Top tips on how to make money with mobile

With new smart phones being released almost every week, the multi-billion dollar global mobile content market continues to grow into a huge money making opportunity for Canadian and global companies.

The mobile industry provides “the greatest economic opportunity of our careers … of our life times,” author and evangelist, Tomi Ahonen had told a captive audience at Mobile Media World Conference last September.

Ahonen cited an Informa Telecoms and Media research finding that the global mobile content industry, in 2008, was worth US$71 billion (around Can$75 billion).


He emphasized that the $71 billion figure is only for mobile content market revenues, and doesn’t include revenues from text messaging or mobile data. “Let’s put that in context. [Mobile content is worth] two-and-a-half times more than the total content industry on the Internet.”

Hollywood movies, he noted, are collectively worth a little less than $30 billion, the global music industry about $25 billion, and the global video gaming industry (the actual games), around $20 billion.

“And mobile content alone is worth as much as all those three – total worldwide Hollywood movies, music sales, video gaming software revenues – put together.”

While opportunities to make money on mobile abound to harness these Canadian entrepreneurs need to cultivate the appropriate strategies.

One of the fundamental principles of distributing mobile content is to remember that one size doesn’t fit all in the smart phone game, said Michael Carter, president and CEO of Toronto-based MyThum Interactive.

This means that companies won’t be able to design a piece of content or an app to work with every mobile device on the market.

He added that creating a singular mobile experience and then just porting it over to different mobile phones overlooks the hundreds of different device characteristics both across and within handset manufacturers.

“A best practice is to find a partner that is capable of optimizing the visual and functional experience for the consumer, dynamically based on the handset’s characteristics,” Carter said.

“The mobile experience on an iPhone will be very different than on a three-year old Motorola RAZR.”

Mauro Lollo, co-founder and CTO of Oakville, Ont.-based IT services provider Unis Lumin, agreed with Carter, adding that much of the content must also be geared to the strengths of a mobile form factor.

“Content has to be consumed in very small bites when you can get it, such as riding on the subway,” he said. “The ‘third screen’ — the one that hangs off your hip — isn’t the ideal environment to be watching anything more than three to five minutes worth of video content, for example.”

The actual format of the content has to be taken into consideration as well, Lollo said. Content that looks great on a 60-inch HDTV may not be practical on a mobile screen.

“Content has to be very specifically formatted for the small screen,” he said. “A lot of people just think they can completely repurpose content on the fly and everybody will accept it in the mobile space, but that’s not really true.”

Simply transposing your content from the Web onto the mobile platform is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make, Carter said.

“Creating a mirror image of your Web experience on mobile, to me, is a recipe for failure,” he said, adding that while the look and feel can be similar, the actual experience has to be far different.

This was a pitfall that many newspapers fell into as the Internet emerged in the mid-90s. Publishers who avoided simply dumping their content onto the Web, and instead, actually designed features for the new medium were the most successful

The key to being successful in the mobile space follows a similar path, Carter said, and will force successful companies to deliver some kind of value add to their customers.

For Lollo, that might mean transforming mobile content into a utility.

“Imagine you walk into a Home Depot, you’re cruising down an aisle and you see a product that you think you need but you really don’t know how to install the thing,” he said. “So instead of going to find a worker, you use the camera on your cell phone and take a picture of the barcode on the product. The application will then find the product and play you a video of how to install that product in your home.”

This type of interactive application works to further the sale in a retail setting, saving both the customer and the business time and effort, Lollo added. “It can almost be like a self-serve help desk in your pocket.”

Instead of utilizing a smart phone’s camera feature, businesses can also develop services to take advantage of a device’s built-in GPS capabilities, he said.

One example of this could be a grocery chain rolling out a location-specific advertising app that pitches its weekly specials based on the users’ proximity to the store.

“Being context aware can change the nature of the media you’re trying to send out,” Lollo added.

Other examples, according to Carter, could be providing access to an experience, information, deals or coupons that can’t be found on any other medium.

When starting a mobile content project, developing apps or services that brings these value adds to the demographic you’re targeting is a recipe for success.

“We get companies calling us all the time, asking to do an iPhone app,” Carter said. “But the first question we ask them is ‘why they want to do one and what exactly they want to achieve.’ Yes it’s cool and there’s a novelty factor, but they often don’t realize that an iPhone app will alienate 75 per cent of the mobile market.”

“You might win an award with how crazy you’re application is, but you will later be disappointed at the end of the day that you didn’t meet you’re objectives.”

And in almost every case, that objective is to reach your customers and monetize your efforts, he said.

With files from Joaquim P. Menezes

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