Mobile For Marketing: Is It A Channel Or A Device?

Marketers often ask me what their mobile strategy should be: What are the key elements? How can they make sure it’s successful? Where should they put their money? These may sound like simple questions, but given how complex the technology and landscape are there’s a lot more involved in answering them than it may appear at first glance.

In an effort to unravel the complicated answers to these questions, I undertook some research that led me to the essential question that lurks behind marketers’ inquiries but is rarely stated:  Is “mobile” a true marketing channel that demands its own strategic expertise and focus, or is it simply a different device through which consumers come into contact with messages you've already established for other campaigns? The answer is that it’s both. 

In my latest report, "Evolving Your Mobile Marketing Presence," I talk about how marketers are working through the stages of mobile skills and strategy development in an effort to approach mobile as wisely as possible. After talking with marketers, vendors, and agencies, these are the phases I identified:

For more information about each of these phases and how marketers are tackling them, Forrester clients can access the complete report at the link above.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m going to be focusing on mobile marketing for much of this year, so I’m very interested in hearing about your own experiences. Have you asked yourselves the device versus channel question? How are you approaching each of these phases?


I work for a company,

I work for a company, AisleBuyer, that is trying to engage the mobile consumer through targeted advertising. AisleBuyer contains a “suggest sell” feature that allows retailers to suggest products to consumers that they might have forgotten such as batteries for a flashlight.

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The role of analytics

Thanks for this Melissa. Looking forward to your future posts on mobile's evolution as a channel. I think a major piece of this discussion is going to circle around the ability to connect mobile to other channels and measure it effectively as part of the complete marketing picture. I work at Performable, a multichannel analytics company and we are hearing this need again and again from customers. It is not enough to just track the channel, the information has to be tied back to customer behavior as a whole, across all channels and over time. Anyway - thanks for the post. I'll be staying tuned.

My sense is it's a device

My sense is it's a device that acts like a channel. From a consumer-centric point of view, mobile provides a far superior value-for-time offering that other marketing media can't even begin to touch It has basically transformed the way consumers interact with advertising, brands, and with each other.

How best to use this device that acts like a channel? Beats me but I'm going to experiement like crazy. I think Albert Einstein said it best: "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

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Does your site have a contact page? I'm having problems locating it but, I'd like to send you an email. I've got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

Mobile is definitely a channel. Or is it 2 channels?

In my view Mobile is definitely a channel. The question I am wresting with is whether it is one channel or two distinct channels. For example, would you consider smartphones and tablets to be the same channel. I think not. While both allow on-the-go customers to access digital content, the actual experience is fundamentally dfifferent across these channels. While tablets are being used to offer catalog-type experiences (and hence content tends to richer and more engaging) than that on smartphones. Hence, would you consider them 2 different devices accessing the same channel? If so, why is the experience and content different?

That said, mobile as a channel is here to stay and it is critical for retailers to continue to watch the trends very closely. Let me take an example to illustrate my point. As the newspaper circulation and search engine usage falls, App usage on all forms of mobile devices continues to accelerate. It is not surprising therefore that retailers are looking for ways to engage with their target customers on devices where the customers are spending a majority of their time. Whether it is through retailer specific apps or aggressive social networking strategies on facebook and twitter, they are looking for ways to engage the customer. Now some smart retailers are realizing that getting an app on a customer's mobile device offers an oppotunity for personalization that is unparalleled.

As a customer, wouldn't you want to personalize the coupons/ promos that get pushed to your mobile phone, so you can use them when you are in the physical store?

Mobile is a platform - not a device; not a channel

Mobile is a platform. It's not a channel (access) or a device (hardware). It's both -- and more than that. It's also a development platform -- content that's designed to provide the best UX at specific screen sizes (3.5" to 10" is the established range).

This is what mobile "is":

(1) Content - Content and/or applications are in the cloud
(2) Access - Means of access to content is via 3G/4G high speed networks
(3) Device - Device means screen size + (rich) media processing capabilities
(3) Presentation layer - UX needs to engage and reward with the device capabilities and screen size

To activate brands, messaging, and associated content with consumers, a holistic engagement strategy -- not just a marketing strategy -- is required. Because mobile is neither just a channel nor a device, a successful mobile marketing strategy cannot be just at device or channel levels.