Mobile tide to hit Canada: O’Farrell

In the next 12 months, the mobile tide will rise in Canada, and dotMobi Advisory Group chair Michael O'Farrell has a lot to say about why that is, and how to take advantage of the coming opportunities in mobile marketing.

‘It’s a mass medium communication opportunity,’ says Michael O’Farrell, chair of the dotMobi Advisory Group, a non-profit org devoted to implementing best practices in the mobile web arena. ‘Some people are calling it the seventh mass media, the third screen, the fourth screen. There are four mobile phones sold for every one PC now. There are more than 3.2 billion mobile consumers in the world, and only about half a billion PCs in the market. Going on the web mobile is inevitable.’

O’Farrell shared these words, and a lot of useful tips for marketers, at strategy‘s Mobile Marketing Workshop in Toronto yesterday. O’Farrell is an industry veteran and author of Mobile Internet for Dummies, which will hit retail in July. The timing is right, he says, as the iPhone’s introduction in Canada this year, among other factors, will drive significant growth in consumer adoption of the mobile web.

Right now, this country is one of the most expensive in terms of mobile data plans, but in the US the introduction of the iPhone resulted in flat-rate data plans, which enabled consumers to start building and using more applications on their mobile devices.

O’Farrell says about 20 million mobile subscribers in Canada are now sending a total of over one billion text messages per month. ‘The Canadian market is coming around to the opportunity of mobile. We have about 60-70% market penetration.’

Brands looking to take advantage of the platform must learn to communicate simply to the consumer. ‘There are so many things in the market right now that create confusion,’ says O’Farrell. ‘It’s great for technologists, but what about consumers? What about the industries that have to service those needs? That’s what’s lacking in this market: something that helps the consumer understand what the heck we’re talking about.’

Part of the effort to create consumer awareness of mobile capabilities and applications involves adopting the .mobi extension for mobile sites, says O’Farrell. Search engines are trolling the web in a hunt for tags and other clues that identify mobile web content. Ad-serving networks for the mobile web are popping up, but they’ve got their own challenges to face when it comes to consumer adoption in Canada and North America. ‘The problem they’re having right now is that they’ve served up to their billionth mobile ad, and there’s not enough inventory,’ he says. ‘There are enough sites out there to serve, so the CPM rate is anywhere between $30 and $50 for mobile ad serving.’

When it comes to creating mobile web content for consumers, O’Farrell says the key is to keep it simple and practical. Avoid the use of Flash and frames, which are fine for a PC but not for a mobile device (at least during the next crucial 12 months in Canada).

Ultimately, launch a simple site that leverages ease of use and simplicity to build a positive brand association with mobile users. ‘You don’t have to get into the rocket science of it,’ says O’Farrell. ‘That’s the next generation. You don’t have to get super creative on a mobile site. You have to make it simple for a consumer to engage with it.’

That kind of approach has been tried and tested by, for example, the Bank of America, which offered simple functionality like the ability for consumers to check their balances and other small tasks and attracted half a million users within about three months.

Big things to watch for in 2009? O’Farrell says Canadians will begin to adopt mobile tech such as QR codes (quick response codes, bar-code-like images that can be used to deliver a consumer straight to a mobile website, to distribute coupons or for ticketing applications, etc.). They’ll also get more comfortable with Bluetooth technology, which will drive sideloading – the ability to access downloads on a mobile device through a physical presence (not necessarily over the air) – and the wonderful world of widgets for the small screen.

In closing, O’Farrell shared some useful tools for marketers looking to get involved. The first was – for a better understanding of how mobile works. The second was – a free service that checks whether your mobile site will work on all of the 4,000-or-so devices in the global market.