A New Marketing Order

Now Is The Time To Step Into Mobile Marketing

Mobile MarketingAs the use of smartphones for businesses and consumers hits critical mass, distributors have to create strategies to target clients where they are. Now is the time to take the step into mobile marketing.

The change began last year for Halo Branded Solutions (asi/356000): the placement of QR codes in the company's e-mail promotions. "Last year we sent out 1.2 million e-mails on behalf of our salespeople," says Terry McGuire, senior vice president of marketing for Halo, a Top 40 distributor based in Sterling, IL. "Seventy-five percent of those had a QR code embedded in the e-mail so people could use their smartphones to go back to the promotion."

At a certain point, marketers need to bow to the pressure around them to move their marketing efforts to the places where their buyers are. That tipping point has arrived, and the venue is the smartphone. A new report from research firm eMarketer shows that the number of smartphones in use in the United States alone has doubled in the past 12 months. Further, the report shows there are more than 1 billion smartphones in use worldwide.

It's a consumer trend that has most definitely been noticed by advertisers. A separate report from research firm Strategy Analytics shows that the amount advertisers and marketers are projected to spend on mobile media in 2012 is $11.6 billion, nearly double the $6.3 billion spent in 2011.

Quick Acceptance of QR Codes
It's hard to walk through an airport, read a magazine, pass a moving bus or otherwise live your life without seeing a QR (quick response) code these days. A 2011 survey from ScanLife, a mobile barcode solutions company, reports that use of barcode scans are up 81% worldwide from a year ago.

So, why do some distributors feel mobile barcodes haven't exactly hit a critical mass in the advertising specialty industry? "I would guess less than 5% are using them on promotional products," says Mark Ziskind, COO of Caliendo Savio Enterprises-CSE (asi/155807), based in New Berlin, WI. "It seems a lot of people are putting them on their packaging, but I think we're in the infancy stage of QR codes."

In an industry that's relied on direct mail and catalog requests for decades, figuring out how to use mobile marketing to target clients and prospects is a relatively new challenge. And, some distributors think that companies in the ad specialty marketplace are in the beginning stages of using that technology effectively.

Certainly, plenty of companies are jumping at the opportunity to target clients with mobile marketing. Take Proforma (asi/300094), for example. Last summer, the Top 40 distributor rolled out a campaign to drive end-users to its Facebook page via QR codes, asking them to upload an image of the best product they'd received in the mail. The winner would receive a discount on his or her next order.

With 6,964 views of the company's Facebook page, Proforma executives were encouraged by the traffic the promotion created. Yet, the number of photos uploaded didn't meet their expectations, says Deanna Castello, Proforma's chief marketing officer, who called the interactive portion of the campaign "mildly successful." Still, she says, the company found the new promotion valuable because of a 150% increase in postings on the page. "I know the uploads were down. That number was less than we had hoped for," Castello says, "but the number of visitors was still there."

Besides the fact that many in the industry still prefer to receive product information via direct mail, Castello and others have started to notice a division between different ages among clients and their preferences for marketing mediums. For example, Castello says, buyers in their 30s and younger tend to prefer electronic marketing to direct mail, whereas older customers like more traditional marketing mediums. Of course, as all purchasing contact points in the sales process become smartphone-savvy and increase their exposure to mobile marketing, distributors will need to adapt their approaches.

At The Vernon Company (asi/351700), Chris Vernon, the firm's president, says the company is using QR codes mostly for recruiting purposes. Placed in ads (both digitally and in print), QR codes take users to a website that promotes the benefits of working for the Newton, IA-based Top 40 distributor. Those who engage the QR code are taken to a special recruiting Web page that discusses Vernon's "four pillars of success that differentiate us" from other companies out there, Vernon says.

That's smart, says Sertan Kabadayi, an associate professor of marketing at Fordham University in New York who specializes in mobile marketing. Tools like QR codes, for example, are hard to replicate in the business-to-business world in the same way that they function for consumers. To that end, Kabadayi suggests that distributors use QR codes, apps and other tools to recruit new talent, provide promotional info to clients and highlight products new to the market.

"Distributors could easily have apps for their customer service, instead of having them going to the website," Kabadayi says. But, using QR codes for final sales as they may be used in the consumer world is a riskier venture, given the fact that higher volumes and more costly orders are at stake.

