobile marketing trenches today took extra strides to present their efforts as a legitimate, self-sustaining business model. Whereas “next year” has often been cited as the year of mobile marketing, the industry veterans gathered here are proudly identifying the growing number of businesses flourishing today.
“These are legitimate things that people are seeing the ROI on and I think it’s only going to continue,” Wehrs said. From the MMA’s perspective, the big question of the day is determining how to measure what’s good and what’s bad in the industry. In that vein, the trade organization was compelled to update the definition of mobile marketing for the event.“Things have changed since it was last reviewed four years ago,” Wehrs explained. Highlighting the growing importance and resources being put into mobile at numerous global firms, top executives from CNN Mobile, Coca-Cola and AT&T Interactive each took turns laying out their evolving strategies around the platform. CNN Mobile Louis Gump, who was named VP of CNN Mobile last summer, said the mobile consumption patterns are changing as quickly as the features delivered by mobile devices. “These phones are so powerful – not only to consume information, but also for people to submit information,” he said. At CNN Mobile, Gump breaks the category down into four distinct platforms: mobile Web; SMS; video; and it’s much-heralded iPhone app. While CNN’s mobile Web site reaches between 11 million and 12 million people each month as the company’s “wide-reach play,” the iPhone app is without a doubt the company’s most innovative offering to date. “We’re ecstatically pleased,” Gump said. But more importantly, he noted, the story of the application’s success and acclaim proves to CNN that mobile is a path toward a sustainable business. The majority of news apps for the iPhone are free, but Gump argued that CNN’s offering would deliver inferior content by design if he didn’t decide to charge $2 for the application with the implicit goal of turning a profit. “We felt that it was imperative to have a dual-revenue model. … We want the business to be sustainable. We’re not doing it for marketing,” Gump said. “We want mobile to stand on its own. … We should not go into the marketplace with the intention of breaking even or making very little money. That’s not the way to drive this business.” If more people will eventually access CNN from their mobile device than online, and CNN believes that will be the case, mobile deserves the proper treatment and resources, Gump added. While there’s still a lot of discussion in the marketplace about how to place ads in content, in a final bit of advice Gump encouraged the industry to at least coalesce around implementations that allow users to engage with the advertiser and even seek more information online without ever leaving the application. Allowing users to quickly end engagement with an ad and return immediately to the app that led them to the ad is simply the right thing to do, Gump said. Going global and local Tom Daly, group manager of strategy and planning at The Coca-Cola Co., said his top objective is to drive as much value as possible out of his mobile marketing budget. After breaking down the 400-plus brands that the firm has to market in more than 200 countries, it works out to $8,000 per brand per country, Daly said. With that purpose, the company has a streamlined approach to how it identifies agencies worth hiring. Daly broke it down to three core characteristics: talent; thought leadership; and account management. Simply put, the company puts a high priority on agencies that are ready to get campaigns underway immediately with a proven understanding of Coke’s business needs. At AT&T Interactive, CMO Matt Crowley is preaching all things local and rightfully so. YellowPages.com is now generating 8.7% more search volume via mobile than online, Crowley said. Because of that, there’s a 9% spike in average search activity on the weekend. Overall, mobile is delivering the AT&T business unit 20% greater volume of search traffic from unique visitors than online every month. You can quickly see why Crowley argues that “mobile advertising is being fueled by local search.” As if that wasn’t enough to already whet the mobile marketer’s appetite, Crowley added that click-thru rates are two- to three-times higher than online and call-through rates are three times higher. “It’s a massively efficient medium … if we recognize what consumers are looking for,” he said. “We get enamored with smartphones and we should, but the regular old feature phone is driving tremendous volume and I advise you not to ignore that.” MMA news Back on the ground floor, so to speak, at MMA, the organization rolled out a significant education initiative aimed at further engaging the mobile marketing community and streamlining opportunities where they exist. The Certified Mobile Marketer Program: MMA Track will allow people to take course work, exams and get certified at specialized levels by the trade organization. Ideally, the program will help companies and agencies identify strong potential candidates by answering at least half of the initial questions they’d ask anyway and further prove their skill set with MMA’s seal of approval. Following the announcement, Wehrs told RCR Wireless News that the program is in no way an indication that the talent pool is drying up. Moreover, the rapidly evolving skills required for the job are a direct result of the growing opportunity, he added. The first level of the program will essentially cover the basics while the second level will be broking down for specific policies. “We tried to design with regionalization in mind,” Wehrs told RCR Wireless News, adding that a one-size fits all approach would have failed to recognize the regionally defined complexities that mobile marketers work through. With Tier 1 Certification ranging from $349 to $399, Wehrs is hopeful the program will attract both individuals and group training sessions with staff from MMA’s partners and other interested companies.