Mobile marketers wake up to post-spam era

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | June 05, 2007
TRAI has issued guidelines to stop unsolicited calls and SMS. A look at what this means for mobile marketers

Unsolicited calls & #BANNER1 & # and promotional SMS can leave you gasping for breath. Well, if all goes according to plan, they shouldn't bother you any more. Making unwanted intrusions into customers' privacy is illegal in most developed countries. While such a law is being put in place in India, are marketers ready to respect the privacy of their customers?

In March 2007, the Supreme Court of India sent notices to the Central government, phone operators and other marketers to ban unsolicited calls. Subsequently, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) took a step in April to provide relief from get-a-loan, buy-a-policy and other sales calls on personal mobiles. Under TRAI's new guidelines, the National Informatics Centre is working on a central do not call (DNC) list on a national level. Mobile phone subscribers can easily register themselves on the national DNC list. TRAI is also working on opt-in and opt-out frameworks for the customer.

Vinod Thadani
As the mobile industry in India is growing exponentially, it may not take well to regulation of its marketing activities. However, in the absence of these guidelines, are they mature enough to self-regulate? Ramesh Kumar, business development director, ActiveMedia Technology, says there is a need for independent organisations such as the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association), "which is a self policing body that encourages best practice by outlining a code of conduct".

Since no such unified, neutral organisation exists in the country, marketers will have no option but to comply with TRAI. Says Kamal Krishna, associate director, strategy and planning, Solutions Integrated Marketing Services, "If the guidelines come into force, a lot of marketers will be unable to reach out to their customers."

Ramesh Kumar
The concept of having an 'unsubscribe' element in a promotional message, as in e-mail promotions, is still alien to Indian marketers. Each marketing message or voice call must have a provision to hear the receiver's consent to proceed.

Vinod Thadani, business director, GroupM, adds, "It will be a Herculean task (to build a database), but once done, we'll be free of spam. Targeting a small, effective and interested list of opt-in subscribers who are genuinely interested in your brand will be a better strategy."

As for advertisers, they will clearly have to think of innovative ways to engage customers on their mobiles without putting their foot in the door. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and managing director, One97 Communications, says, "Our strategy will now be divided into two parts. One, we will cross-sell products and information by bringing in bundling of services. For example, we will offer a caller tune subscriber a free ringtone of the same song. Our second step will be providing information or alerts about products of interest to the customer, on a monthly subscription plan."

Vasantha Kumar, vice-president, marketing and corporate communications, ABN Amro, adds, "Another approach would be to reach your potentials through e-mail first and ask them to choose from a number of options; only if they respond should a marketer reach them through the mobile. This is a surrogate way of marketing and this concept has worked well internationally."

Recently, a mobile software company called Mobile-worx launched a platform for 'solicited advertising'. Its platform, ZestADZ, lets customers get free mobile services, such as classifieds or news alerts, supported by advertising. Says Asif Ali, chief technology officer, Mobile-worx, "Over the next two to three months, we will partner with most mobile networks, putting an end to unsolicited ad messages." Mobile-worx has tied up with one local advertiser and 15 mobile publishers for its platform.

Mobile marketing should ideally invite people to participate with the brand. This means giving the subscriber something new, such as mobile coupons that have a direct call to action. Subscribers would welcome applications such as games, ringtones, ring-back tones, greetings or m-cards featuring brands, if they are made available free of cost. Marketers need to approach consumers subtly, and if a chord is struck between the brand and the consumer, then it can become a win-win situation.

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