Beware Overkill
Distributors tend to agree with the approach espoused by Kabadayi, stressing that most of the business in the ad specialty market is still completed in face-to-face interactions. "We do not want to conduct commerce online," but rather "through our dealers," says Gregg Emmer, chief marketing officer of Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600), a Top 40 distributor based in Batavia, OH. The company, he adds, sees mobile marketing as an interactive extension of its catalogs, but "we still expect that every transaction has direct communication between a Kaeser & Blair dealer and a customer."

Still, Emmer says, mobile marketing has its place in the ad specialty arena. Last year, for example, a client told him she keeps the electronic version of Kaeser & Blair's catalog on her desktop, from which she regularly sends product ideas to upwards of 30 people in her company. That would never happen with a single printed catalog, Emmer says.

The limitations for mobile marketing in the ad specialty industry, though, lie in most distributors' inability to conduct business through digital means. In that sense, mobile marketing may still be more geared toward the individual consumer, but Kabadayi says there are mobile tactics that work better for B-to-B companies. Kabadayi says texting, for example, is often a better option for B-to-B marketers than those targeting consumers.

Why? Individuals are wary of accepting texts from third parties unfamiliar to them. But business contacts that are used to texting will be more accepting of promotional texts that come through their phones.

Going MobileWhat businesses need to be wary of as they venture into the mobile marketing arena is overkill. Some distributors can get carried away with both the content and quantity of e-mails, tweets or social media posts, says Ziskind. Even for someone who works in the industry, Ziskind says, copious tweets on your latest tote bag and why it's wonderful isn't exciting news. Instead, Ziskind says, distributors should keep it lively – a fun fact about how Oprah used that same bag to carry her favorite reads is far more compelling than straight product information. And less is more, experts say.

"Thirty nine posts about towels and keychains – you've got to be kidding me," Ziskind says.

Mixed Media
Like many distributors, Halo's McGuire says a multi-pronged approach to mobile marketing is the key to making it work. In addition to QR codes embedded in e-mails that promote weekly "super saver" specials, his company encourages sellers to use social media to connect with clients, offering tutorials on the best ways to promote products on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other sites.

That makes sense. But in an industry that's still learning just how to use mobile marketing to its advantage, other distributors complain that it's being overused and mismanaged in much the same way that e-mails sometimes are, creating a mobile marketing spam issue.

One way to negate that problem is to inspire clients to take their own initiative on product information. Emmer predicts photo recognition – in which individuals can take photos of a product with their smartphones to download product details – could become popular among distributors and suppliers in the future. Walking the trade show floor, distributors could simply snap a photo of a product they see and have instant access to vital details about that item.

As for social media, Ziskind says his company uses different sites for different purposes. While Facebook may be a more informal tool to start a conversation about a new product, service or pricing special, LinkedIn is more suited for business development, as CSE salespeople learn about new hires and job changes among the contacts they work with. Clients who get promoted or change jobs get congratulatory gifts and a request to work with their new departments or companies.

Leveraging knowledge on mobile apps, says Ziskind, seems more valuable to his company than, say, tweeting about a product special.

Other distributors would disagree, illustrating that there's little consensus in the industry about which mobile marketing tool is the most effective, as well as the best ways to use such tools. Apps, for example – a prolific part of consumers' everyday lives – are still minimally finding their way into the ad specialty marketplace. For his part, Vernon says, the idea doesn't appeal to him, and he voices concern for the fact that the more apps an individual has on her phone or tablet, the slower it operates. With so many apps available to consumers, Vernon and others wonder if that type of marketing tool might not be as appropriate for a B-to-B marketing environment.

And, like any sales and marketing tool, distributors want to track the effectiveness of mobile marketing. It may be this factor more than any other that has distributors hesitating about jumping into mobile marketing with two feet. The connection between an end-user's interaction with a mobile marketing tool and the final sale is almost impossible to determine, says Ziskind, adding that, for all the new points of contact mobile marketing offers, confirmation of its effectiveness is difficult to gauge.

"I think it's a little bit like when 10 years ago everyone said, ‘I have to have a Web page,' and then they said, ‘How many clicks did you get? I got 1,000 clicks,' " he says. "That doesn't mean anything."

– betsycummings23@gmail.com.