It is, no doubt, a mobile world right now. This year there are officially more mobile devices in use on Earth than people. With a population of about 7 billion, Forrester Research estimates that there are more than 7 billion mobile devices currently in use. Not everybody has one, of course, but there sure are a lot of people who have multiple devices. The family of four with four phones, two tablets, one iPod Touch and two laptops is more the norm than the exception right now.
That’s a lot of marketing power in a medium that’s relatively new. The number of televisions, desktop computers, radios, magazines, newspapers or any other advertising medium can’t really come close. And, when you consider that each mobile device is a mini advertising billboard, the mobile arena provides marketers with inventory and reach that hasn’t been seen before.
Until recently, though, much of that mobile marketing might has been in the retail arena (push notifications from Starbucks for a latte coupon as you’re walking by, for example). But, as the smartphone and tablet marketplace grows (56% of American adults use smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project), businesses in the business-to-business sector (i.e. distributors and suppliers) are realizing how much mobile marketing can deliver to them for what’s often a fraction of traditional advertising costs.
More to the point, mobile communications in general are becoming such a standard of everyday life that companies not participating are already behind. “I think ignoring mobile marketing is no longer an option if you look at the statistics of the market,” says Zach Cusimano, COO of Bizness Apps, a San Francisco-based DIY mobile app platform site for small businesses.
Stats about the mobile market, he says, are too telling to ignore. “Seventy-five percent of smartphone owners are looking for real time information on their phone,” Cusimano says. “Ninety percent of those searches lead to an actual action, such as purchasing something – or going to the business itself. So for a small business it’s a golden opportunity.”
And while much of the action Cusimano is referring to takes place between consumers and retail outlets, more and more companies that sell to other businesses are realizing the branding, marketing and direct-response power of mobile technology, even though “less than 10% of today’s businesses have mobile-optimized websites,” Cusimano says. That alone means any company that leverages mobile technology is ahead of the game.
An onslaught of new companies geared to mobile website conversion and app development are making the jump to mobile-ready communications and marketing an easy and relatively inexpensive venture for small businesses. One of the advantages of mobile marketing – thanks to a proliferation of mobile marketing companies – is that it makes the entry into mobile marketing easier than ever, while leveling the playing field for small-business owners trying to compete with larger players, says Dan Meehan, CEO and founder of PadSquad, a digital advertising firm based in New York.
Even just a few years ago, Cusimano says, if you wanted a mobile app for your small business, you’d pay around $50,000 by building it from scratch, so a small business couldn’t compete against a giant corporation. That’s not true today. These days, many mobile app companies exist to assist businesses in building apps from templates, with features that can be added over time as a company evolves. More to the point, Meehan says, companies that “leverage mobile marketing now are adopting a newer marketing message before your competitors – a differentiator that can help distributors move ahead of rivals.”
For the most part, the most difficult step to entering the mobile marketplace, experts say, is figuring out what to do first. Step one, they say, should always be converting your website to one that’s ready for mobile viewing. “Unfortunately, less than 10% of businesses today have mobile optimized websites,” Cusimano says.
But not because it’s a cumbersome process. Making a website optimized for the mobile world can literally take 30 seconds, says Cusimano, and as little as an hour to fine tune.
Not sure if your distributorship is ready – or even needs – to go mobile with its website? Start by tracking where your Web traffic is coming from, says Meehan. “Look at your own e-mail subscriber lists and see how many of those e-mails are being opened on a desktop or laptop versus phones and tablets.”
It’s data that can be tracked on Google Analytics for free, Meehan says. Have upwards of 40% of visitors coming in on a tablet or smartphone? It might be time to optimize your website for mobile viewing. In fact, not doing so might harm your brand in the marketplace among prospects, experts say.
The Time is Now
Currently there are 7.6 billion local searches per month, says Trevor Sumner, founder and president of LocalVox, a New York-based social and mobile marketing platform for businesses. “Half of those happen on mobile devices,” a number that’s estimated to surpass desktop searches for local businesses and services next year, he adds.
