The “Holy Grail” of marketing with mobile web access

TimRichardsonthumbnailLooking ahead to 2010, I expect to see more articles online and offline about how GPS technology is exploited more “fruitfully” by enterprises reaching out to persons carrying the latest PDAs.

While it is always fascinating to discuss the latest technological developments that have potential for applications, sometimes we miss the mark – am reminded of the time in 1998 when Motorola and Timex joined forces to create their “Beepwear Watch”. Just because a technological marriage is possible, doesn’t mean it could be a marketing success. The Pocket pager style “beepwear watch” won a CES Innovations award, only to fail as a consumer product because it was soon eclipsed  by a decline in the cost of cellphones.

When I emphasized the word “fruitfully” I am reflecting that technological considerations alone will not arrive at the ‘killer application’ we seek. The solution to a blending of GPS and PDAs has to come from a marketing angle.

Most successful technological developments that made money, did so because of the marketing hook – duh, they “made money”. We have to reflect on what services could be facilitated by PDAs with GPS identifying info, and how that could be done in a way that the supplier of the situation can make money (or save money).

Sometimes in searching for a “killer app”, we have the most unusual facilitators. Chinese used gunpowder for a long time, just to launch fireworks to celebrate events. It wasn’t till Marco Polo brought it back to Italy that the propulsive power was used to launch projectiles with a military application.

As we wind down from the H1N1 scare, one wonders what would have happened if “’things turned bad”. Could H1N1, or a similar medical threat, have been the impetus to launch a national “contactless payment system” as citizens feared proximity during the vendor-customer exchange of money. Or could it be the intensification of competition between Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus for a mobile-consumer that has seen the peak of the current product lifecycle in many devices.

Or could it be something as simple as Canada’s flagship doughnut chain leading the m-commerce evangelization. Imagine walking down Yonge Street and your Blackberry rings – it’s a pre-recorded voice telling you that you are within 50 paces of a Tim Horton’s and if you come in within 10 minutes you’ll get 20 per cent off the “double-double” you typically order.

Aside from the thoughts of privacy issues, you wonder how does this scenario happen? It happened due to a combination of permission based marketing, GPS functionality in your Blackberry, and your bank allowing your primary chequing account to be debited wirelessly through your PDA.

Permission based marketing happened early in December when some smartphone users went through the Tim Horton’s drive-through and, to avoid a delay, and save 15 per cent, paid wirelessly with their Blackberry. Their phones were connected to withdraw the money directly from your bank chequing account – like a “cell-phone debit card”. In order to affect the transaction the vendor needs certain technical ID profile information about you, which you consent to, by agreeing to make the purchase this way.

Sounds “kewl”, I think so, and with an oligopoly among our banks, and only 3 big telcos to deal with, it might be more reasonable to think that it could happen in Canada before other countries where the banking system is more fragmented and the telcos antagonistically competitive. Could Canada be the Switzerland of m-commerce banking? – possibly.

Prof. W. Tim G. Richardson is a full-time professor in the BAI program, School of Marketing at Seneca College. He created the first e-commerce courses 10 years and wrote the texts. Concurrently he teaches in the Dept. of Management, University of Toronto (UTSC) and the CCIT Program, University of Toronto (UTM)

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