By Despina Tapaki

Who owns mobile strategy?

This is a question I never thought I would be asking myself nine years ago when I started my career in mobile. Back then we were dealing with 160 characters and mobile strategy was pretty much non-existent.

Nine years later, we live in a post-iPhone world, everyone seems to know what an application is and brands are actually requesting from their agencies to propose mobile elements for their campaigns.

Couple this with the planned AdMob and Quattro Wireless acquisitions from Google and Apple, respectively, and you have all agencies and brands paying attention to the “new” darling of marketing and advertising.

So what does this mean? Will media and digital agencies try to hold on to mobile and treat it as an extension of their offering or will they turn to the mobile specialists for help?.

Digital agencies

Most digital agencies these days claim to be “mobile-capable” and some have even made a step further to create a mobile division within their organization.

These shops have a central point of contact for both online and mobile which seems to be the preferred way for the brand managers. But what does actually happen behind the scenes?

As this is a specialized sector that is outside of the online remit, digital agencies will have to outsource the execution of any mobile campaign to a mobile specialist. This is purely due to lack of resources, knowledge and technology infrastructure.

So even through the ideas of the campaign are held by the digital agencies, the execution and fulfillment of the campaign still happens by the mobile specialists.

This approach does get the job done most of the times, but I cannot help asking, “Wouldn’t it be better if the mobile specialists got involved from the start of ideation and strategy, so that they can bring their experience on the table?”

Media agencies

As most of the campaigns nowadays include a mobile element, the media agencies have started training and staffing up to be able to meet the demand from their clients.

A major obstacle that media agencies encounter with mobile is that usually it is not part of the overall strategy and so most of the times they are not aware of the mobile elements until it is too late.

On these occasions, budget will be taken from other media and allocated to mobile. But as this is done late in the planning the budget that can be retrieved is usually very small.

Also, as most people in the industry know the mobile advertising market is currently extremely fragmented with multiple buying points and different levels of targeting.

To keep up with the new inventory and ways to target consumers, media agencies will need to invest in getting in house talent that specializes in mobile advertising to be able to plan the campaigns effectively and efficiently.

Again, even though this approach does get the job done most of the times, I cannot help but ask myself, “Wouldn’t it be better if the mobile specialists got involved from the start of comms planning, since they are more experienced in this area?”

Mobile specialists

As per the description, these companies only specialize in mobile and should be able to advice a client around mobile strategy and implementation of campaigns.

By definition one would argue that mobile strategy should be with the mobile specialists. But my main concern would be if these companies understand the brand and the objectives of the campaigns as much as the digital and media companies do.

Usually the answer is “No” and the main reason for this is that mobile is still treated as an add-on which is layered on top of campaigns instead of being integrated into the brand strategy from the beginning.

This approach results into having the mobile specialists being briefed when the strategy of the campaign has already been decided and the concept has been finalized, making them the execution partners instead of strategic.

What next?

For mobile marketing and advertising to grow and be used in the correct/optimized way, the brands need to realize that like online and media, they will need to hire a mobile agency which will work with, and not for, their digital and media agencies.

Together, all the agencies will be able to work on the same campaign and come up with the correct strategy that uses each medium correctly rather than adding elements on the way. Utopia, I know, but one can only live and hope.

Despina Tapaki is project director at Joule, a London-based mobile marketing agency within WPP Group PLC’s GroupM media investment management unit. She was named to Mobile Marketer’s Mobile Women to Watch 2010 list. Reach her at[email protected]

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