I had written this note sometime ago as a backgrounder on Invertising (invited advertising). I think it is as relevant today as when I had written it. It is one of the anchor services in mobile marketing.

The fundamental paradigm shift that we see in the next few years is from ‘customer relationship management’ (CRM) being engaged by companies to ‘seller relationship management’ (SRM) being practiced by customers. Or, to put it in other words, it will be less about advertising, and more about invertising (invited advertising). The reason for this shift? Every customer will have with them (and its almost true even today) a two-way interactive device with access to any information needed at their fingertips. In India, this device will be the hand-held networked mobile computer (what we call the cellphone today) – and it will radically redefine the equation between vendors and customers. This note discusses how to start building for tomorrow’s world – which is in fact visible even today!

Let us think about marketing today. Companies advertise across multiple media to reach their target audience. Every time they have something new to tell their target segment, they re-advertise. Advertising is thus a continuous process. Media companies love this because they make money every time companies need to reach their audience. Some companies try and get past this by creating loyalty programmes and newsletters which they then send out regularly. Now, with an increasing number of users having mobiles, sending SMSes is another extension of the marketing campaign.

What is wrong with this picture?

First, the whole process of discovery and re-discovery. Existing media companies have little or no incentive to enable the creation of a relationship between the customer and the vendor – because that threatens their role as an intermediary. They want the customer to be ‘discovered’ via their media vehicle – each time.

Second, the lack of knowledge of what marketing works. In today’s media campaigns, it is not easy to track the actual impact on sales (or even customer footfall in the store). Internet-based campaigns do enable tracking – but that only works for online stores.

Third, the lack of an emotional connection. It has been said that marketing is a conversation with the customer. But hardly anyone seems to be doing this. There is no bond being created. The question a brand must ask: how can I become a daily utility in the life of my customers?

Fourth, there is no easy way for the customer to convert advertising that is seen into information that he wants. There are many occasions when customers want to stay updated on specific things, but businesses have no easy of providing them that info. Newsletters can be done, but they are not personalised – and do not necessarily guarantee anonymity from the customer’s viewpoint.

Fifth, it does not take into account that pretty much everyone capable of buying has a mobile phone. Our estimate is that 80-90% of customers today are likely to carry a mobile phone. The mobile is a two-way interaction device, but companies are not using this appropriately.

Finally, the customer can be a champion, and facilitate viral marketing. The customer can be a connector – sharing things that are useful with others in the social network. This is because all of a customer’s contacts are accessible near instantly via the mobile phone’s contact book.

It is clear that marketing and business-to-customer interactions are likely to undergo a sea change in the coming years. In the developed world, perhaps the most important change in the past few years has been brought about by the Internet and pay-per-click (pay for performance) advertising. This advertising is contextual – either linked to search or the content on a page. In the UK, 12% of advertising spend is now being done online (the PC Web). In India, the same is unlikely to happen for two primary reasons: the computer penetration is still quite low (coupled with limited connectivity options), and the rapidity of innovation is making the mobile as the primary access device for people. Thus in India, the levers for shifts in marketing are likely to be centred around the mobile.

As we look ahead and address the limitations of today’s marketing methods, the mobile will emerge as the fulcrum for the new options. Companies which recognise and adopt mobile marketing are likely to see significant early benefits – and lock their competitors out in the customer attention game. Tomorrow’s world of mobile marketing is going to be built around three tenets:

  • Publish-Subscribe: Companies will publish and continuously update various information streams (think of them as ‘feeds’). Customers can subscribe to any of these streams and then receive updates as soon as new items are published on the feeds. Customers can also stop subscriptions to the feeds anytime. Publish-subscribe ensures a spam-free world for customers.
  • Multi-Modal Viewing: Customers can chose to view the content in any manner – via SMS, email, voice, desktop browser or mobile browser. The experience is seamless.
  • Instant Sharing: Customers can themselves become publishers, choosing to share what they have received with their social networks.

Taken together, the three will create the platform for seller  relationship management (SRM) and invertising. As Doc Searls, who calls it VRM (for vendor relationship management), puts it: “It’s something new. Rather than advertise, we notify. We assert. We express…VRM isn’t just about conversation. It’s about relationships. And transactions.” Invertising is how this happens. Invertising is advertising customers invite into their lives. It is how customers advertise their intent. It is what customers get instantly. Here is an excerpt from an article in MediaPost:

THE LATIN ROOT OF “ADVERTISE”–ADVERTERE–LITERALLY means “to turn towards.” It is the same root for the word “adversary.” This sense of confrontation at the essence of advertising may be what undergoes the most radical change in the next decade of marketing sponsorship. Contrary to popular wisdom, consumers do not hate advertising per se. People continue to buy through catalogs that arrive in their mailboxes; search advertising is booming because people click ads targeted to their queries; and we can all hum a dozen favorite TV jingles.

Yet, in this world of hyper-fragmented media and too many marketing messages, consumers are acting to avoid the overload, paying for the unadulterated media they want, and investing in technology to strip out unwanted ads. With the skyrocketing popularity of blogging and TiVo, iPods, NetFlix, and peer-to-peer networks, consumers are starting to expect more control over their entire media experience, a phenomenon at odds with interruptive advertising.

Procter & Gamble Chief Marketing Officer Jim Stengel told the audience at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ media conference last year: “All marketing should be permission marketing. All marketing should be so appealing that consumers want us in their lives.”

“Permission marketing” may not be the best phrase to describe the new era of marketing that is already beginning to take shape. “Service marketing” may be closer to the idea.

With mobiles now and using a publish-subscribe platform, there is a simple way to bring this new world of SRM and Invertising to life – now.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.