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20 years of text and it’s still a big part of mobile marketing’s future

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This week we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first SMS, sent by phone engineer, Neil Papworth, reading simply (and cheerfully): “Merry Christmas.” Since that day in 1992, the humble text message has come to change the way we interact with the world and each other.

There are over 200,000 exchanged every second, so as a communications medium, ignore it at your peril. Consumers want apps, location services and engaging content, but they also want to be able to use technology that already has the supporting infrastructure in place. (See here for my golden rules on SMS marketing.)

This was very much the theme in Miami last week, as it hosted the LATAM Mobile Marketing Association Forum 2012, where I was in attendance to immerse myself in discussions about the state of mobile marketing in the region today.

Also attending were thought leaders including: Marcio Chaer, MMA LATAM; Jonathan Carson, CEO, Digital Nielsen; Steven Schuler, Senior Marketing Manager, Yahoo!; Daniel Polk, Director, Sprint New Ventures; Lisa Ciangiulli, Marketing Director, Mobile Commerce, Alcatel-Lucent; and Tom Daly, Coca Cola.

Mobile has experienced colossal growth in Latin America over the last few years. As Jonathan Carson explained, mobile now has a higher penetration than PCs (80% vs 55%), although mobile internet penetration currently stands at 42%, leaving plenty of room for growth. The US and China lead when it comes to adoption of iOS and Android devices, but Brazil recently entered the top ten with 13 million smart devices, ranking it alongside Spain and just behind France and Canada.

People are consuming more digital content via their mobile, and the time we spend on mobile browsing is only going to rise, particularly in countries with relatively low PC penetration. Brazil will have the attention of the world over the next few years as it prepares to host both the FIFA World Cup and the next Olympic Games.

As Tom Daly said, in London we saw examples of the likes of Coca Cola investing in integrated media strategy, including mobile, digital, TV and billboards. Brazil is developing even faster and will not wait for the marketing industry; we need to market with consumers now.

A common theme at the event was the importance of mobile marketing rather than mobile advertising; it is meaningful engagement with customers that will drive reward for marketers. Awareness these days is not enough and marketers need to be on the front foot when it comes to winning users. You can already see this via the top mobile web brands in Brazil: Facebook, Google, YouTube and MSN. Brands need to create tailored campaigns aren’t invasive and that suit the user’s preferred method of engagement.

Daniel Polk mentioned that despite almost 23% of browsing time coming through mobile devices in US, it still only sees about 1% of marketing investment.

Brazil and its Latin American neighbors are primed for a booming mobile industry, but if we wait for them to match the US in terms of size and maturity, we’ll find an opportunity that has passed us by. In two years, all eyes will be on Brazil. Yours should be there now.

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