Mobile Marketing – Where Small Businesses Should Focus

by Navin Ganeshan on May 19, 2011


Originally posted on Blogworld.com

Working for a marketing services provider that focuses on small businesses, we’re always hot on the trail of anything that promises to deliver the one thing that small businesses value the most – leads, leads, leads.

In this context, to say that mobile marketing shows promise, is an understatement of biblical proportions. Mobile internet usage has grown to 120M users in 3 years, or as analyst Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins puts it in real-world terms, “faster than any new thing”. Half of all smartphone users have used their phone to buy products and services. 50% of all US shoppers (not just smartphone users) will use the mobile web to influence shopping decisions by 2014.

But despite these overwhelming trends, we find that small businesses remain confused and conflicted about the value of mobile marketing activities. In our own surveys via the Small Business Success Index, less than 7% have a mobile-optimized website. Over 60% consider mobile marketing to be “cutting edge” or “ahead of its time”.

So what’s the disconnect? Why is it that John Q the consumer is (supposedly) voraciously consuming mobile bandwidth searching, clicking, downloading and interacting, while the same John Q the small-business owner views mobile like it were quantum mechanics. So let’s hit reboot, or rather hold down the power button and flick the slider to off. Let’s run through some commonly mentioned (if not exactly used) mechanisms for mobile marketing.

Custom Apps
This seemed to be an obsession in 2010 for the few tech-savvy small business owners with money and time to spare. But unfortunately the jury is out, and other than bragging rights with your family and friends, spending thousands to develop a marketing app that is found by a few, downloaded by fewer and used by no one is probably not great ROI for a restaurant or dry-cleaner. With some exceptions – if you transact primarily in content (bloggers), there are cost-effective DIY App services like AppMakr that let you satisfy your subscribers (or feed your ego) for a few hundred dollars.

Mobile Display Ads
For now this is still dominated by larger brands and marketing campaigns, but newer services like WhereAds from Where.com show a promising future where for a small monthly fee, a restaurateur can target nearby hungry consumers with a real-time coupon that pops up while they’re listening to Pandora.

SMS Advertising
This is a well-established market with many cost-effective solutions. Usage continues to grow for now, but as with email marketing, its appeal is bound to wane eventually as customers get tired of SMS-spam and contextually irrelevant ads.

Social networking app like FourSquare and GoWalla have also provided small local businesses a great new channel for cost-effective marketing by incentivizing visits and actions, as do rewards services like CheckPoints and ShopKick. A merchant can offer a free appetizer to new visitors or to loyal customers. But these share a limitation as a marketing channel – they are restricted to users or members of a specific service – the whole walled-garden dilemma.

And this brings us to the two most important but under-appreciated ways to market on mobile. Drum-roll, please…..

Search (simply showing up)
As Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is simply showing up”. When mobile consumers search for products or businesses, they’re generally looking to act and act quickly, or in marketing terms, “intent is high”. Consider this – half of all mobile searches are considered “local”. And 43% of these local searchers actually walk in the door – that’s almost half! So if you don’t show up, you’re not in the game. It’s that simple.

Mobile consumers generally find businesses in three ways – (1) Search Engines (2) Maps and (3) Directories which sometimes come with their own location-based apps like Yelp, Urban Spoon or Trip Advisor. But with so many different directories, apps, review sites that track businesses, it can be challenge to cover all your bases. Local marketing or directory-submission services such as Network Solutions’ Local Search VisibilityTM help broaden the reach by submitting to hundreds of directories for a monthly fee – a small price to pay for omnipresence.

Engagement (making it easy to interact)
Once they find a local business, what next? Mobile users behavior and expectations are different from those online. So it’s imperative to have a website that is optimized for mobile users – basically this means skipping the elaborate animations and fancy graphics to instead provide key features or information that are no more than one click away – Click-to-Call, mapping/directions, menu, reservation links or any coupons or specials you can use as incentives.

But getting a mobile presence doesn’t mean creating a whole new site. Services such as Network Solutions’ goMobiTM or DudaMobile allow you create a mobile presence using your existing domain name and based on content extracted from your existing web-site. But the resulting experience feels more like a native app.

Another equally important aspect of optimizing your presence is keeping your profile up-to-date on directories and networks like Yelp, TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon, Facebook Places etc and ensuring that they have compelling information and content about your business. There’s nothing less inviting than a Facebook profile with a big ? as your profile picture.

To summarize, these are exciting times – we’re witnessing a renaissance for small business local marketing with mobile being at the epi-center of innovation. But the most important things to consider are still the basics – optimizing for search and enhancing the engagement experience.

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    • http://www.themarketingspot.com Jay Ehret

      Small business owners remain confused and conflicted because mobile marketing itself is confused and conflicted. It’s not an easy thing to figure out. Let’s say a small business owner wants to do some mobile advertising, where does he go? He doesn’t know, unless a marketing consultant shows up on his doorstep talking SMS, mobile display ads, apps, check-ins, and engagement. (I’ve been that guy) Talk about confusing. What if he wants to do some newspaper advertising? One number to call to place an ad. TV? Let me call my TV rep.

      If the mobile industry wants to reach out to more small business owners they need to make mobile marketing less confusing. So, who do you call to get that done? Exactly.

    • Navin Ganeshan

      I agree that the solutions are not well-positioned for a small business to understand.  Part of the issue is that innovation in technology has far outpaced the ability of small-businesses to absorb their benefit and implications.  It’s easy to build a new marketing tool but far harder to explain to a business how to use, where its relevant etc.   Ultimately it will be real progress when we stop referencing mobile marketing as a separate animal and it is just part of a core “marketing” function.

      The CRM analytics world refers to the “Right Person, Right Offer, Right Channel” approach, necessarily in that order.  So, in other words, figure out what kind of customers you want to target, and what you have to offer them, and then figure how best to reach them – via email, TV, mobile, web or yellow-pages.

      As with other industries, consultants and service-professionals will fill the gap initially, but they are not always the most cost-effective option for Very Small Businesses (VSBs).  Eventually, much simpler DIY services will emerge to tap into this low-end market.  Similar to what’s happened with Email marketing.


    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DKXYIB6M355IMCMZGSJIGH6XVA Buildmobi Usa

      Very Good article! I have been researching for a while how mobile marketing affects businesses today, and it is very impressive how local businesses can benefits from it. Particularly I have a blackberry which is not a very pleasant device to access the Internet with, but still I do it, and when I go online through my phone and I see this websites that haven been optimized I just get out and go to another one. It is as simple as that. I really find it annoying to zoom in and out, and scroll everywhere.

      I think that a mobile website is a good way to go for local businesses since people are increasingly performing searches through their mobile device. I like the way you described apps for local businesses and I completely agree, particularly I never use apps and I find them a wast of space in my screen.

      Again thank you for this very helpful article!

    • Dev Bhatia

      This is a very informative piece. But part of the problem for small businesses is clutter. They are being pitched many things from many vendors. Even your list, while informative, can be confusing. At mTrax (www.mtrax.com), we’re finding that small businesses need to easily weed out the important tools in mobile versus the unimportant or secondary tools. And they need to understand objectives clearly. If they want quality local calls, then setting up mobile search on Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo must be their top priority. If they want to set up loyalty programs among existing customers, then SMS and other tools might help. And let’s be frank, most small businesses will not have a business case for building mobile apps for a while, if ever. Clearly, ranking is important. 

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