The Changing Role of the Phone in Marketing

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Lots of marketers and journalists are writing about the use of the phone as the hot new marketing machine. Apple’s iPhone release hasn’t done anything but flame this hot fire either.

The truth is that for most the phone as a marketing medium still only represents possibility, but there are some fun and interesting plays being built around this that may be worth a look for the right business.

The most common growing use is in the are of text messages (SMS). So far, this has been primarily an email replacement for opt-in parties. This should continue to expand.

Here are a couple idea starters for some new categories ripe for phone applications.

Advertised text messaging on demand – Mobile messaging T-shirtReactee – Create a T-shirt with a text message – Viewers see the shirt text a short message to 41411 and get a more detailed text message back in return. This could be a great play for events, non-profits and political causes. Try it – text ducttape to 41411.

GPS or category coupon delivery Cellfire sends coupons for pizza, flowers, and movies to mobile users who redeem them at the store by using their phone. The coupons are stored on the phone.

Free information services – Free directory assistance from Goog411 – To try this service, just dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) from any phone. You can search by name or even category and have the contact details sent to your phone while you are connected – all for free.

For the moment, one thing looks pretty clear, the standard interruption advertising methods (now almost becoming lumped with spam) won’t cut it here. Traditional CPM ads don’t seem to make sense either. What does look like it will gain traction is service replacement models that are ways for users to give permission to advertisers who are willing to give or takeaway something that was a cost and turn it into an ad supported freebie, much like the 411Info model.

It will be interesting to see how this space evolves over the next few years.


iPhone, mobile marketing

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  1. thanks john, it looks like we are finding answers to save that 90 % part of advertising which goes waste. opt-in sms on your t shirt, Reactee, is one more example.

  2. I’ve yet to send a Text message (I’m 36) but I’ve received 4 or 5… all promos from my wireless carrier.

    This service could be great for the college crowd – especially if Pizza joints could blast out coupons at 5:30 pm every night…

    it will be interesting indeed!


  3. Thank you for the informative post on your blog
    it is very interesting and full of value to us readers too thank you very much

    i will be back to read more thanks
    Alex wong

  4. Jon and readers:

    Many new phones are video capable making the devices great tools for small business owners to present marketing videos to prospects they meet.
    At a chamber or other networking function if someone asks “what do you do” you can whip out your phone and “show” them what you do. Larger firms can extend this capability to their sales force by adding nultimedia presentations to the sales reps cell phones.


  5. John,

    I love that idea – thanks for adding it.

    Product demos by phone are sure to come.

  6. The idea of being able to access information about your company to share at a networking event sounds good, but I’m not convinced that people care enough about YOU to stand around and watch your phone when it would probably be better for most people to chat. What happened to the relationship part of marketing?

    Maybe I’m just getting old and tired of being bombarded at every turn. I’ve gotten used to TV ads; ads in magazines; newspapers, even ads before movies (although between the ads and the previews, I usually have forgotten what movie I’ve paid to see) — but I am completely tired of answering my work phone to ward off vendors who take the “7 tries” theory to heart* and I also will hate text messages coming to my phone. Web pop ups are annoying to me too. I’m fine with passive Web ads and banners and even find them helpful. I know I just like stuff I can ignore as I choose. Text ads are not one of those things. Guess I’m a dinosaur.

    Also, while I’m ranting, I’d like to say that people should not assume that just because they’ve exchanged business cards with someone that it gives them a right to make tons of calls and also opt you in to their e-zine. Yuck.

    *Note to sales folks (and I’m one of them). After a few touches to a potential client, ask the real question — Do you have any interest in working with my company at any time or should I stop calling you and wasting your precious time. That real conversation has led to great relationships and new clients.

  7. Personally, I’m excited about the future of SMS. I attended the CTIA Wireless Convention in Orlando a few months ago and was amazed to see what was going on with SMS advertising and technology!

    I’m not a big texter myself (takes me far too long to type a simple message), but I like the fact that my doctor’s office sends me a text message to remind me of my appointment!

  8. John,

    Although I really like the idea of texting something and receiving a message back, what does that mean? I don’t really think of this as an opt in; so I won’t send you the ducttape message for fear that you will relentlessly spam me afterward.

    One could argue that this is just as poor a permission model as harvesting because it doesn’t state anywhere what will happen after you get my number.

    If you only get one text message and have to subscribe yourself by some other manner later this is good. If you are going to start a campaign to my number after I write in, this is complete spam.

    What do you think?

  9. Robert John Ed,

    Yes the potential for abuse with phone #s exists just like it does for email. I would agree you need to explain clearly what you intend to do – I was merely pointing out some examples of how it is being used, you need to create all the marketing around it that makes sense for you, your customers, and your brand.

  10. That is correct! SMS abuse are already rampant. Take for example in the Philippines, more and more people receive sms from unknown people and telling that the have Won the lottery or raffle. I dunno if where did they get all the number of the people that they are texting.

  11. A partner organisation I have worked with has used TXT messages to remind people (who have expressed an interest in their businesses club events) of the time and directions to the venue. A simple use of TXT messages but it has helped to increase the attendence levels. I guess this suggests a timely reminder can work wonders.

  12. Jackson Mktg, I know that lots of medical professionals are using this technology for appointment reminders. I’ve also seen people suggesting creating your own reminders that come to you by text for things like taking medicine and remembering birthdays.

  13. There definitely is a potential for text messaging to become like spamming is now. That’s not to say, however, that the phone still can’t be used for effective (non-interruption) marketing. With the new virtual PBX phone systems many companies are utilizing their voice mail and on hold messaging functions as advertising tools. They are using their phone systems to tell callers (customers) about specials and new products they offer. They pay to have a professional message created, then the air time is free – can’t beat the cost.

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