The History Of Mobile Marketing

To understand where mobile marketing is going, it’s important to get an idea of its evolution up to this point. In a relatively short period of time, cell phones have become a ubiquitous piece of technology that nearly every person carries with them at all times. This direct connection to so many consumers has made marketing via mobile devices one of the most successful and efficient forms of marketing on the planet.

The growth in cell phone usage has been one of the largest technological mass-adoptions ever seen, if not the largest. CTIA, a wireless trade association, states that wireless subscribers in the U.S. grew from an estimated 303MM in 2010 to nearly 422MM at the end of 2018. This translates to wireless penetration that tops 126.6% of all Americans, up from 96%. The end result is a channel that allows marketers to reach effectively every single American, when and where their message is most relevant and most actionable. This is a capability that even television or direct mail can’t match.

Equally impressive is the rise in SMS or “text message” usage. As cell phone penetration reaches nearly 100% in the U.S., text messaging has become one of the most common forms of communication in nearly every demographic. CTIA again reports that an average of 5.5 billion text messages were sent each and every day during 2018 in the U.S., which is up substantially from an estimated 14.4 million monthly text messages sent in 2005. To put this in perspective, we’re now sending over two trillion text messages per year in the U.S. with a growth rate that’s off the charts.

The concept of mobile marketing was centered purely on SMS during its infancy because of the technology’s ability to present advertisements to consumers in real time with a nearly 100% open rate. Even before the mobile web, mobile apps, and other forms of mobile media came into reality, SMS allowed marketers to deliver a highly relevant message to subscribers and include calls to action that were more relevant and immediate than almost any traditional marketing vehicle. Since then, mobile marketing has grown exponentially to include additional media tools that have expanded its value even further.

Though SMS remains a powerful marketing channel, in recent years mobile applications for smart phones have emerged as a new messaging channel with the ability to reach consumers in an even more personalized capacity while removing some of the limitations presented by SMS. Branded mobile apps provide an engaging mobile experience for the user while keeping the sponsor of the app (the brand) in constant view. It allows the advertiser the opportunity to provide value to its users while maintaining a direct branding effort. It also allows much deeper and more meaningful communication to be conducted with the end user because there are no character limitations and it allows for rich text, graphics, games, and virtually unlimited opportunities for interaction.

The evolution of push notifications, or short, alert-style messages sent from the app that are displayed on the smartphone’s screen, now allows mobile apps to drive traffic to the app when content has been updated. This ability now gives mobile apps nearly the same reach and open rate that SMS has owned for years, bridging the gap even more so between the two forms of communication.

With this being said, mobile apps are not the en- all be-all solution to mobile marketing. In 2019, 25% of apps downloaded are only used once and only 32% of apps downloaded by users are retained. Of those apps that were retained, only half of the users enabled push notifications. This is where SMS comes in and can supplement the downfalls of apps. Though SMS and mobile applications each provide a set of individual strengths and weaknesses, the real benefit comes from combining the two channels in order to build on each other’s strengths and offset each other’s weaknesses. Truly effective mobile marketing campaigns understand these factors and leverage them all to create groundbreaking ROI numbers.

How to Set Your Goals for a Mobile Marketing Campaign

Before jumping into any mobile marketing campaign, it’s important to explicitly lay out the goals you’d like to achieve. Marketing via the mobile channel is inherently personal from an end-user perspective and, as such, requires the marketer to know exactly what he’s aiming for in terms of outcome, audience and delivery.

A good start is to take a close look at the industry you’re in to see what types of campaigns are most appropriate. Is your industry related to packaged goods or retail? If so, a campaign that’s designed to drive specific actions such as barcode scans, mobile coupon redemption, or direct sales is most appropriate. If you’re in a service-based industry, maybe your goal is to drive leads via form-fills, for example. Specific forms of mobile marketing produce specific outcomes, so it’s important to give a lot of thought to your industry and the desired outcomes of any mobile campaign. Having a clear call-to-action will also help you decide what channels are most appropriate, and this creates a solid foundation for formulating your mobile strategy.

