Five Can’t-Miss Mobile Marketing Trends For 2010

Marketing to consumers’ cellphones has long been viewed as something of a holy grail by businesses – prized but always beyond reach. Recently however, new mobile technologies have gone mainstream, making the elusive goal of an always-on connection with customers firmly within reach of even the smallest business.

Consider that:

  • There are four times the number of cellphones in the world versus PCs (4Bn vs. 1Bn) and 20% of all U.S. households are now “mobile-only”
  • Over 130 Billion texts are sent each month, up from practically nothing in 2000
  • Gen Yers (18-29) say their phone is the most important device they own
  • According to multiple analysts, Mobile Marketing and Advertising will explode from just a couple hundred million dollars in revenues in 2008 to $3 – 5 Billion by 2012.

What may be less apparent, though, is how various mobile technologies are ready to leap off the inventor’s table and into your marketing toolkit as a small business owner. If, like many other small businesses, your greatest fear is “not marketing effectively” and your greatest pain is “poor sales” then check out these five top mobile marketing trends you can latch on to today to grow your business.

1) Text message marketing goes mainstream

According to the Mobile Marketing Association, text message marketing is already the most widely-used form of mobile marketing, but you would be hard pressed to find it in use on Mainstreet U.S.A. That’s going to change in 2010, but first an explanation.

Think of text message marketing as you do email marketing, except instead of collecting an email address you collect a mobile phone number. Like email marketing, you create campaigns at a website and only send them to customers who have opted-in to receive your message. But unlike email, you don’t need fancy graphics, just up to 160 characters of plain ‘ol text. So even the most non-technical and non-marketing savvy small business owner can pick it up in just a couple of minutes. Your customers will instantly read your message 97% of the time.

Text message marketing for business use has been around for several years now, especially at youth-friendly establishments like fast food joints, hip clothing stores, and the nightclub scene. Already, a Comscore study shows that 25% of mobile phone users participate in at least one (and up to 10) SMS marketing program monthly.

But I expect 2010 to see far greater adoption due to:

  • Adoption of Texting across generations – Texting is now engrained in our way of communicating, with the average American sending/receiving almost twice as many texts than phone calls
  • Acceptance of mobile coupons – A recession-weary public hungering for discounts is latching on to mobile coupons as the ‘killer mobile app’ due to their convenience. More consumer-packaged goods companies, restaurants, and grocers are launching mobile coupons each month.
  • Proven ROI – Texting is proving its chops versus email and social media. On average, texting gets seven times the response rate versus email (7% vs 1%) and reaches twenty five times the number of users as does Twitter.
  • More small biz friendly offerings – Owners need easy-to-use and affordable texting providers if they are to be successful. Thankfully, providers are recognizing it’s not always about catering to the Fortune 500 and are starting to offer price points as low as $10 or $15 per month.

The uses of texting are as varied as those of a swiss army knife: promotions, coupons, alerts, staff messages, sweepstakes, trivia, and voting. Whether you’re a barber shop, video store, or yoga studio, see what texting can do for you in 2010.

2) Texting will be offered by local media (e.g., newspapers)

With newspapers and magazines rapidly declining in circulation, it was only a matter of time until they sought to add new marketing techniques such as Mobile to their offerings. Money Mailer, which traditionally direct-mailed packets of coupons to households, is selling a mobile coupon that gets placed into their iPhone application.

Local print publishers are also getting in the game. For example Metro U.S., a local magazine publisher in cities across the U.S. is using text messaging to enable its “readers to instantly interact with the print.

And in 2010 some of the largest media brands in the world such as Conde Nast will be teaming up to create mobile versions of their content in order to generate more advertising revenues.

3) Retailers will move beyond mobile marketing to enhance the overall shopping experience – raising consumers’ expectations of what they can do with their phones.

After several years of experimentation, big brands are poised to make mobile a significant – and permanent – part of their spend in 2010.

In 2008 and 2009 fast food joints like Wendy’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Chipotle launched texting programs, mobile sites, and iPhone apps that enable a consumer to order food for pick-up.

Big box retailers Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Sears, J.C. Penney and Target began sending holiday text alerts and built mobile sites and iPhone apps every bit as powerful as their online cousins. These applications have allowed consumers to order products, read reviews, send gift hints to friends, text early wake-up calls, and conduct a slew of other services typically only available online.

