Mike Wehrs: the mobiThinking interview
July 14, 2009
With recession and cut-backs on everyone’s mind, how does Mike Wehrs, president of the Mobile Marketing Association, convince brands to invest in mobile? What technologies and trends will map the future of mobile Web marketing? Find out what makes the MMA boss tick in this in-depth interview.
With more than 700 members in 40 countries, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has ridden the wave of enthusiasm for all things mobile. Now as the world economy teeters on the brink of global depression, the business now looks to the president and CEO – new to the job this year – to keep mobile marketing on every brand’s agenda.
Catch Wehrs at the Mobile Marketing Forum in Berlin, Germany, September 9-10 (mobiThinking readers get a 15 percent discount).
Q1. How would you dissuade brands from axing their mobile-marketing budgets in the face of recession?
I’d explain how mobile offers marketers the best return on investment when compared to other marketing communication channels. Mobile has greater targeting capabilities and enables a higher degree of personalization. Sending relevant, tailored and timely messages to a consumer’s mobile phone delivers far higher conversion rates from communication to sales. The always-on, always-available nature of the mobile device presents a unique opportunity for marketers to engage directly with consumers, building a meaningful dialogue, while respecting consumer privacy.
Q2. A household brand doesn’t have a mobile website. How do you convince the chief marketing officer he's missing out?
At least 50 percent of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and penetration in many developed countries already exceeds 100 percent. By not integrating mobile into your marketing campaigns you miss out on conveying your message to a huge portion of consumers. Mobile is the only channel that allows a brand to reach target customers for the 18 hours a day it is in their pocket or purse. People stop what they are doing to deal with incoming messages and alerts – what other channels can you say that about? Their phone is top of the list of things they will go back and get when forgotten. The brand can talk with the customer with the absolute knowledge that the message has been delivered and seen. These features are compelling to any CMO. Back this up with hundreds of case studies with proven results from MMA members and you have a convincing case for mobile.
Q3. Who are the best ambassadors for the mobile-marketing cause?
Consumers are the ideal ambassadors, which is why we as an industry need to ensure they only receive communications from brands that are interesting, relevant, valuable and, above all, requested. Brands are also important ambassadors – if they are prepared to share real-world results of mobile campaigns this will help to grow interest in mobile generally.
Q4. Which technologies do you think will revolutionize mobile marketing over the next year or so?
Many technologies are opening up new opportunities in mobile – location-based advertising, mobile couponing, 2D barcodes, augmented reality (See this guide to AR) and image recognition are all key areas to watch. Touch-screen phones and full-featured browsers have helped to open up new real estate for mobile advertising, allowing users to customize their phones with applications and widgets, presenting yet another way to deliver marketing that’s relevant to the user.
Q5. Are mobile App stores competitors to the mobile web?
No. Apps are the most immersive way of delivering content to the user and make accessing Web functions a transparent operation in a way that’s effective on mobile. Using a browser for everything does not take advantage of all the features in a mobile device. Apps and widgets are an important and growing category that we see as a natural and welcome additional means to deliver compelling content to end consumers.
Q6. What business model for mobile content will prevail – free/advertising-funded, subscription or something other?
I think there is a real market for ad-funded content if it’s done in the right way. This is especially true of developing markets where discretionary budgets to spend on mobile content and services are smaller than in the developed world, providing a massive opportunity for advertisers to get involved by subsidizing content.
Q7. Who will be the biggest winners from mobile marketing?
With time brands will benefit the most. By using the mobile channel they will dramatically increase their return on investment (ROI) and reach. After all, if the brands dont see ROI then the whole thing will grind to a halt. Today, however, the biggest winners are the companies that run the messaging traffic, as messaging currently makes up the majority of mobile marketing.
It’s difficult to pick which industry sectors will benefit the most from mobile. All brands – whatever sector, whether global or local – want to reach as many customers as effectively as possible and the majority of their customers have mobile devices. Banking, insurance, consumer goods, local services, automotive etc, all have strong and proven reasons why marketing through the mobile channel is good for their business.
Q8. Who will be the power brokers of the mobile Web one/two years from now - operators, manufacturers, mobile search, advertising networks, publishers or something entirely new?
The power struggle at the moment centers on who can deliver mobile advertising in the most compelling way to the consumer – that’s a battle of methodology, technology, business model and ideas. As time goes on, there will be two power brokers: the brands, as they will essentially fund the whole system, and whoever controls the mobile inventory. The most important thing as far as the mobile channel is concerned is that the consumer is always in control. This is vital to ensure that we deliver an excellent and predictable engagement model that is valued by the end consumer.
Q9. With device diversity, multiple operating systems and numerous browsers – is too much competition holding up progress of the mobile web?
I don’t think so. To date the biggest barrier to the mobile Web has been the price of mobile data and slow downloads, but these problems should be resolved as “all-you-can-eat” data plans become the norm, with the widespread deployment of fast 3G services. Technology fragmentation is still a factor, too, but it’s a good thing that innovation is still very strong. Business practices and elimination of friction in the deployment process are also issues and ones the MMA is focused on improving.
Q10. How do you convince operators to reduce the cost consumers are charged for data?
Operators play a critical role in the value chain and have significant costs and liabilities they deal with every day. On the other hand, brands want the most efficient way to deliver their messages and to have the highest response rates to those messages. The MMA serves as a neutral body to bridge these concerns between the brands and the operators, so that both sides can see the benefits of a collaborative approach to balancing these various concerns. Both parties recognize that efficient delivery is an essential component that must be diligently addressed to accelerate adoption of mobile marketing.
Q11. If you could wave your magic wand and wish away any barriers to adoption of mobile Internet, what would it be?
There are a number of friction points the MMA plans to smooth over to ease the path to mass adoption. These range from helping agencies and brands to create scalable and reusable technologies to finding testing and certification processes to overcome device fragmentation and working on global industry standards on issues such as consumer privacy.
Q12. What are your projections for growth in brands’ mobile-marketing spend? What has to happen to ensure this happens?
A recent MMA survey found that average mobile-marketing budgets increased 26 percent in 2008, while overall marketing expenditures decline by 7 percent. We project that mobile ad spend will grow from $1.7 billion in 2009 to $2.16 billion in 2010.
We have to continue to collaborate and innovate as an industry, working to remove barriers to adoption, be they technology, business issues or perception based, and always ensure the consumer experience is a positive one. As the MMA represents the entire ecosystem of companies involved in mobile marketing, it serves as the best catalyst and provides the best forum for collectively addressing industry issues.