what is mobile marketing

What Is Mobile Marketing and How Does it Work?12 min read

More than ever, advertisers are making use of mobile marketing to reach out to their target audience.


Simply because there are an unprecedented 5 billion global mobile phone users. Not only this, but mobile internet usage exceeded that of desktops in 2016.

The number of people using mobiles to go online is increasing by the day, so it stands to reason that marketing strategies need to cater for this trend.

What is mobile marketing?

what is mobile marketing

“It’s a marketing strategy that utilises multiple channels to market to smartphone users and users of other mobile devices via social media, email, SMS, websites, apps and MMS.”

To begin to unpack this, we need to touch on Google’s mobile-first indexing as it reflects the shift to mobile and how seriously it’s being viewed.

So, what is mobile-first indexing and why is it relevant to mobile marketing?

“Mobile-first relates to how Google ranks websites and it’s all about getting companies to focus on making their content mobile-friendly.”

Up until early 2018, Google assessed and ranked webpages according to their desktop version. However, due to the massive increase in mobile usage, Google has flipped the process on its head. Ranking in future will be based on the mobile version of a website.

Your ranking is determined by a few factors. The key ones are site speed, your content and – as we’re going to discuss in this blog – mobile usability.

Reasons for adopting mobile marketing strategies

How users access information

We are in an age where access to information is expected to be instantaneous.

what is mobile marketing

People are no longer prepared to wait until they are sat in front of a desktop any more than they are prepared to visit the library.

When you want to know something, I’d put good money on the assumption that you get your phone out, and Google it.

You might need to know something immediately, that becomes unnecessary once you’re home: what restaurants are nearby, a bus timetable etc.

How often do we use our mobile phones when out with friends just to confirm a fact, the name of a movie, or a place that we intend on visiting? This happens all the time.

Buying habits are changing

Imagine going into the store to look at microwave ovens.

You see the one you like and decide that this is probably the one you’ll go with. A few years back you would have attracted the attention of a salesperson, engaged in a discussion about the features of the oven and probably made the decision to purchase there and then.

Today however, this is often not the way things play out. You may decide to go onto your mobile phone to check out the specs.

purchases done from mobile

Think about it, it’s much more convenient to begin your search by quickly checking your phone.

You might then go onto a price comparison site to see if this is the cheapest in your area. While doing so, you’re served ads for exactly that model from other stores in the area. You may even be offered a discount from another store.

The point I’m making here is that the buying process has changed completely. Research often happens, and even the sale, without going to the store.

High performing apps provide marketing opportunities

Mobile technology has spawned a number of apps that become hugely popular in a very short amount of time.

The highly addictive game, Candy Crush (2.73 billion downloads in 5 years), or Snapchat with its quirky features (over 190 million daily active users) and Pokémon Go that propelled augmented reality (AR) into the limelight (downloaded over 800 million times).

Of course, marketers want in on the act. One of the most appealing things about these types of apps is not only the amount of time that each user spends on them, but also how user friendly they are.

“They are highly engaging.”

It’s essential to keep up with the latest trends and to market your brand and products where your target audience will see it.

They are present on mobile devices, so this is where you need to be. If you’re not, you’re probably losing out to your competitors.

what is mobile marketing

With every new download of your app you are acquiring another customer who will spend more time viewing your products, and more time engaged with your brand.

To make a user-friendly, easily accessible app is to take a huge step up in your mobile marketing game. Having an exclusive app to your business is an effective way of improving the user experience of your brand and retaining one-time customers.

Challenges with mobile marketing

Real estate

Obviously, the mobile phone display is much smaller than desktop. This means that any visual advertising will be far more intrusive than an ad appearing in, for example, a right-hand box on a browser. The tolerance for bad ads is much lower than when using desktop.

User frustration

what is mobile marketing

In-app advertising and purchasing are standard in the vast majority of apps, but you need to go about this carefully. Disruption in an app must be subtle, otherwise you risk ruining the user experience with ads that disrupt the flow of the game or service.

For example, short jaunts into advertising between levels are okay. If levels are short, then interruptions should be spaced after a few of them are completed.

If you are pushing ads on users every two minutes, this would be highly frustrating, and users won’t tolerate it, or your app, for long.

Remember, having a site that is optimised more mobile is hugely important for a good SEO ranking, if your mobile site only serves to annoy, you will find yourself ranking low on desktop as well.

The challenge is to find the balance between the frequency and length of interruption, and what people will comfortably put up with. Get this wrong, and users will flee.

Types of mobile marketing strategies

time spent on mobile usa

In-app ads – The surge in mobile app downloads and levels of engagement make them primary property for ads. There’s an increasing number of ads being displayed in mobile apps where in the past, the mobile web browser was the more popular destination.

“Statista shows an overwhelmingly larger ad spend for in-app compared to mobile web. UK for example, is 93% in-app and 7% mobile web for Q3 of 2017. The US, it’s 98% and 2% respectively for the same period.”