With these experiments having proved successful, look in 2010 for these pioneers to keep blazing trails with:

  • Bar Coded Coupons200 7-Eleven stores in San Diego are testing scannable bar codes on consumers’ phones to get up to one free drink per day. Indeed, in the next two years Juniper Research projects three billion mobile coupons will be issued to phones.
  • Pay by phone – Starbucks is testing Starbucks Card Mobile, which allows customers to pay for coffee in the shop with their phone. Initial tests saw a 60% redemption rate of the coupon component.
  • Integration with real-time data – Ace Hardware is combining weather forecasts with text alerts to hawk more shovels.
  • Building out their profiles in localized smartphone apps – Gap Outlet, Sports Authority, and REI are experimenting with the new crop of local smartphone apps, such as Yowza and FourSquare (see next.)

4) Inventive smartphone applications will dazzle with new ways to engage customers – but ultimately disappoint in 2010

Each month it seems a new crop of mobile applications let consumers check for nearby deals and receive news and promotions to their phone from local businesses. These apps use a phone’s GPS to figure out where the consumer is and serve up your business’ information if he/she is nearby.

Some of these new apps, with colorful names such as Booyah, Whrrl, and Gowalla, even create a game-like environment where consumers ‘check-in’ and otherwise express their affiliation for the merchant in return for discounts. Other applications, such as MobiQpons, Yowza, and Google’s just launched QR codes, ditch the fun and games for a serious focus on mobile coupons.

A bit down the road, ‘augmented reality’ applications like the Sekei Camera iPhone application let a consumer point his phone at any real-world store or object and receive an overlay of rich data about the image. Clearly, not your dad’s rotary telephone!

But before you go rushing to build out your profile on the latest smartphone application, consider that smartphones made up only 25% of all new phone shipments in the U.S. in Q3 2009 and only about the same percentage of subscribers say they surf the mobile web at least weekly. So these hot new applications are attracting the mobile jet-set and Gen Yers but in 2010 will miss the mark if you are looking to reach anyone other than a small fraction of your total customer base.

5) In 2010, you’ll have it any way you want

If you don’t want to participate in another companies’ mobile application than why not have your own in 2010? In fact, about half of business’ mobile campaigns will send consumers directly to a mobile website and less than half to a smartphone application.

Price has something to do with this adoption. In 2009 and earlier, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars for a mobile-optimized website or smartphone application. But these days mobile website tools like Instant Mobilizer and MoFuse offer do-it-yourself tools costing anywhere from free on up to $100 per month or more depending on your needs.

There’s even an emerging crop of companies that let you build your own iPhone or smartphone application, albeit using a template-driven approach. Car dealerships, realtors, small hotel chains and other firms seem to be attracted to companies like MobileAppLoader for the easy set-up, low cost, branding, and potential for better customer servicing these more sophisticated applications offer.

Bonus Trend:  Big and successful Internet companies will increasingly bake mobile into their offerings

Whether you like it or not, your company is going to be on the mobile phone in 2010 – it just may not be under your control. In 2009 many big players began rolling out mobile versions of their successful local, online directories. Expect that trend to accelerate in 2010.

In December, CitySearch rolled out its directory on Google’s Android platform, adding to its iPhone, Blackberry, and mobile web offerings already. OpenTable just announced its mobile offerings surpassed a cool one million reservations. Twitter now allows you to broadcast your location along with your tweets. And Yelp, best known for its polarizing – and highly successful – online ratings of local businesses, is already on Version 2.0 of its iPhone application that’s a hugely popular hit with its mostly urbanized crowd.

One of the more interesting emerging concepts is Google’s recent use of bar code stickers. The 800 lb Gorilla just mailed 190,000 of its most prominent local merchant’s fancy bar codes they can stick on their front windows. When scanned by a phone with a bar code scanning application, the bar code calls up that business’ Google Place Pages listing – which can incorporate a mobile coupon.

