Mobile Marketing Basics for Travel Agents

Will 2011 be the breakout year for mobile marketing in the travel industry? By: Monica Poling
Mobile GPS technology allows marketers to cater their message to the user’s location. // © 2011 Abel Mitja Varela
Mobile GPS technology allows marketers to cater their message to the user’s location. // © 2011 Abel Mitja Varela


Mobile Internet Usage:
2.8% on Weather
3% on Videos/Movies
4% on Music
4.1% on Sports
4.3% on Entertainment
4.6% on Portals
6.3% on Search
7.2% on News/Current Events
10.7% on Social Networking
Source: The Nielsen Company, State of the Media 2010, U.S. Audiences & Devices

Text Messages Sent/Received per Month by Age:
0-12: 1,178
13-17: 3,705
18-24: 1,707
25-34: 758
35-44: 583
45-54: 349
55-64: 126
65-plus: 41
Source: The Nielsen Company, State of the Media 2010, U.S. Audiences & Devices

By the Numbers:

Million Mobile-phone users in the U.S. (ages 13+)

of all mobile subscribers now use smartphones

Texts sent/received per month among 45- to 54-year-olds

Average number of texts sent per month by women

Average number of texts sent per month by men

Average number of apps each smartphone user has downloaded

Source: The Nielsen Company, State of the Media 2010, U.S. Audiences & Devices

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Read five easy and affordable ways travel agents can adopt mobile marketing into their overall marketing mix.
In the 2002 film, "Minority Report," John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is on the run from the police. He tries to hide by dashing through a busy mall, but the interactive advertising kiosks recognize him and call out his name while announcing special offers targeted directly to his needs.

"Get away John Anderton. Forget your troubles," calls one ad.

While this future vision is (perhaps thankfully) still more science fiction than science fact, the truth is that rapid advances in mobile technologies mean that personalized offers delivered straight to consumers' mobile devices are rapidly becoming part of the new normal.

Marketers and pundits across the Internet have already declared 2011 to be the year of mobile marketing. While marketers have been making similar pronouncements for years now as smartphones get smarter, cheaper and easier to use -- coupled with the growing popularity of tablet devices -- it's possible that this year may truly mark a turning point in mobile marketing.

Certainly, marketers are already increasing how much they spend on mobile marketing. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) reports mobile marketing budgets are set to increase by 124 percent in 2011. Budget allocations to mobile channels are anticipated to account for 4 percent of the overall marketing budget, which will roughly translate to a $5.5 billion spend this year alone on mobile marketing. In addition, Frommer's Unlimited reports that 51 percent of respondents in a recent survey of travel professionals indicated that they would spend part of their 2011 digital content budget on mobile marketing, which is nearly double the investment from 2010. Marketers are also planning to increase their budgets for mobile apps (48 percent) and video production (50 percent).

However, while marketers have been lauding the dawn of the mobile era for years, the challenge, until lately, has been the technology itself. Tablets are only now gaining popularity -- thanks in large part to the iPad's emergence -- and, while smartphone technology is growing in popularity, the Nielsen Group predicts smartphone sales won't outpace sales of non-smartphones at least until the end of 2011.

As smartphone sales continue to grow, the pricing of data and Web plans will also play a role in the growth of mobile marketing. After all, no consumer wants to pay for a data plan only to have his or her minutes and/or text allotments used up by unsolicited advertising.

In fact, the concern over unsolicited marketing is likely the largest hurdle that marketers will face when it comes to an open-armed acceptance of mobile marketing. Spam-clogged e-mail inboxes have taught consumers to be careful of which messaging they opt to receive and how they choose to share their information with marketers.

However, as more trusted brands begin to use mobile technologies for their promotions while adopting best practices established by the MMA, consumers are slowly starting to embrace the advantages of receiving promotions on their mobile devices. For now, there are four types of mobile marketing that travel agents need to watch.

Text Messaging
The earliest mobile marketing came in the form of the Short Message Service (SMS), more commonly known as the text message.

Some travel agents may believe that their clients do not fall within the demographic of those using text messaging, but the reality is that two-thirds of mobile phone users are now sending and receiving text messages. While text messaging is certainly favored by teens (see chart on the next page), people of all ages are sending and receiving texts. According to the Nielsen Group, consumers in the 55- to 64-year-old demographic send and receive an average of 126 messages a month, roughly translating to more than four messages per day. In case that statistic isnít convincing enough, "Going Mobile," a study published by the IHL Group and Retail Connections, indicates that 35 percent of smartphone users have received and/or redeemed a coupon that they received in a text message.

