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16.2 Why the Mobile Phone?

Learning Objective

  1. Understand how mobile marketing became an important eMarketing tool.

The mobile phone is a sophisticated device. Today’s phones can act as alarm clocks, cameras, video recorders, MP3 players, calendars, notebooks, and messaging devices, and they can even make voice calls. However, it is not the aforementioned plethora of features that makes the mobile phone such an attractive device. The following seven features are what turn mobile phones into something truly remarkable for marketers:

  1. The mobile phone is personal.
  2. The mobile phone is always carried.
  3. The mobile phone is always on.
  4. The mobile phone has a built-in payment system.
  5. The mobile phone is available at the point of creative inspiration.
  6. The mobile phone can provide accurate audience measurements.
  7. The mobile phone captures the social context of media consumption.Tomi Ahonen, “Deeper Insights into the 7th Mass Media Channel, Mobile Is to the Internet, What TV Is to Radio,” Communities Dominate Brands, May 2, 2008, (accessed December 15, 2008).

If you consider your relationship with your mobile phone, these features should make sense. However, a few facts and figures never hurt anyone, and the following elaborates more fully on the aforementioned features.

The Mobile Phone Is Personal

A 2006 survey found that 63 percent of respondents would not share their phones with anyone (90 percent of those surveyed in Japan would not share their phones).“Wireless Works,” BBDO and Proximity, April 2006. While laptops do present a personal connection to the Internet, they are not as personal a device as the mobile phone.

The implication for marketers is that respect for privacy and permission is exceptionally important in all aspects of marketing, and particularly so when it comes to mobile phones.

The Mobile Phone Is Always Carried

What do you take with you when you leave your house? Wallet, keys, and mobile phone. What do you keep always near you when you are in your house? Mobile phone. According to 2007 research by Morgan Stanley, 91 percent of mobile phone owners keep their phone within three feet, twenty-four hours a day.Tomi Ahonen, “Deeper Insights into the 7th Mass Media Channel, Mobile Is to the Internet, What TV Is to Radio,” Communities Dominate Brands, May 2, 2008, (accessed December 15, 2008). People have their phones with them at all times of the day, even in the bathroom.

The implication for marketers is that messages sent to recipients can be read and acted on immediately. Unlike, for example, e-mail, which requires that the recipient be in front of his or her computer and connected to the Internet, messages sent to mobile phones will most likely be accessed within minutes of being received.

The Mobile Phone Is Always On

In order to fulfill its primary function—as a telephone—the mobile phone is always on. Messages and services can be sent and acted on at all times of the day.

As with the previous feature of the phone, the fact that the phone is always on has implications for marketers; it changes the services and messages that can be developed for the phone. It also means that marketers need to be perhaps even more sensitive with their marketing communications. Not many people would appreciate a short message service (SMS)Electronic messages sent on wireless networks. at four in the morning informing them of a special offer.

The Mobile Phone Has a Built-In Payment System

This is perhaps the key feature of the mobile phone and one reason why content for mobile phones in many areas generates as much or more revenue than content for the Internet. Every mobile phone has a built-in payment mechanism—the subscriber identity module (SIM) card. Billing is easily handled through the user’s mobile networkThe facilities and technology that make a public mobile telecommunications service possible.. Not only do mobile phones have this built-in payment mechanism, but also paying for content and downloads has been built into the way that consumers use their phones. There is less of an expectation that goods and services will be free, although as the mobile app market expands, this is changing.

There are also a number of services that turn the mobile into a virtual wallet or bank card, bringing banking and payment services to people all around the world.

iChannel, a mobile news ticker feed in Japan, generates US$192 million per year in subscriptions for its US$2-a-month service. It has more paying subscribers on this single service that all online newspapers in the world combined.Alan Moore, “The Glittering Allure of the Mobile Society,” white paper, SMLXL, November 2008, _Society.pdf (accessed December 3, 2008). Similar cases can be made for games, music, and other mobile content.

