M-branding, Part II: Contextual Branding
By Martin Lindstrom, Mon May 07 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Mobile branding is becoming more pervasive and the need to have an updated consumer profile database is crucial.


In the last article, I touched on the challenges of brand-building via the mobile handsets. Such an apparently restrictive forum for brand messaging is driving brand-builders into creative, abbreviated communications solutions. Now, I’d like to consider some challenges and changes that m-commerce and m-branding is likely to generate in consumer behaviour.

To begin, let’s consider the static advertisements that screen prior to the trailer screenings at the movies. Would you agree that they’re boring? No-one watches them, and even fewer remember them. Why? Because they use the media channel of the cinema screen inappropriately.

The cinema is about motion pictures, sound and action. The slideshow, which these inept commercials constitute, offers neither action nor sound experience - renders their screening impotent. The future consumer will not sit still and passively watch commercials. The consumer of the future will regard broadcast advertising in the same way as we regard (or disregard) the tedious cinema advertising. Each media form has its unique advantages, and effective advertising capitalises on them appropriately. The success of branding via the mobile phone will be dependent on our ability to invent “instant communication”, messages that capitalise on the unique advantages of the mobile media. M-branding means instant branding: short-term branding that communicates with the consumer at the very minute of relevance.

Instant branding

Let me take you on a small journey to illustrate the potential of m-branding when used effectively.

Imagine it’s hot outside—very hot—some 40°C. Imagine you’re strolling languidly down the street, mopping your brow and wondering how you’re going to get through the day in these temperatures. Hey presto! You receive a message on your mobile device. It’s a commercial offering you two Cokes for the price of one. The message is short, simple and relevant as it has been activated by your geographic position. You are, in fact, about to pass by a small kiosk selling, you guessed it, Coke. So, you’re prompted to enter the establishment. In the store there’s a display promoting the Coke Heatwave campaign, urging consumers to sign up for the Coke Heatwave promotion. The promise is that they’ll receive hot messages about great offers that are relevant: relevant because they’ll be received at the right time and place. These messages might appear using a wireless format, but could just as easily be received through one of the many other relevant interactive channels, like AOLtv or e-mail. The channel will be relevant to the consumer, as will the timing of the commercial and the product it offers. Profiling is the key.

Imagine if the world’s largest bricks-&-mortar bookstore, Barnes & Noble, managed to map every customer’s reading preferences, including your own, and created consumer-specific loyalty programmes around this information. The next message you receive on your mobile phone might inform you that the book you’ve been looking for over the past decade is, at last, in print again and available from the store you’re about to pass by. The extra detail would be that Barnes & Noble can offer you this sought-after volume at a 10% discount if you purchase it from the store within the next ten minutes. Otherwise, it’s still there for you, but at full price.

What we are talking about is contextual branding -communicating a message at the right time, in the right place, to the right person. It leaps away from the capacity of traditional branding. Billboards, for example, can never guarantee relevant messaging. How can broadcast media, such as this speak to individuals in the particular moment they might be in the mood for a Coke?

Does it work?

The effect? Well, I guess there’s no need to spell out that instant, contextual branding is substantially more effective than any other communication method marketers have employed to date. The significance, apart from its effectiveness, is that it represents another step closer to true one-to-one communication.

Contextual branding is another addition to our existing portfolio of communication media, most of which have long-term effect. The point of m-commerce is its instantaneous effectiveness and, realistically, this should define the ambit of its use -as a pure, instant medium with a short-term branding effect.

Branding is more than a logo

So, how do you communicate effectively via that tiny, monochromatic, mute screen? Branding is not entirely about having a nice logo as many still seem think. The function of the logo is to simplify the product’s message, making the brand easy to recognize quickly. But it’s the bigger picture that the logo abbreviates that creates the brand’s personality. As easily as m-commerce and m-branding can add a substantial new media channel to the existing communications portfolio, they can fail us if their possibilities and limitations are not understood and used appropriately. It’s not hard to imagine how bad will might be created if m-branding media is used inappropriately. If consumers’ privacy, time and profile aren’t respected, a brand can expect to alienate potential customers. Even though our intention will be to ensure that only relevant, smart, informed m-branding messages are delivered to consumers’ mobile phones, you can bet that poorly designed messages will harangue consumers, making their mobile lives painful. Imagine receiving some dumb, meaningless commercial message every minute you’re in the supermarket.

What we’ve learned so far?

So where does all this lead us? M-commerce and m-branding opportunities are enormous. But, like with any other medium, we need to study its advantages and its weaknesses before claiming that we really understand how to use it as an effective communication tool. This evolutionary stage takes time, costs money and demands patience. And, believe me, there’s no short cut around this. Remember: it took seven years for the World Wide Web’s Internet to get where it is today. And no-one has yet graced it with the perfect commercial communication method.

Case: mBook

I’m sure you’ve tried referring to business-to-business texts only to find them out of date. This is why I invented the DualBook.com concept. It’s a simple idea that replaces every page number with a URL. By referring to the real-life book, you can visit the DualBook.com site, use the URLs that stand in the place of page numbers, and receive updated pages online. But the concept doesn’t stop there. A mobile component will soon make the DualBook the first book in the world to send SMS messages. And the messages will be targeted, readers receiving only material that is relevant to their profile, entered into the book’s online site. The book’s life has been extended, from a usual 12 months to more than 44 months of survival time. M-branding has enabled us to communicate instant, relevant messages, to large audiences, relatively cheaply. What a tool.

Martin Lindstrom is recognized as one of the world's primary online branding gurus. His latest best-selling book Clicks, Bricks and Brands, written in partnership with the 1-to-1 guru team of Don Peppers and Martha Rogers Phd, has revolutionized the book industry with its introduction of the world's first DualBook, a clicks-&-mortar subscription-based book concept.

Martin Lindstrom was a co-founder of Europe's largest Web-development group, BBDO Interactive Europe (today Fremfab), in 1995; co-founder of Australia/Asia's largest interactive agency group, BBDO Interactive in 1997; and, from 1999, COO for BTLookSmart, a worldwide joint venture between British Telecom and LookSmart