10 Mobile Marketing Insights Gleaned From Judging the MMA Smarties Awards

First off, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is a champion for transformation and innovation in mobile marketing. Its members include a wealth of global heavy-hitters the likes of P&G, Walmart, Ford and MasterCard. More than 800 companies from fifty countries around the globe. Many see the MMA as the global standard-bearer for best practices. Every year they sponsor the MMA Smarties Awards, the world’s only global mobile marketing awards program honoring innovation, creativity, and performance. And the entries pour in from all over the world.

For the second year, I am honored to be a judge and I love doing it. It’s always a rich learning experience. There is no better way to get the pulse of what’s really going on, what marketers are actually spending on, and what actually works. Barbara Parker, who came to the MMA from the Direct Marketing Association, does an amazing job of running the Smarties program. You can’t imagine the organization and effort it takes to put together and manage an awards show and gala, truly a daunting task. No worries however, ‘cause Barbara’s the best around.

After the first screening round, some rather salient observations consistently emerged. Some expected, some not. And while I can’t reference specific work, these ten things kept jumping out:

  1. Getting smarter trumps pure ROI. KPI’S and objectives were often less about money, and more about learning. Of course, in learning there is risk. Learning how to reach an audience, whether a technology worked, what behaviors happened or just looking for success in a micro-test for a later roll-out. Learning provides credibility and proof points, which justifies continued spend and new budgets.
  2. Establishing tomorrow's baselines. Performance is 25% of the scoring total and thus, pretty important. Many entries had a difficult time aligning their objective and results. Amusingly, the most predominant metric was “exceeded everyone’s expectations”. Often in response based awards, performance is measured on incremental improvement of past performance. Mobile technology and tactics are is still so new and evolving at such a blinding pace, most entries were first-time executions with no historical data.
  3. Marketing and technology partnerships are plentiful. There is a vast array of marketing technology solutions available to marketers today. It’s hard to know what works. You gotta test. Many entries directly partnered with a technology providers who offered their technology or channels free or at a discount. For the tech provider, these partnerships help validate their solutions and for the brand, a reduced first-time testing cost. Both parties win. The advertising and marketing tech space will continue to consolidate at a rapid pace. Those that can reach scale more quickly through in-market validation will have better chance to be the acquirer, not the acquired.
  4. Print meets digital. Many marketers are connecting the physical world with the digital world leveraging code, visual and audio scanning solutions with augmented and virtual reality in magazines, catalogs and direct mail to drive engagement and push to a sale. I think this space will only grow.
  5. Mobile’s effectiveness is clearly evident in hyperlocal targeting and retargeting and, while there are occasionally purely branding efforts, most entries are pure direct response and are driving a behavior. Hyperlocal targeting technology attempts to eliminate all media waste or spill by crunching user data with location data to reach only the right prospect in the right place at the right time. Some are making good use of beacon technology and NFC solutions to push the conversion. All this means higher cost-per-engagement, but these engagements are highly targeted and of very high quality. Worth every penny.
  6. Some entries don’t have the budgets to push people to some fancy microsite with big budget videos to build brand. Some countries do to not have the smartphone or bandwidth penetration to allow for data-heavy solutions. When the budgets are small and the final canvas is just a mobile device, building positive brand emotion happens through the engagement experience itself, not big-budget video or high-end design, or pretty pictures. It’s all about “what does the experience make me feel”? Some very creative entries had strong strategies, execution and results and yet had no real creative elements to judge. The creativity was in the idea and the beauty and elegance of its execution through technology and media.
  7. While the MMA is a mobile organization and the Smarties is a mobile show, few entries were mobile only. Cross-screen responsive design is the rule, and for the most part, so is integration. I found most efforts integrated across multiple channels and tactics and thus, it’s difficult to attribute success solely to the mobile component. More often than not, the mobile spend in an integrated campaign was around 30%. And of course, everything is social. Interestingly, some entries that were truly mobile-only were from countries with less of a desktop or internet-in-the-home infrastructure, countries where internet access happens mostly via feature phones and some smart phones. It was a challenge that yielded some brilliant ideas. There is often no greater inspiration for creativity than constraints.
  8. In some cases, other countries are doing more innovative work than here in the US but sometimes, their entries get lost in translation. Some are simply poorly written. Some take for granted the judges know their country, brand/product names, tech partners and support companies and what they do. That is not often the case. Marketing vernacular can vary around the world, as do acronyms. It can’t be overstated the importance of a well-crafted entry with quality production values. There is art to a good entry submission, and video has the best chance to sell the entry. Not sure how this can be, but some people are confused as to what is an objective, a strategy, a tactic and an execution. Scary.
  9. There might someday be a need to discuss what “creative” in the judging criteria means. Sometimes the creative assets or content aren’t even shown or there simply aren’t creative assets. Sometimes, previously produced creative was provided as an asset to use for the mobile execution. “Here’s your budgets, get media and tech together, use this creative, and go engage with these people for this purpose”. For these companies, the real creativity is in the elegant use of technology and the solution. Creative is not always about what we traditionally thought of as creative. It’s about the creative magic of the idea, the elegant use of technology, the lure of simplicity and the beauty of the execution.
  10. As with many shows, what works often surprises. So it’s good to always keep an open mind, take chances, test and improve. I was regularly surprised by the extent to which consumers will go to engage with a brand if the message and offer is relevant, useful and timely. 

The big take-aways? A lot of really creative, innovative and ground-breaking work crossed my screen, from all over the world. Mobile marketing remains in an experimental, growth phase working to leverage emerging technologies and new media channels and establish best practices. Truly exciting time. Can wait for the next round of judging.