Mobile Marketing: Selling Customers To Advertisers Or Advertisers To Customers?
By Mike Masnick, Wed Oct 20 21:45:00 GMT 2004

It's time to realize that mobile marketing isn't about how much you can sell your customers' personal information for, but how much value your advertisers can provide your customers.

A lot of companies are scrambling to figure out how to advertise to mobile users. Unfortunately, rather than looking at the real possibilities for mobile marketing, it appears some are falling back on old school marketing practices that are increasingly obsolete. Already, too many consider the biggest mobile marketing opportunity to be mobile spam, where advertisers are allowed to send messages to users. Even when it's "opt-in," such messages are often disruptive and not well targeted.

Another attractive choice for operators (and these are not mutually exclusive) is the potential to sell more and more subscriber data to advertisers. With the rise of the mobile Internet, operators are going to have access to more and more personal info -- which should make you a little wary when you hear quotes like the following, from 3's Director of Marketing, Graeme Oxby: "We know a huge amount about our subscribers, and that data is very valuable to advertisers." This is in response to 3's new mobile video advertisement, and the company's plans to try to offer more "focused" advertising.

However, by focused, it doesn't appear that 3 means "more useful" or "more of what subscribers are asking for." Instead, it's about what personal info it can sell. 3 sees itself as the gatekeeper. "Operators hold a unique amount of customer information, including our billing relationship with them." Apparently, that gate only goes in one direction, which is no surprise from an operator so focused on keeping its walled gardens locked tight.

The comments are telling, because they show how some operators view the relationship between themselves, subscribers and advertisers. They view subscribers as an asset they can "sell." Unfortunately, in today's world, marketing is about holding someone's attention. There are no more captive audiences in a mobile, connected world. There's always something else available -- and annoying and intrusive advertising just doesn't cut it. Subscribers recognize when they're being annoyed with advertising they don't want, and it makes them look for alternatives where they're valued as customers, not sold like products.

Rather than working on ways to sell subscriber information to advertisers, operators should be looking at ways to sell advertisers to subscribers. That is, they should be coming up with plans to provide marketing campaigns that subscribers want -- not that's forced upon them. That is the only way to build a strong relationship between subscribers, operators and advertisers where the loyalty is earned by making subscribers happy, rather than locking them in.