Carriers: Coupons Will Be Dominant Form of Mobile Marketing/Advertising in 2015

Surveys asking respondents to predict the mobile future -- especially five or more years out -- should be seen as more fun or interesting than accurately predictive. Things are evolving so quickly it's almost impossible to know what the world will look like five years from now -- except to say that it will be mobile centric.

However a forward-looking survey can accurately reveal present attitudes and even aspirations or hopes for the future. And so it is with a global carrier/operator survey funded by Airwide solutions, a mobile messaging infrastructure provider. The survey was conducted in the summer of 2010, with responses from "31 leading mobile operators spanning Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, and Asia-Pac."

Many in the mobile advertising world dismiss or minimize SMS and see it as a kind of interim step toward a mobile marketing future that more closely resembles the PC. I don't dismiss SMS, nor do I believe that mobile will exactly resemble the PC; it's a different medium.

Survey sponsor Airwide and the carriers themselves are hopeful that MMS and SMS will be at the center of mobile marketing and advertising in the future. Clearly opt-in SMS/MMS mobile loyalty and coupon programs will continue to be vital. But whether they're at the center or the domiant forms of mobile advertising is highly debatable. 

Below are selected data points and findings from the survey. 

What do you expect to be the most used forms of communication and most used apps in 2015?

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What will be the top 5 most used apps on the mobile phone in 2015?

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How will the average consumer spend their mobile dollar in 2015?

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Which 3 forms of mobile marketing/advertising will be the most widely accepted by consumers in 2015?

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A few observations:

The widespread view that social networking will dominate would effectively mean that Facebook would be the dominant mobile site and potentially mobile ad platform/network. Facebook is already a dominant mobile destination and so it isn't such a leap to believe that this will continue to be so five years from now. Social networking here may also refer generically to the "socialization" of mobile apps and the mobile experience more generally: the social layer. 

The finding reflected in the third chart, that "flat rate data plans" would be dominant in 2015, is quite interesting. Airwide is a UK-based company and I may be misinterpreting the answers to the question based on different terminology or received understandings (i.e., flat-rate data vs. subscription plans). But I read "flat rate data plans" vs. "subscription plans" not as pre-paid vs. contract plans but as unlimited vs other pricing structures. The US carriers at least are trying to move away from "flat rate" or unlimited pricing toward "usage-based pricing." However consumers want unlimited plans and predictable bills, which are the opposite of usage-based pricing.

Finally, the carriers see coupons and SMS/MMS as the dominant forms of mobile marketing and advertising, while search and display fall into the number three and four positions. The question asks about carrier perceptions of consumer acceptance rather than revenues or other measures. And from that standpoint it's plausible; consumers love deals and opt-in SMS-based marketing also generates high levels of "acceptance" by definition. 

The language of this question, around consumer "acceptance," is carefully structured to produce just this result and suggest a future where SMS remains the dominant mobile marketing platform, consistent with the interests of the survey sponsor and the carriers themselves. But that's not necessarily what advertisers want, nor is it what will likely happen. SMS/MMS, as I said above, will remain a very important marking tool and coupons or deals will be central to the SMS value proposition for consumers -- they'll opt-in to get deals or notifications of sales events and so on. 

But mobile search, display and rich media will be areas of greater focus for marketers going forward. There's also more than a hint of carrier aspiration here. In an SMS-dominanted mobile marketing world they have a role to play. By contrast, in a mobile world where search, display, QR codes and other forms of mobile advertising and marketing are pervasive the carrier's role is marginalized. 

Related: There's speculation that next week Facebook could launch a mobile IM capability (including for groups). This would be a major potential blow to carrier SMS revenues going forward.