American Marketer


Tackling the complexities of mobile devices for marketing effectiveness

October 20, 2011


By Joe Lichtenberg

There is a dizzying array of mobile devices in the market, each with a unique set of capabilities and limitations. With the onslaught of these devices and platforms, advertisers are tasked with creating content that will reach their target audiences, wherever they are and on whichever device they prefer.

Customizing the content and experience for each individual mobile device type and for each user’s mobile location presents lucrative opportunities for marketers and their brands. But it can create challenges and complexities as well.

Here are just a few tips for marketers looking to tackle these two areas:

Customizing for device type

Delivering content to an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android and the desktop requires careful planning upfront since consumers expect that whatever device or technology they have, the content will appear and perform as expected.

An effective user experience mandates that the specific device and capabilities associated with each request can be quickly identified.

Various techniques exist to read the attributes of the request and determine the device type.

Third-party device databases such as the free and open-source WURFL database provide current and frequently updated information on thousands of mobile devices, each with hundreds of different capabilities.

Once the specific device that is making the request – and its capabilities and settings has been determined – the most appropriate content can be programmatically selected or generated and served by executing a bit of in-session business logic.

Different devices have different screen sizes, and support different video formats and protocols such as Flash or HTML5.

Some allow third-party cookies by default – which enables behavioral targeting – while others do not.

Actions to enable click-to-mobile Web, click-to-call, click-to-video, click-to-SMS, click-to-locate, click-to-buy and click-to-storyboard transition to a subsequent interstitial ad, for example, are all dependent on the capabilities of the device.

Rather than building and maintaining dozens or even thousands of different versions of the creative to support different devices, a single generic mobile advertisement or creative can often be created and maintained, and the creative can be customized in real-time for the specific device type and capabilities of each device making a request.

This is a common design pattern, since it eliminates the need to create and maintain a large number of different content to support different device types.

Marketers can also infer demographic information from the device type, which can be used to influence the content or experience that is delivered.

For example, iPhone users are known to be disproportionately young and affluent, and click-through rates for mobile Apple users in North America approach 0.40 percent, while for Research Interactive users they are less than 0.03 percent.

This level of targeting extends beyond traditional demographics, enabling marketers to reach the customers who are more likely to take action based on behavioral targeting.

Customizing based on geo-location

Research shows that nearly 50 percent of users who are shown a location-aware ad on a mobile device will take some action. As a result, many marketers are incorporating geo-targeting logic into their campaigns.

Most modern mobile devices have the ability to reach out to a geo-location service such as the W3C geo-location API to determine its current position.

From this information, the actual location of the device can be detected in real-time, which is typically called “reverse geo-coding,” so that the appropriate location-aware ad or content can be served.

The ad can provide a financial incentive in the form of a coupon or voucher for a business in close proximity to the user’s mobile device. This further enhances the attractiveness of the offer to the user.

NEW MOBILE DEVICES hit the market constantly, with more than 120 smartphones launched from April 2010 to March 2011.

Marketers must build applications that can deliver the appropriate content to maximize the experience for each mobile user regardless of the device they are on.

This may mean streaming video content, in the right format, with the right protocol and the appropriate bit rate. Geo-targeting initiatives demand accurate geo-targeting and reverse geo-coding capabilities.

The rapid growth in mobile advertising is due in large part to its superior effectiveness based on the ability to target consumers on a hyperlocal level. Marketers that are able to successfully navigate the emerging mobile landscape will reap significant rewards.

Joe Lichtenberg is director of edge computing solutions at Mirror Image Internet, Tewksbury, MA. Reach him at