M-branding, Part I: Thinking Outside the Box
By Martin Lindstrom, Tue Apr 10 00:00:00 GMT 2001

One of the biggest challenges m-commerce will face is that of branding via pure text display.

Branding was a unique challenge during the early years of the Internet when, in the absence of graphics, fledgling Web designers had to rely purely on text. When graphics became available later they did so with major constraints. Then, the graphic display possibilities increased, enabling animation, sound and 3D displays. The more tools that became available, the better branding opportunities appeared.

So the big challenge for every m-commerce marketer is how to build a brand using a screen smaller than a matchbox; knowing that only one color is available (black) on a green background; having no scope for graphics; and keeping in mind that the consumer pays for every second it takes to receive a branding message. That’s the new world of m-branding. Now, more than ever, creativity and discipline are needed in the preparation of branding platforms.

Creative branding

Silk Cut, an English tobacco company, was facing an imminent ban on cigarette advertising in the early eighties. Unlike other tobacco companies in the UK, Silk Cut altered its marketing approach to comply with the incoming government ban on cigarette commercials. All the cigarette companies knew the ban would come into effect, but unfortunately, not many of them used the time well. So, when the day finally arrived, Silk Cut was able to continue its marketing campaign while its competitors’ marketing efforts came to a standstill.

Silk Cut maneuvered around the legislative constraints by eliminating its brand name from all publicity. Silk Cut became recognizable as an image: luxuriously rumpled purple silk with a gaping slash through it. The simple yet strong image communicated the product’s identity wordlessly. Color and image became the communicators. And the interesting thing was that no one really realized that the name was gone. The branding had remained intact.

Marlboro was another brand which, through its clothing line, found an escape route into the new advertising realm. The cigarette company communicated with potential smokers by promoting the “Marlboro Country” clothing brand.

So what’s the connection between these examples and m-branding? Being limited to using a matchbox-sized display, with no colors and no resolution is like running a Silk Cut campaign without being allowed to show the logo or the brand name. It demands creative, disciplined branding planning.

Putting m-branding into practice

Yes, it is possible to show a logo on the mobile-phone display, but don’t forget the consumer is paying for every second the brand is taking up on their mobile’s screen. So what can you do?

One technique is to target your product placement. Ensure that, whenever it’s relevant (related to the news, to the movie listings, and so on) your brand is exposed.

Another method would be to refine the brand’s language. Use phrases that the consumer can recognize as being the voice and speech of the brand. Some brands have already developed recognizable voices through brand phrases. Coca-Cola for example, has drawn the word “Enjoy” around its identity. The connection to m-branding is apparent, isn’t it?

Such a simple word, yet through disciplined brand use, so charged with meaning that its exposure on that tiny mobile display will say a thousand things to the consumer in a split second. Think about Intel Inside’s melody and imagine how easy it will be for that brand to broadcast the signature melody via the mobile phone. Both Coca-Cola and Intel have created identifiers around their brands which can, independent of their brands’ logos, names and images, remind the consumer about the brand and all it stands for.

But many, many more brands haven’t been this inventive. M-branding is all about using very few tools in a very creative way. If no branding tools exist they will have to be created, fast! Because the race for real estate on the mobile-phone display has already begun, marketers need to stake their brands’ claim.

M-commerce and wireless Internet technologies have the potential to advance marketers’ access to the consumer and consumers access to the market data. Be ready to make the most of it because, despite the graphic handicap, a range of marketing challenges and opportunities are likely to appear in the guise of m-commerce, each of them bringing new tools to brand building.

M-commerce is instant commerce; it enables marketers to be in constant contact with consumers, to know where they are at any time and to send customized brand messages according to their location and profile. Purchasing behavior will trigger cross- and upselling. Where most other communication channels, like TV and the print media, offer the tools of animation and color, m-commerce offers the capacity to contact consumers at the very minute a purchase decision is taking place. This gives the brand a totally new role – a role that has never been possible before.

M-commerce is a discipline in which no one can really claim experience. That’s the difference between traditional branding and instant branding—and it’s the latter’s crucial advantage. Now the big question is: what’s your m-branding strategy like?

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