How to approach mobile marketing like a startup

by Jeff Hilimire on August 4, 2010

Last month I delivered a lunch and learn to a client titled, “Is this finally the year of mobile?”.  It’s a question that seems to be asked every year.  What’s the old joke?  Mobile is the future of marketing – and always will be.

We should be so much farther along this path by now!  The first iPhone was launched in January 2007, supposedly bringing about a new wave of marketing to people on their mobile devices, yet we still have barely begun to realize the power of this medium.

The last part of my lunch and learn focused briefly on how to get started.  To me, it has to be a mind-shift for marketers to embrace any new medium.  We’re seeing this now with social.  Ever so slowly, marketers are starting to test out social marketing.  They’re building a fan base on Facebook, but don’t really know why, they’re tweeting out from their Twitter account, but they really don’t know what to say, and they’re posting their videos on YouTube, but they don’t really know what to do next.

But at least they know how to get started.  With mobile, most companies are really lost on how to even approach the space.  And I think its because marketers are stuck in this process that has been defined over decades, and its ingrained in our DNA.  Words like “research,” demographics,” “reach” (how I hate that one), “budgets,” “projections,” “plans,” etc., all get in the way of testing new marketing technology.

So I’m going to borrow some principles from my startup roots and give some of my perspective on how companies can start embracing, not just mobile, but new technology.

1. IT’S OK TO FAIL, JUST FAIL FAST.  That’s right.  In corporate America, we think any failure is, well, a failure.  In the startup world that’s part of the game.  The only way you get better is to try, fail, learn and re-try.  The key with being good at failure is failing fast.  Don’t let something linger for weeks and weeks because that is what your plan said.  Instead, be ready to turn it on, turn it off and adjust as you go.  No one has the magic bullet for these new technologies, so there’s no way to plan your success.

2. FIGHT ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. I’m all for making sure you have a plan in place, and research to support that plan is great.  But if that plan is being used as a crutch to getting started in mobile, then you need to find a way to move through it.  Which gets me to my next point…

3. REMEMBER HENRY FORD. Mr. Ford is often quoted as saying, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”  Visionaries like Steve Jobs often use this quote to emphasize why they do things that are contrary to what research might indicate is the right path. Sometimes your customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them.

Think about this, if a year ago you had asked people if they wanted a digital farm that they had to maintain almost hourly to make sure their crops didn’t wilt, what do you think they would have said?  But over 80 million people play Farmville today!  Or how about asking your friends if they want to send you text-like messages, but only limit them to 140 characters?  Over 20 million people are doing that on Twitter.  Sometimes people don’t know they want something until you show it to them.

4. GET IT IN THE HANDS OF YOUR CUSTOMERS. Today, successful startups work hard to get their product in front of customers as soon as possible.  This allows them to get immediate feedback and iterate in order to get to a product that their customers will actually use.  It also reduces the amount of time and money that is spent on something that people won’t want to use.

With mobile, testing campaigns or apps in specific markets and rolling out functionality as you go is a great way to get customers to give you invaluable and timely feedback.

5. And lastly, you have to ask yourself: DO YOU REALLY WANT TO BE AN IMMOBILE BRAND? Do you want to be a brand that is locked to interacting with your customers either in your business location, on a computer or on a landline phone?  Don’t you want to be able to be there when and where your customers need you?

Of course, you don’t want to be an immobile brand.  But continuing to find reasons why your company isn’t ready to start testing mobile is going to ensure that you’re an immobile brand.

  • Kevin Planovsky

    Good stuff! Although, seems like of a philosophy on embracing ALL new technologies, as opposed to specifically mobile… would have liked to see some “real world” technologies and practices along with the philosophy to get brands started.


  • Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks KP, I'll work on some real world mobile practices for the next one ;) And you're right, this applies to embracing any new technology which is how I typically present these concepts. Good call.

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