Demolishing Narrow Mobile Strategy

The most common question I get from fellow marketers, mobile entrepreneurs, or come across on Quora under “mobile marketing” is this: What media buying model is the best: cost-per-click, cost-per-acquisition, cost-per-something else?

To which I give a confident, “it depends” or “all of the above.” Despite its growth and the amount of success brands and startups have seen in the mobile space, it still has that Shiny New Media smell, which always seems to result in the narrowest of marketing strategies.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in similar climates before, linear strategies rarely end well.

Facebook apps saw a ton of excitement and early success that relied solely on Facebook notifications to succeed. When Facebook turned them off, they also turned off hundreds if not thousands of business models. Google makes it a point to change their search algorithms several times a year to shut down content farms or companies that succeed exclusively on the fact they cracked the latest search code. The dot-com bubble burst was largely a result of companies which believed that just being “online” equated to having a business model.

The lesson: Relying on a singular path to market your product is the equivalent to only eating fun-dip your whole life. You won’t last – even if it tasted good at first.

So, how do I really answer the mobile media “silver bullet” question? Test, test, test and read.

The key to constant testing is to build benchmarks for acquisition, brand impact and/or the life time value of your customers. The more you test, the better you get to know your product, your customer, how they use it, and how you can measure all of the above.

If you’re just starting out, find a couple partners (networks, direct sites, agency buyers, etc) who you think offer a mixture of scale and flexibility. Run a campaign in which you use at least two different buying models on at least two of these partners.

What you are likely to find is that the “silver bullet” is going to be a mix of solutions. A cost-per-acquisition buy is the least risky, but you’ll have trouble finding the scale you need for continued growth. On the other end of the spectrum, buying via a cost-per-click, bulk impressions basis is wildly prevalent in mobile, given its nascent stage But you can’t scale intelligently if you don’t know what the life time value of a customer is.

In addition to testing buying tactics, when it comes to partners, you should never rely on a single one. Not only will their scale be limited (despite what they will tell you), but running with multiple partners is the only true way to constantly keep their performance in check. As your product changes over time, key performance indicators should also change. If you limit yourself to a single channel of acquisition, you can easily miss opportunities to become more aggressive in you’re buying strategy.

Finally, read. Even if you work on the biggest of brands with the simplest mobile strategy, it is wildly important to be up to date on the constant changes and evolutions of the mobile space. WSJ and AdAge aren’t enough for this space. You MUST also stay as up to date on both mobile tech and startups. On a daily basis there are announcements about new phones, mobile technology, applications or completely new mobile business models that will impact, or already have completely changed the mobile marketing landscape.

So, can you be successful buying exclusively under one model? Yes, definitely.

Is it sustainable? No chance.

By diversifying your mobile strategy, continually testing buying models and partners, and staying ahead of what’s happening with mobile technology and business, the chance that you’ll achieve enduring success should improve dramatically.

Adam Grenier is head of mobile marketing and emerging media at Zoosk. Follow him on Twitter @AKGrenier.

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