Building on this foundation, the next step is to gauge the most effective way to reach your audience. The mobile channel provides several ways to reach a consumer, from SMS and mobile apps to location-based marketing and more basic display advertising. In the end, it comes down to the goals you’ve set forth for yourself and the desired outcomes. Here are a few examples of specific industries, purposed outcomes, and the corresponding channels that might be most effective:

Retail/CPG: If your goal is to simply drive more retail product sales, you can leverage SMS-based mobile coupons and develop a branded mobile application that provides a service around your retail products. A good example of this is a branded product-comparison app that allows users to scan the barcodes of products while inside a store to compare prices, see nutritional information, or read reviews. By using both SMS and mobile apps, you can communicate with both the casual shopper who only wants a quick coupon as well as the hardcore price hunter who wants to make sure that he or she is getting the best deal possible.

Service based: If your goal revolves around the action of collecting prospects for a particular service, SMS is a powerful medium for encouraging immediate response. You can send out an SMS message that gives basic information and even a phone number that the end user can dial to get more information or use SMS two-way capabilities to start a conversation with a warm lead. For more in-depth interaction, a mobile app can provide additional levels of support such as location finders, live chat and FAQs, just to name a few. Again, the tool used depends on the level of interaction that the recipient is willing to participate in. Simply giving them the ability to choose between these two methods of communication can help customers to choose a method in the way that they feel most comfortable is a win for your brand right out of the gate.

Branding only: Sometimes, the goal of your campaign is purely brand-driven. This may not include any specific calls-to-action, but instead it’s meant to provide some sort of value to the user while wrapping that experience in your company’s branding. Mobile applications are a perfect way to accomplish this. You can create an experience that’s seemingly unrelated to your industry, such as a game or puzzle that indirectly promotes your brand in a variety of ways. SMS can be used as a tool to raise awareness of your app and increase downloads.

How to Build an Audience for Your Mobile Marketing Campaign

The next step in planning your campaign is building the audience you’ll eventually be messaging to. The most important thing to remember with any mobile marketing campaign is that it’s strictly permission-based, meaning you have to build an active database of those willing to receive communication from you. While it may seem like a daunting task, building an active mobile database that has chosen to receive your messages is important to you as a marketer because it presents a pool of actively engaged consumers who have already shown an interest in your brand. Once you’ve decided on the channel mix that you will use, you can easily formulate a strategy to start building your database.

Here’s the best ways to start building a base of subscribers:


Building your SMS database goes well beyond simply collecting cell phone numbers. The key is to provide long-lasting benefits that encourage a user to give you their mobile number and stay subscribed. The caveat is that acquiring cell phone numbers is a much more delicate process than collecting email addresses. A person’s phone number is much more personal and, therefore, much more guarded.

An example of providing added value and a reason to sign up is a program that distributes exclusive deals on products or services. Have a call-to-action on all your sales material that offers up “exclusive discounts for signing up via SMS.” Be sure to include your SMS opt-in call-to-action in as many areas as possible – including your website, printed material, app, and other marketing initiatives.

It’s also important to collect as much information as possible on the subscriber during the opt-in process. This can be accomplished by creating a custom form for SMS sign-ups. The form will allow you to collect information that is most pertinent to your strategy.

Because SMS is limited in message length, it should be used primarily as a notification tool or as a way to deliver special offers that bring value to the recipient. Remember that by combining SMS with Mobile Applications, you have the ability to engage on a much higher level.

Mobile Applications

While mobile apps utilize an entirely different distribution model than SMS, it’s still important to leverage existing databases to spread the word about your new mobile app. Simply making it available via app stores isn’t enough to get noticed in an ecosystem with hundreds of thousands of apps available. If you’ve already got an SMS or email database, send out targeted campaigns that promote your new mobile app. Both SMS and email campaigns allow a direct link to its download page and by promoting your newly developed app on these marketing vehicles, you can dramatically increase downloads. The fact that both SMS and email are accessible via mobile devices allows your recipients to download the app directly from your link.

In building your mobile database, you’ve likely obtained data on each subscriber that includes the type of device they are using, what carrier they are on, and perhaps more detailed information, such as whether or not they have a data plan. This is important because this information can be used for advanced segmentation.