These mobile offerings typically use GPS to find nearby stores and restaurants, help consumers make real-time reservations, post mobile coupons, share feedback with friends, and submit reviews. What they won’t do is give your business maximum control over your brand and marketing since it’s someone else’s site. However you cut it though, these mega-sites are here to stay and are becoming a must-have for on-the-go savvy consumers.

2010 promises to be a breakout year for how small businesses use mobile marketing technologies. With the proliferation of low-cost, powerful smartphones, ubiquitous and fast high-speed connections, the exploding use of the mobile web, and the ubiquitous nature of texting, you now have many choices to be in the pocket of your customers. Perhaps the biggest question is where to start?


Paul Rosenfeld Paul is the CEO and Co-Founder of Fanminder, a subscription-based, marketing service that helps small businesses send text messages to their fans. Paul has spent 25 years leading teams and organizations to develop innovative services and software for small businesses.

45 Reactions
  1. Great, insightful article. I think SMS marketing has already taken off; we work with hundreds of small businesses at TellMyCell. Can’t wait to see what the new year holds!

  2. Affordable small business website

    Excellent article. I have been holding back on mobile marketing. I guess it’s time to get in there and work it. My market is not the prized 19 -25, it’s more in the 35- 50 range.

  3. Hi Scott, Thanks for writing, I agree and love your service and how you market it…I guess the main point I was trying to make is that despite thousands of small businesses using texting there’s another 25M of them without it :-)… so the mainstream small biz user will hopefully come on board in 2010.

    If you’d like to ever chat, please give me a shout!


  4. Affordable small biz website guy:

    What business do you have? We’ve found that 35-50 year olds love texting depending on the type of business… ie, more service-type businesses have alot of success. For instance we have gymnastics centers and karate studio where the parents love receiving texts about all kinds of alerts and announcements.

    Best, Paul

  5. Paul Rosenfeld: When do you think we will see an increased amount of spam in our mobile phones? Have you heard how you could prevent from this potential problem?

    You made an insightful comment on my article, Move on Wither a Mobile Business, on Open Forum. Have you seen any news regarding the development of the Quick Response Code?

  6. Hi Martin,

    Spam is already happening, unfortunately. Carriers are aggressively filtering out much of it but it’s coming through as reported by many consumers.

    As a consumer, you either be extremely careful about giving out your number (never on a public site where it can be scraped by a spider) and/or you report it actively when it happens. I’d also welcome hearing from others on this thread if there are other solutions.

    Google just made a huge QR code push, did you see it? I love their moxy and vision but think it’s going to fall on pretty deaf ears – a merchant needs to use it, then a consumer needs to have a QR enabled phone, and finally, what’s the point of having learning more about the biz if you’re standing in front of it? (well, I can think of some but their Google Place Pages that pop up don’t have any of them.)

    As usual being a pioneer means having alot of arrows in your back. My guess is that it is mostly an early V1/gimmick yet we’ll see so much more from them down the road. I take it mostly as a signal of their intent.

    We should catch up offline and properly introduce ourselves – I’ll ping you later on.

  7. Hi Paul,

    I have missed Google’s QR code push. Do you need a special phone for the QR code? Is it not enough with a regular built in camera?

    Talking about phones, I recently got a Blackberry Curve 8310 smartphone. I have to sit down and go through the manual… 😉

    I look forward to your “ping”… 🙂

  8. Paul,
    Thank you so much for contributing your expertise and insights! I am so excited about mobile marketing. Small businesses need to start using this now.

    Opt-in is the only way to do it right!

    The Franchise King

  9. Excellent points! Although you pointed out the value of txt campaigns and possibility to get higher response rates, we still need to remember that txt or SMS msging is not another broadcast channel. Otherwise, it will be just as efficient as email is right now. Thanks for great post!

  10. Paul: Have you heard about Square, Inc.? “Twitter co-founder takes aim at mobile payments”

  11. This is fascinating to me. Our ability to be connected to our contact base just keeps getting easier and easier. It seems from this article that the application is really suited to retail business. Do you think there is an application for other types of businesses? If so, how?

  12. Great post, although I think you left out the expansion of mobile ad networks in 2010. Especially if google purchases admob.