AR superimposes computer-generated images on the user’s view of the world when viewed through a device such as a mobile phone camera.

ikea augmented reality

There’s been a lot of research in the field, which means it’s a compelling channel for advertising in the future. IKEA’s Place app, for example, lets you select and position furniture wherever you choose.

Through your mobile device, you’ll get an idea of what it’ll look like and whether it fits. In future, you can expect to see:

  • QR Codes – Users scan QR codes using mobile devices to navigate to a landing page or to receive information such as promotions, special offers, etc. It’s quick and it’s easy. As this is an interactive form of campaign, engagement rates are higher. This is to be expected as the user made a conscious decision to scan the QR code.
  • Mobile web – These are desktop campaigns that are easily adapted to work on a mobile website format. As mentioned earlier, most of mobile ad spend is directed at in-app display rather than mobile-web.
mobile ad placement spending
  • Location-based – Uses GPS technology to display multi-media on the user’s mobile device, based on their location.
  • Mobile search ads – Ads are displayed on Google search results, conducted on mobile devices. Statista reports that 57% of Google’s searches were done on mobile devices.
  • SMS – Over 90% of SMS messages are read by the recipient. They need to be short and highly targeted. You should also keep an eye on the opt-out rate. Where this is too high, it could indicate your ad frequency may be too high, or your message may be off target. Too low, and you can probably increase the frequency of your SMS ads to get the most out of your campaign.
  •  Podcasts – I’ve included podcasts here because, since 2016, the majority have been consumed through mobile devices. Users choose the podcasts they wish to listen to. The ads can therefore be specific to whatever material they are listening to.
how does mobile marketing work

The ads are often delivered by the host, someone the listener already feels connected to. This is often coupled with discounts, which makes for a compelling advertising campaign.

5 Main mobile advertising business models

  • CPM (cost-per-mille) – The advertiser pays for every 1000 times the ad is displayed. As can be expected, they run the risk of losing their audience to apps and sites they are advertising on. This is a risk that cannot be avoided, but a CPC model will at least ensure they earn more money.
  • CPC (cost-per-click) – The advertiser pays whenever their ad is clicked. The advantage of this model is that the advertiser only pays when someone expresses an interest in their product. The risk for the publisher is that ads may not get clicked, so they’re not earning, while possibly irritating their users in the process.
  • CPI (cost-per-install) – The advertiser only pays after a mobile app has been installed.
  • CPV (cost-per-view) – These apply to video ad campaigns and advertisers are charged each time a video is viewed.
  • CPA (cost-per-action) – The advertiser is charged when a certain action has been taken, such as a submission of a form, an in-app sale or a signup.

Mobile ad formats

mobile marketing revenue

“Banner blindness” which means people are so used to seeing them, they stop noticing them. Another problem with these is that they infringe on what people are really meant to do on the screen. This could irritate to a point where your audience chooses to look for another app that’s less intrusive.

Banners ads

Banner ads are displayed in an app and consist of a static or animated image. They are cheap, compatible with both web and mobile apps, and are easy to implement. They come with some major problems as well though.

“Banner blindness”

Interstitial ads

These ads are full screen and typically appear between different levels or screens in the host app. They may receive a high click through rate (CTR), but a proportion of this could be because people inadvertently click when trying to close them.

OfferWall ads

These display many offers for users to engage with. For example, it could display numerous third-party games.

Video ads

These are short video clips normally no longer than 60 seconds. Users like them, but they are more expensive to produce. There are two types:

  • In-stream: video ads are shown full screen before, after and within video content streamed inside an app.
  • Out-stream: these video ads appear on a web page, displayed inside a mobile application.
  • Native ads – This is either a video ad or a banner image that matches the app interface it’s displayed in. They are treated as new content rather than ads and they receive higher engagement. Native ads are less intrusive and has less of an impact on the user experience.

Considerations for a mobile strategy and ad format that’s right for you

mobile marketing example

These are a few questions you should consider when deciding on a mobile strategy and ad formats.

  1. What goals does your mobile ad campaign intend to achieve?
  2. What’s your budget?
  3. Who is your target audience and what types of content do they usually consume?
  4. What information will you ask of your campaign members?
  5. How invasive do you want your ads to be? Is it something that dominates the display or something less intrusive?
  6. What platform are you targeting?

Your mobile marketing strategy will depend on the objectives of your ad campaign. Where and how you display your ads will be determined by your target market as well as from lessons learnt from previous campaigns.

You’ll do more of the things that work and less of the things that don’t.

What’s evident however, is that a mobile strategy is essential if you wish to take advantage of the massive shift to mobile. You can expect the technology and philosophies around mobile advertising to improve over time.

Consumers are also getting used to receiving ads on their devices, so their tolerance levels will increase.

As long as the user experience is not compromised too much, mobile advertising will continue to be an accepted and appreciated form of advertising, we can guess, for a very long time.

Subscribe to our Blog!

163,479 Digital Marketers Already Have a Head Start… Don’t Be Left Behind!