Marketing via SMS goes well beyond coupon offers, however.

Recently, for example, California's Orange County Transportation Authority earned one of the MMA's top honors for its Text4Next campaign. The interactive campaign gave passengers the ability to request bus schedule information via text messaging rather than calling the agency's customer support center, saving the agency thousands of dollars. The consumer simply texted the bus stop and route number and, in return, instantly received the schedule of the next three buses to arrive at that stop.

Mobile Web Browsing

While travelers are already using SMS to stay on top of flight status, itinerary updates and even customer service chats, mobile marketing is about much more than just text messages. One of the most significant challenges marketers will face is how their customers access the information that is already available to them via the World Wide Web.

The smartest of operating systems, such as iOS (iPhone) and Android, allow users to experience the Web virtually as if they were on a PC, with the exception of some rich media capabilities. Before marketers spend a large portion of their budget on new technologies, they will need to make sure that their existing Web pages offer functionality across a number of mobile platforms.

The most savvy marketers are creating sites specifically with a .mobi URL (the .com reserved for mobile devices). While .mobi sites are slowly being adopted -- a survey by Brand Anywhere and Luth Research estimates that only 4.8 percent of U.S. retailers have mobile-specific sites -- consumers are increasingly demanding these special sites. Whether they want to confirm flight status information or check the weather, consumers want to find those answers easily on their mobile devices. The Luth survey indicated that 51 percent of consumers surveyed said they were more likely to purchase from retailers that have mobile-specific websites -- which means that Web retailers could increase consumer engagement by 85 percent just by maintaining a mobile-specific website.

Bar Codes/QR Codes

Among the newer applications being investigated by mobile marketers is that of using the device's camera to act as a bar code or QR code scanner. Most consumers are familiar with bar codes, but the QR code is a two-dimensional code that can represent significantly more text, including URLs or short messages.

Among the more popular apps is RedLaser, which can be downloaded on the iPhone or Android phones. The consumer can snap a picture of the product's barcode using their mobile camera, and the app returns pricing from nearby retailers as well as online merchants. The codes can also be scanned by retailers, straight from the mobile device, serving as a new form of coupon. According to Going Mobile, 54 percent of all retailers surveyed indicated that within 12 months they will have the ability to not only deliver coupons electronically to their customer's mobile phone, but will also be able to scan the coupon into the POS directly from the mobile phone's screen.

The application has ramifications beyond comparison shopping and discount offers as well.

QR codes are free to create, so agents can easily embed text messages, contact information or mobile-friendly URLs in a QR code, providing an easy, electronic way to exchange information with suppliers and tech-savvy clients.

The QR code is also serving as the basis of an app rolled out earlier this month by Starbucks that allows customers to pay for their coffee using their smartphones. While the true benefits of the Starbucks Card Mobile App are still unclear, there's no doubt that testing the product on a large number of Starbucks' customers will provide valuable feedback on what consumers are looking for, in general, from mobile technology and how marketers can answer those needs.

GPS-Enabled Marketing
Marketers are also watching a form of mobile marketing that uses Location-Based Services (LBS) or Location-Aware Services.

Essentially, these services allow marketers to send specific offers and messaging to consumers based on their locations.

Although consumers seem wary of this form of marketing, with a particular concern over privacy, these services are gaining traction.
An especially popular app using LBS is Foursquare, which allows a user to broadcast his or her location and, in return, receive a list of nearby establishments -- many with special offers for visitors.

Foursquare, which is set up in a game-type structure, encourages consumers to try new things, find their friends and write tips about local businesses. It also provides incentives for doing so. Similar to the achievements earned in video games, Foursquare offers badges for users who complete pre-set incentives. Consumers who spend the most time at participating establishments can even receive a "mayor" designation, earning them even more privileges.

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department recently partnered with Foursquare to create a page with tourism information and traveler tips. The page allows users to "unlock" Oklahoma's top travel sights and find relevant discounts -- all in a to-do list format.

Whether or not 2011 actually turns out to be the year of mobile marketing, the reality is that tourism organizations are rapidly adopting mobile messaging as a part of their marketing mix. As more consumers ditch their PCs for the convenience of their mobile devices, the demand for mobile-accessible information -- including travel-related information -- will most certainly continue to grow.
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