What is mobile marketing?

Mobile marketing refers to the promotion of products and services on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Marketers use various digital touchpoints or channels to reach mobile users. They include:

  • Short message service (SMS): text-based ads or promotions
  • Multimedia message service (MMS): audio or video messages
  • Email: offers through email services on devices
  • Mobile apps: ads within applications or games
  • Websites: pages that mobile users find through search or directed tactics
  • Social media: community sites or apps such as Twitter and Instagram
  • Search engines: higher ranked search terms or ads for targeted terms

Mobile use is growing very quickly. Tablets and smartphones are now used more than computers to access the internet. Nearly half of all emails are read on mobile devices around the world.

In response, US companies will spend over $70 billion on mobile ads this year, which is 75 percent of all digital ad spending.i

Marketing departments have optimized websites, created apps, and reevaluated their digital content to ensure that everything is mobile-friendly. In future, they’ll need more device-focused strategies to thrive in the competitive and fast evolving mobile market.

Evolution of mobile marketing

Technology has always enabled organizations to reinvent how they engage with consumers. Mobile devices have few equals in the way they shape the customer experience.

In the early days of mobile, marketers considered how best to use the device. A common strategy: move computer-based content onto a mobile platform. Little thought was given to its distinct design and features, and the experience was less than optimal.

With improved wireless technology and the growth of mobile apps, came better marketing.

According to Clickatell: “The proliferation of 3G fueled the adoption of mobile phones as the first point of contact between marketers and customers. And with this new generation came apps in every shape and form. From fitness trackers and games to maps and social media, apps became the way people consumed the internet.” ii

Marketing organizations could reach consumers through in-app ads, SMS, push notifications and more. No longer an afterthought, smartphones and tablets could drive marketing content, tactics and strategies. The better to engage users in an always-on environment.

As ever, the task for marketers is to keep moving forward. High-speed networks and the sheer popularity of mobile devices are driving ever new consumer experiences. And mobile innovations continue to feed the mix. Marketing campaigns are now addressing:

  • Location-based technology, which uses a smartphone’s GPS to track a mobile user’s location.
  • Mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat.
  • Mobile wallet apps that store payment card information on a mobile device, making it easier to do in-store payments.
  • Videos on mobile devices.
  • Voice search, which uses speech recognition technology to allow users to say a search term instead of writing it.

As CIO magazine suggests, mobile “…will no longer be looked at as another channel, as much as a firehose of valuable data that marketing departments can leverage in all their activities. ” iii

Key features of effective mobile marketing

Mobile marketing is a viable means to engage with mobile users – because there’s a good chance of reaching audiences at the right time and place.

Tactics like location-based ads, for example, offer relevant content to consumers as they go about their daily business. An airline app can make travel more convenient, using things like notifications about gate changes, to gain customer loyalty.

But mobile marketers need to get the balance right. Consider that 95 percent of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of delivery. An IBM marketing benchmark study notes that SMS can be perceived by recipients as a more invasive or “in your face” channel because of its always-on nature. Using the channel appropriately is critical to growing an SMS database while minimizing outs.


Many organizations turn to marketing software to understand mobile customers and improve campaigns. Analytics, for one, help marketers mine data and web metrics to understand user interests and activity – their online behavior (including swipes and zooming), purchases, app downloads and so on.

Marketing tools can also leverage the location-based features of smartphones. This includes using geo-fences (virtual geographic boundaries) and location beacons to target mobile users based on where they are in a store or walking down the street.

Mobile data integration and campaign automation pull everything together. First, by building individual customer profiles. Then, using the insight to personalize campaigns, messages and offers – across email, mobile push, SMS and more.

AI and the next wave

According to Forrester, the next “battle ground” to win mobile consumers is in the moment. Marketers will need to send messages when and where a user expects them. Enabling components include data integration, campaign and moment orchestration, and behavioral analytics. Forrester also points to the importance of AI:

“AI techniques are the key to scaling up analytics, optimization, and interaction management capabilities that accommodate the volume, velocity, and complexity of customer integrations. The best platforms are starting to use AI today and include it as a core component in their product road maps.”

Using software for mobile marketing

IBM has developed many software products to increase the effectiveness of mobile marketing – with some of the solutions using AI and location-based technologies. IBM products include:

Case studies


Read how this customer saw a 300 percent increase in conversions, with a call-back rate of 33 percent.


See how this customer helped change how people shop for paint color.