For our campaign promoting a new mobile app via an SMS campaign, segmentation would include identifying the type of smartphone they own and send each the corresponding link download link. This ensures that the campaign you’re about to send is relevant to each and every recipient.

Once you’ve identified a targeted list of subscribers, you can start building your initial SMS campaign that will announce the new app and include your first call-to-action. This first message will have to be as impactful as possible since you only have 160 characters to get your message across, and some of the characters will be eaten up by the download link. Let’s say you’re a retail-based company that’s promoting a new app that provides nearby coupon offers based on users’ locations. Here’s an example of a message you could include in this first SMS blast:

“XXZ Company: Tired of clipping paper coupons? Download the free (XXZ Company) Mobile app and let the deals come to you! Click here to download: (small url)”

Good SMS messaging should be offer-based and provide value to the recipient, so send this message to your segmented SMS list and make sure to clearly highlight the availability of your app, the value it can provide to your users, and a clear call to action.

How to Plan for Your Campaign

After you’ve gone through a detailed initial planning session and built the lists that you will use, it’s time to set goals for your campaign and outline the specific messaging that you’ll use. Start by laying out the entire campaign experience on a calendar and run through how it will play out from start to finish. In this process, you will be able to identify the resources necessary to carry out your campaign, decide on a timeframe for each step, and put a plan in place to engage everyone that will become a part of it – both in your organization and in the audience.

A good starting point is to analyze the resources and services you need to carry out the campaign. You’ll likely need to enlist help from third parties, whether it’s communication service providers (CSP’s) to handle the sending of SMS messages, design firms to handle creative, or help with the development of mobile applications. Take a look at your campaign from start to finish – from building your initial database, to execution during the campaign, to collecting post-campaign data and metrics for analysis.

A good idea is to start a list of elements from your campaign that you don’t plan on handling yourself, and then begin researching the best third-party providers to get the job done. If you plan on utilizing SMS for your campaign, for example, try focusing on providers that can tailor their solutions to the type of campaign you’re sending. For instance, if you’re campaign requires the use of a barcode, it is pertinent the provider that you choose offers this capability. You want to make sure that the company you choose to work with isn’t learning on the job, so make sure that it has a great deal of experience in a wide variety of industries, especially yours.

Depending on the channels you’re using, review each and strategize how to best integrate them. Take our example of a campaign that uses SMS and mobile applications. The goal of your campaign might be to send out an initial SMS campaign with a time-sensitive offer, followed by a push notification that leads the recipient to your mobile app. The SMS message brings the recipient immediate value in the form of an offer, but the mobile app allows them to review your products in an appealing way at their leisure. In this way, you have appealed to both the impulse buyer who responds well to quick offers and the more thoughtful buyer who likes to engage over a much longer period of time. Now your campaign is reaping the rewards of both types of communication, and the recipient gets to choose how they want to engage with you.

How to Evaluate the Campaign’s Success

During and after your campaign, you’ll have an abundance of metrics to help you evaluate the success of your campaign. Depending on the provider you’ve chosen to send your SMS campaign, you’ll have reports to help analyze delivery and click-through rates. You can gauge how your message has been received by comparing the total messages sent to the click-through rates on your link to total downloads on your app. In this way, you will be able to measure engagement but also determine if there was a single point of failure in the event of low adoption.

ROI is always the best indication of whether the goals of your campaign were met, even though the return might not always have a dollar value associated with it. Instead, the question of value could be: did you achieve the number of app downloads you anticipated? Did your traffic increase at your location? Did you receive additional calls to your service? or how many users out of the initial list of subscribers clicked through to receive more information and the download link? ROI will depend on the goals that you set forth at the beginning of the campaign, so make sure you keep these consistent.

Once the campaign is completed you should also have a good idea of what worked and what didn’t, and this will provide valuable guidance for future campaigns. You may determine that you need more time to build a larger mobile database or think of other areas in which you could have included additional calls-to-action to drive engagement.

Mobile marketing provides a unique opportunity to engage users like no other form can, but it’s also not a “one-size-fits-all” model. You can’t simply put your message out there and hope that users respond to it. It takes detailed planning and strategy in order to know how all the pieces will come together in order to achieve a predetermined outcome. As with any great business venture, perfection comes with experience.