Mobile marketing: The ultimate guide to using SMS, QR codes, Bluetooth and Apps

The English National Opera has a problem. Whenever a show is anything other than a sell-out the ENO ends up with a few tickets on its hands which it can't shift. Not too many opera fanatics turn up at the last-minute in their dinner jackets and evening gowns on the off-chance of picking up a ticket. So the tickets go unsold.

The solution?

The ENO now pings out a text message to its customer database with last-minute offers. For a £500 outlay on text messages it has reaped £8,000 gross profit. Genius! And proof that mobile marketing really does work.

Mobile marketing is now mainstream and thoroughly reputable. No matter what sector you are in, you'd be mad to miss out.

Here's a summary of your mobile marketing options:

SMS direct marketing

The bog-standard of mobile marketing. Web-based services allow marketers to send messages to a customer database. Cheap to do, but crude, SMS has the advantage of not needing smartphones. Even a ten-year old Nokia 3210 can handle text.

Short codes

Mobile short codes are five-digit numbers which offer a degree of interactivity. Consumers text these codes to vote in competitions, ask for more product information or request their bank balance. The obvious advantage is that short codes are easier to remember than full mobile numbers. Prices start at £30 per month for a single short code.


Hotter than the merciless chilipeppers of Quetzalacatenango right now, apps are an insidious way to get your brand in front of your customers.  Launch a game, a service or just another way to access your site. Autotrader and eBay are just two firms who have achieved stunning levels of commerce through their apps. The big downside is the need to tailor apps for iPhone, Android, Windows 7 Mobile, BlackBerry and Nokia's Ovi store (you can probably forget about Palm's WebOs - not popular). Cost: £10,000 to £40,000.

Mobile ads

Controversial subject. Some marketers swear by mobile advertising, insisting that putting clickable logos and messages on mobile-websites and into apps is a great way to attract traffic. Sceptics insist consumers hate the intrusive nature of mobile ads, that mobile screens are too small and the traffic is unverifiable.

If you fancy a punt you will be spoiled for choice: there are around 30 mobile advertising networks. The biggies are Google's Admob, Buzzcity, Apple's iAd, Smaato and Adfonic.

Broadly the networks fit into three categories:

-        Premium networks will allow you to chose precisely where your ads end up, so you can select the sports pages of The Guardian if that fits your product. Premium networks tend to charge per impression, rather than pay-per-click, so you will have no idea whether anyone's noticed your ad.

-        Semi-blind networks allow you to pick a broad theme - so sports pages, but you can't pick the site.

-        Blind networks offer you very little in the way of site choice, instead offering to target demographics. Payment is PPC, so you can spend £500 targeting teenage boys in the Birmingham area, and only pay a penny if your ad actually delivers traffic.

Ticketing & Vouchers

Mobile barcodes have been around for years but still haven't gone mainstream. The potential is massive: unlike paper vouchers consumers don't lose mobile vouchers (unless they lose their phone). Campaigns can target individual consumers, and by locking the voucher to an individual phone it makes voucher swapping impossible. Works on traditional phones as well as smartphones.

Providers: Mblox, Mobiqa.

QR Codes

Embed these in your marketing materials and consumers are one click away from your website. QR codes look like futuristic barcodes. They can be used to direct consumers to secret webpages or to request vouchers or information packs.

QR codes take up less space than full-web addresses and far more convenient to input. The perfect bridge between the real world and cyberspace, you would think - except that you need to have a QR code scanner on your phone to access the content. Many mobile phones, even newer models, don't come with the functionality loaded. You have to download an app for that.

Location-based marketing

Consumer walks within fifty yards of your stores and - bzzz,bzzz, new message - they've just been delivered a BOGOF voucher to their mobile, redeemable today. That's how location-based marketing is supposed to work. Getting it to work is a little trickier. Pinpointing the consumer isn't too hard: networks can use the masts to target every phone with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled within a few hundred yards; if GPS is enabled on the handset then to within a few feet. The problem is getting the consumer's permission, and not spamming them.

Information overload?

OK, that's quite a list. What the hell should you go for? Let's ask Alex Meisl, the founder of Sponge Group, perhaps the best-known mobile marketing agency in the UK. "Absolutely the first thing for every firm is to ensure your website displays properly on a smartphone. You could be looking at 15% of web traffic coming through mobiles, so get your website sorted immediately. Translating a website to a mobile isn't straightforward. Websites need optimising - if you've got a dozen tabs and options then that won't work on a small, touchscreen mobile. You need to distil your website."

Meisl mentions that eBay did $200m dollars of trade via mobiles last year, up from $600m the previous year, to illustrate the growth of transactions on mobile sites.

Meisl says that SMS marketing is still highly effective, despite its reputation as a boring old channel: "SMS is still going gangbusters. A Pew Report recently stated that SMS is the favourite way of American youths to communicate, more so than email or IM. It is hugely popular, and accessible to anyone with a phone, not just smartphones."

To create a database of customers willing to receive your messages you need to harvest their details: "When customers buy something, ask for the mobile phone number and email. You can also create positive interactions - such as offering prizes for anyone who texts-in to win."

A cautionary tale

Meisl warns that you can ruin all your good work in seconds with SMS. "Never spam. I know of a high street retailer which sent out a badly worded, irrelevant message to its entire user-base. Over 20 percent replied with STOP. Worse, the mobile opt-in was tied to the email opt-in, so they destroyed a fifth of their database with one message."

The key is location-based triggers. "If your offers are sent when you know the consumer is in the right place at the right time then it is going to be more favourably received," he says. "The same works for your ads. If you demand that your adverts are only seen by people of the right demographic in the right part of the city or town you are in then your response rates are going to be far better."

And what about the cutting-edge stuff? Augmented reality and payment via mobiles? The guru on this is David Murphy, editor of Mobile Marketing magazine: "Augmented reality for mobiles is still really gimmicky. There are a few nice applications, such as IBM's app for Wimbledon. You pointed your phone at any game and it would tell you the score and statistics. It used GPS and a compass to tell where you where and exactly where you were pointing your phone. So far though, no one has produced a killer app with augmented reality. We are still at the 'so what' stage."

Payment might just be a bigger deal. A string of phones, such as the new Google Nexus S and Nokia C7, have a wireless "Near-Field Communication" payment chip built in. Just swipe your phone by a payment terminal and, for goods under £10, you pay instantly without inputting a pin. NFC means mobiles will eventually replace credit cards. "Retailers and marketers need to get their heads around how big this is going to be," says Murphy. "There are already 42,500 NFC live Barclaycard terminals at places like Pret a Manger and Eat."

Murphy says that the deluge of tablets is intriguing for marketers. "Should you treat the iPad as a phone, only larger, or like a PC, but smaller. We came to the conclusion that it is it's own unique format and will need to be treated as such."


If you are then you might want to find a mobile marketing agency. But how? Murphy: "Obviously, entrepreneurs could look at our website. We've got a directory of firms. I can recommend the big and most trusted agencies. These include MIG, Incentivated, Velti and Sponge. Txtlocal is great for SMS campaigns, as is OpenMarket. I'd suggest picking an agency in your area, so if you are in Derby, find one in Derby. Makes sense!"

By Charles Orton-Jones


Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website BuilderBusiness PlansAccounting SoftwareLegal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.

We use cookies to create the most secure and effective website possible for our customers. Full details can be found here