CellphoneThis morning I was reading an AdAge article that highlighted an agency’s findings on female engagement with mobile web advertising on iPhone compared to other devices.  The overall finding was that women with iPhones were much less engaged after clicking through from a mobile ad.  The question that popped into my head was – why?  Why was the engagement so much lower?  Are these consumers really that disinterested, or is there something else going on? Conspicuously absent was any mention of conversions, sales, or other form of ROI.  In other words, what were the non-iPhone users doing while they were so much more engaged?  Did that engagement translate into measurable ROI for the brands?

The article went on to describe the rationale for how some big brands opt for a one-size-fits-all mobile site for their mobile initiatives in an effort to maximize reach (and presumably minimize cost).  I can’t help but wonder if this approach is always the most effective in the long run.  Of course, to get to the bottom of what is really going on with this group, you’d have to dig a lot deeper, but let’s consider a couple of topics that should be addressed before brands jump into a mobile initiative:

Knowing the audience first
Who are you targeting?  If the answer is ‘everyone’ or ‘women 19-49’, that’s the first problem.  In traditional media, brands probably wouldn’t run the same ad when targeting a 20 year urban college student as they would a 45 year old mom from rural Indiana.  Why should mobile be any different?  And I’m not just talking about the ad creative – I’m talking about the way mobile campaign is designed.  More on that below.  Slice and dice your audience into manageable segments and determine what platforms/devices are common in each segment so that your mobile campaigns can be more effectively targeted.

What tactics should you employ?
Keeping the above in mind, does it make sense to focus your resources on building out a single mobile site that can be accessed from most mobile devices, or is it potentially more effective to develop custom applications for multiple mobile platforms?  Should you run an SMS campaign or purchase mobile banner ads?  What about sponsoring existing mobile apps?

These are not black and white questions, and in my opinion cannot be answered easily.  These questions brings up many others: What do your targets need and how can you help them? How many of them are there on a given platform (iPhone, Blackberry, traditional web-enabled mobile phone, etc.). Can you provide a solution to them on-the-go that benefits them and increases sales, conversions, viral spread, etc.?  Perhaps a targeted app that provides a mix of utility and entertainment will have a higher conversion rate than a banner ad that clicks through to a mobile site for a portion of your audience. Maybe an SMS campaign that allows you to send product info or discounts to consumers at the point of purchase will be most effective with a specific segment. The point is that one size does not fit all, and a thorough understanding of the audiences and opportunities to engage each segment is necessary before embarking on a mobile initiative.

Reach vs. Value
Historically, advertising has been measured by how many people saw the ad, or the Reach.  Now, there are other metrics to consider and the Value of the resulting engagement is much more important to measure.  Does it really matter how many people click on your ads or visit your mobile site if they don’t make a purchase or otherwise move the needle that your company is trying to move?  Isn’t is just as effective to reach less people but have a higher rate of conversion?  The Value of the interactions is vital.  The rest is just window dressing for corporate reports.  Value can be measured in a myriad of ways – requests for additional info, forwarding, tweeting, posting to Facebook, click through to purchase, up-selling, etc.  Depending on the goals, the way Value is measured will vary.

If you are planning a mobile initiative, the topics above are a starting point.  What are some others that come to mind for you?  Do you think there is a secret to mobile engagement?  I look forward to the comments.