All of which means that if your company doesn’t have a mobile site and someone tries to view it on their iPhone, they’ll quickly become frustrated when it’s either too slow to load or loads improperly because it’s not compatible with a mobile device. That doesn’t bode well, experts say. “Fifty percent of customers will leave if the mobile website doesn’t load within three seconds,” Sumner warns. Even worse, “40% of mobile customers turn to a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience,” he says, nor would they recommend your company to others.
In addition, it’s important to also look at what your competitors are doing in terms of mobile technology. Visit competitors’ websites via your own mobile device, Cusimano advises. “What type of features are they offering? What’s working? What do you like about their app?”
Without exception, mobile sites are crucial in today’s marketplace, say industry experts. More so than ever, ad specialty companies are starting to see the advantage of marketing mobility, says Corey Zirlin, president of ProMo Mobility, a Santa Monica, CA-based company that has entered into an agreement with ASI to help promotional product suppliers and distributors create mobile friendly websites.
Tapping the resources of ASI’s ESP database, Zirlin says, the company created a way for suppliers to incorporate the industry’s products into a mobile-ready format – via a mobile catalog or mobile app – that can easily be viewed and searched on the road, along with functionality for social media connections, product videos and push notifications.
While Zirlin says his clients aren’t yet using mobile apps for transactions or direct-response marketing in the way a national restaurant chain might, they are gaining traction as a way to “brand and lock in your customer,” he says. “Once you have a promotional product company’s app on your phone, it’s not likely you’ll go somewhere else. For distributors it’s such an easy way to contact customers.”
Like many mobile marketing experts, Zirlin recommends that companies keep apps simple in the beginning. It’s easier for companies to manage as they evolve their mobile marketing strategy. Plus, it makes messaging more direct and relatable to recipients. That often means using a template to build an app, for example, rather than developing one from scratch at a much greater time and money expense. Starting small and simple also allows companies to gain feedback on an app before launching additional features.
Zirlin’s mobile catalog for distributors is specific to their business and costs $99 to set up and $69 a month to run, while the app is $499 to set up and $149 a month to maintain.
There are also many features to apps that can be enhanced as a user determines customer usage and needs. Based upon which app is being used on which device (tablet or smartphone), companies can offer mobile enhancements to keep clients engaged and make contact easier. For example, companies like Bizness Apps offer GPS services, loyalty program enhancements and app-driven CRM tools, plus social media integration and dozens of other app tie ins. Basic features like click-to-call should be included in every app, Cusimano says. A new feature, geo-location, lets companies send notifications to people in specific areas of a city, region or area, even overseas. Or, notifications can get as specific as within a convention center, targeting attendees at a conference.
Push notifications, Cusimano says, have an open rate upwards of 90%, which is akin to a recipient opening an e-mail every time you send one out, making apps an enormously powerful marketing tool. “If a user downloads your app,” Cusimano says, “you literally have space reserved in their pocket at all times, which is pretty crazy to think about.”
And distributors should reward them accordingly. Anyone willing to download a permanent portal to a vendor on their phone is obviously an extremely loyal client. “Those are your top clients,” Cusimano says, “and companies should really be rewarding them with features like coupons and loyalty tabs.”
Other firms, such as TreSensa, a New York-based creator of mobile games, help companies devise materials for mobile Web gaming, an increasingly popular marketing method for connecting with clients through mobile technology, says Rob Grossberg, TreSensa’s CEO.
“The story here for a small business,” says Grossberg, “is that the most popular form of content on mobile devices is games,” adding that more than 30% of an individual’s time on a smartphone is spent playing games, while that number jumps to more than 65% on a tablet. And don’t think gaming isn’t conducive to selling, Grossberg says. A “jetpack joyride” game TreSensa helped launch for Progressive insurance company included high scores for capturing home and car icons in one game, suggesting that bundling insurance policies would give consumers bigger rewards and savings.
Regardless of which mobile strategy distributors move toward, it’s important to realize that not choosing one may be a detriment to their business in the near future. “There are 7.6 billion local searches per month, and half of those happen on local mobile devices,” says LocalVox’s Sumner. “If you’re not there, you’re just not in the game.”