The implication for marketers is that consumers are willing to pay for services and content on their mobile phone. Advertising is not the only way to generate revenue for content.

The Mobile Phone Is Available at the Point of Creative Inspiration

As the mobile phone is always carried and always on, it is always available as a creative tool. Phones today feature a number of tools that let users act on creative impulse, from taking photos and videos, to becoming a scribbling pad on which to jot down ideas.

The implication for marketers is that these features can be used to encourage interactivity with campaigns created for mobile phones. It presents the mobile phone as a useful tool in viral campaigns based on consumer-generated content.


Accurate measurement is not available in all countries due to network guidelines.

The Mobile Phone Can Provide Accurate Audience Measurements

While the Internet is vastly superior to other media in its ability to track and measure advertising and marketing campaigns, it is eclipsed by the mobile phone. Every transaction made on a mobile phone can be uniquely tracked to that mobile phone number, whether the transaction is a voice call, an SMS message, or accessing the Internet.

The implication for marketers is that aggregated data provide extensive profiling and segmenting opportunities for targeting the right audience. Campaigns can also be accurately measured and tracked for ROI (return on investment). Bear in mind as well that this accurate measurement means that mobile phone users have far less anonymity than Internet users. Even though at least 50 percent of mobile phones worldwide are on a prepaid or pay-as-you-go type of contract (which means that the network operatorsA function that operates on or modifies other functions. do not have the phone user’s name and demographic details to go with the mobile number), each transaction made by the phone user can still be measured.

The Mobile Marketing Association has an in-depth glossary of mobile marketing terminology available as a free download from its Web site,

The Mobile Phone Captures the Social Context of Media Consumption

This represents emerging thinking on the benefits of the mobile phone. Because of the nature of the mobile phone to be able to accurately track transactions to any particular phone number (user), it can track transactions between mobile numbers (between users). This means that sophisticated data mining can identify patterns that indicate information about and preferences of mobile phone users. Not only can alpha users be identified, but they may also be identified within their social context.

The implication for marketers is that this information will represent rich data that can be used to both create and market products, content, and services online.

Limitations of the Mobile Phone

The mobile phone is a feature-packed gadget used all around the world by almost half the world’s population. However, as much as the mobile phone has a number of unique benefits, it does come with its own challenges.

The mobile phone is small. This means that it has a small screen and a small keypad. While some phones have a full QWERTYA full keypad like the one found on computers. keypad, many have the standard numeric keypad. When it comes to the mobile Web, consider that phones do not have a mouse. There are a few models that have touch screens, but for the most part, navigation of the mobile Web is through the keypad or scroll buttons on the phone.

Mobile phones are also even less standard than PCs. Not only do phone models present a myriad of screen sizes, there are also several operating systems and browsers that are used by mobile phones.

Use of more advanced features of phones can require an extensive education process. While mobile phones have a host of features, these devices are for the most part underused.

Key Takeaways

  • Mobile phones are sophisticated devices that serve as everything from alarm clocks to messaging devices.
  • There are seven reasons that turn mobile phones into great eMarketing tools:

    • The mobile phone is personal.
    • The mobile phone is always carried.
    • The mobile phone is always on.
    • The mobile phone has a built-in payment system.
    • The mobile phone is available at the point of creative inspiration.
    • The mobile phone presents accurate audience measurement.
    • The mobile phone captures the social context of media consumption.
  • As with many eMarketing channels, there are limitations.


  1. Based on the limitations listed in this section, can you think of a major brand that would have difficulty using mobile marketing as an eMarketing channel? List the reasons why.
  2. Using your favorite search engine, see if you can find the mobile marketing association in your country and the code of conduct for marketers. Do you think this can be better communicated to consumers?
  3. Privacy and permission are important factors in eMarketing and mobile marketing. How can these be communicated when using the mobile phone as a marketing channel?