  13. This was a great overview on mobile marketing period. Thank you for the valued added.

  14. Very interesting article. I have been hearing about mobile marketing for a while, but so far it hasn’t really convinced me as a marketing method for the broad market. With the new smartphone technology however I think there are way more options and applications that can help to change this. As a small business owner I would be interested to see more mobile marketing strategies for small local businesses.

  15. Diane – Great question. No doubt it works for retail. But it also works for a myriad of service businesses too. You can see lots of examples here: The left hand nav can direct you to many different use cases. Hope this helps!

    Digital – Agree, expansion of ad networks is big. I think though, I’m not a big convert to taking the traditional “view and click” banner advertising from online to the web. I think while this will grow into a market, the much larger market called “mobile advertising” will leverage the form factor and functionality of the phone to create it’s own advertising programs unique to phones. Similar to how internet advertising in its many forms doesn’t resemble at all TV advertising.

    Martin – Yes, Square re: mobile payments. Every person in the industry I speak to, me included, doesn’t see any big deal from the product itself. Taking ‘card present’ transactions from a phone using a little swiper-thing has been around for years, albeit in different form factors. They use a regular ‘master merchant’ model which to the small business, makes them look like a regular credit card processing company. Overall, my belief is that their success will boil down to execution on distribution, not on the innovativeness of their product.

    Steve – Thanks so much, kind words.

    Tom – “More local mobile strategies” for small businesses are on the way from an avalanche of companies like those mentioned in the post. I’d be curious to hear why you’re not convinced as of yet. Best, Paul

  16. Given the fact that text messages cost virtually nothing in network bandwidth, how soon do you think it will be before a major network starts offering unlimited text for free? 160 characters is virtually nothing to transmit and yet phone companies are still making a ton of money off texts.

  17. Robert – your question about how long before SMS is offered free is an interesting one. While I think it’s generally accepted that SMS messages ride free or close to free on the network, I believe I read that the telcos generate about $100 Billion in SMS revenues. With long distance tolls collapsed and VOIP prevalent, I don’t see the telcos doing anything with this primary source of revenues.

    In fact, Verizon has been making noise about raising rates for the past couple of years.

    Hope this helps…paul

  18. I suggest sms marketing tool
    – worldwide
    – can change the sender name
    – get campaign reports
    – import a large contact databases

  19. You stated, “seven times the response rate versus email (7% vs 1%).” How are you defining “response rate” with regrard to email? Open rate? Sales conversion? What is the source of that stat? Please let me know, since that is a key metric.

    Facinating article, btw!

  20. Hi Stuart – It’s a composite analysis we created by reviewing Experian, Nielsen Mobile, and eMarketer data. Open and click through rates are well-known for email. Nielsen Mobile and lots of articles support the mobile response rate.


  21. I love all the comments on this subject. As an Internet Marketing Strategist for entrepreneurs, local, national, and international companies, I can see how mobile marketing will be huge. In fact we are already implementing it.

    What’s interesting, is now Network Marketing companies are already jumping aboard to develop a sales force into the thousands. Seems to me what they may be doing is building a force/team, and making it very lucrative for a larger company to come and possibly create a buyout.

    Lots of millionaires will be created in this market.

  22. Text messaging can also be harnessed for customer service. It is a great way to extend the functionality associated with live support chat on a website. With SMS chat, customers can chat with agents without having to visit or go through a business’ website.

  23. Paul,

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Now that 2011 has begun these trends are definitely starting to show. Mobile Coupons are becoming very popular and useful, not only for the customer, but for the business because they save a great deal of money on printing. Merge Messenger, which is actually a company created to conduct mobile marketing for businesses has 90% of their users read the texts within the first 4 minutes they receive it. This text can be a coupon, an appointment reminder, a poll and much more. For more information on mobile marketing and Merge Messenger, contact


  24. I imagine that SMS will be a very important marketing tool in the future for companies, but we will have to get though a little bit of growing pains to get past the spam.

  25. Great article. Mobile Marketing is great so long as it is easy for the user to unsubscribe when he/she wants.

  26. Mobile contexts and behavior are very different..people on the move tend to consume in small bites and the information needs to be packaged similarly.

    Mobile allows the combination of time and context – directing people towards a nearby product/promotion and expanding the concept of the impulse purchase unlocking a powerful tool for businesses to reach and influence nearby customers.