Push notification becomes key part of promo campaigns

The consensus is that mobile is the next frontier for delivering Hollywood’s marketing messages, but the question being sorted out right now is, what’s the best way to get them out there?

Push notification, which delivers opt-in messages such as texting a keyword to a number for entertainment content, is the new kid in town. It creates the most intimately integrated and longest-lasting relationship with smartphone users, and is often spoken of as the future of mobile. But don’t count out good old fashioned MMS (rich media text-messaging), whose inherent advantages over rival delivery systems — including email and social media — still make it a critical part of mobile campaigns, particularly for iPhone users, who engage with them at a significantly higher rate than other platforms.

In a telling quirk of the mobile world, 50% of all U.S. consumers opting in for text-message programs are using iPhones, though Apple has only about 34% of the overall smartphone market, according to a recent report by Mogreet, the largest MMS-based mobile marketing platform. (Conversely, Google’s Android, with a 52% U.S. smartphone marketshare, only accounts for 34% of MMS campaign opt-ins.)

“The second someone gets an iPhone, they become a content creator and content consumer unlike they’ve ever been before,” says Mogreet co-founder and CEO James Citron. “They are highly engaged on that particular mobile device; great content is the core of the iPhone experience. But what you’re sending them has to be compelling rich media.”

And though rich media text-messaging has been around for more than a decade, the platform is hardly aging out: Since April, participation in MMS opt-in campaigns across both operating systems combined has doubled, according to Venice, Calif.-based Mogreet, whose platform accounts for more than half of the U.S. market’s branded videos.

One of the major advantages of MMS, Citron said, is that it’s an open standard on nearly every phone in the U.S. and on some 4 billion devices around the world.

“We can still deliver video through older phones,” Citron said, noting the company has deals with “every carrier under the sun.”

Because short-video content is delivered via MMS as a whole, the user experience is uniformly smooth, bereft of the buffering hiccups that streaming video often incurs. For that reason, Citron calls MMS the “single best form of marketing for short-format content,” as it supports a video quality that’s higher even than a YouTube video viewed through a smartphone browser.

For example, if a user texts the word “Glee” to a number for a sneak peek at an upcoming episode, the video sent back is already loaded into the phone for clean, high-quality playback. Fox uses the technology to good effect on its ongoing promotion of “The X-Factor,” while Citron said Paramount ran a “brilliant” MMS-based short-video program for its “Paranormal Activity 4″ campaign.

But perhaps the biggest advantage that MMS has over all comers: People still pay close attention to their text messages.

“We bet on messaging because the average text is opened within 3 minutes and has a 97% open rate,” Citron said. “When was the last time you didn’t open a text?”

That’s in large part because SMS and MMS carriers — unlike email and social-media platforms — have kept spam in check: “They’ll figure out who sent it and shut it down really quick,” Citron says. A recent Mogreet retail campaign, wherein coupons were pushed out via both email and mobile, saw four times more traffic via text vs. email delivery, with a sixfold ROI.

On the mobile-apps side, the biggest development this year is the shifting of app-creation from tech departments or vendors directly to marketers, who have the tools to take the reins. It’s an important change for the industry, which is coming out of a costly phase of experimenting with apps and entering a time when making one will be as easy as creating a Facebook page.

Marketers who have been preaching mobile will have no excuse not to practice it.

“We surveyed 6,000 CMOs from around the world and asked them ‘How important to your strategy is mobile?’” said Adam Lavine, CEO of FunMobility, which has created a suite of tools for marketers to create their own apps. “Ninety-seven percent said ‘Very important.’”

The percentage that actually had a mobile strategy: About 17.

“There’s a big gap between intent and knowledge and abilities. But it doesn’t have to be this hard.”

FunMobility, based in Pleasanton, Calif., had been building apps distributed to carriers in its first decade of existence, but a year ago pivoted to a mobile-management model with the belief that marketers would soon be getting their hands dirty creating the apps — and the push notifications that everyone’s talking about.

“This is the year that marketers realize how powerful push notifications are,” says Lavine, whose company has created a suite of modular app features that can be pieced together by design, including video, couponing, and location check-in — the latter of which many still see as the Holy Grail of mobile marketing.

“Mobile users are demanding locally-relevant content at a staggering rate,” local-mobile ad network xAd wrote in a research paper posted on the trade association Mobile Marketing Association’s website. Use of location-based information jumped 20% in the nine-month period between May 2011 and February 2012, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

And that may be where apps ultimately win out — by knowing where you are, what you’re doing and what you’re watching. It’s all part of that close, personal relationship that brands are seeking with consumers.

“Most advertisers are still slow to grasp the full power of location in mobile ads,” xAd writes. “For some, the push to ‘Mobile first’ has resulted in a number of misses, where strategy was rushed and often re-purposed from a desktop experience.”

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