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Expert Offers Advice on Launching an mCommerce Service

Because the mobile world has its own unique set of technical standards and terminology, launching its first mobile commerce service can be a daunting prospect for a small business.

However, if properly created, mobile applications can generate significant new sales dollars.

Even technically savvy small businesses can become confused by the technical terms and business practices of a still-evolving sales channel.

While still in its infancy, mobile marketing is clearly a wave of the future.

Diarmuid Mallon, senior product marketing manager of mCommerce at Sybase 365, believes small businesses can benefit from learning and applying some basic principles and disciplines.

His advice has been distilled from experiences with customers and industry observations.

The Basics

Which mobile channels to use? While many services launch with an iPhone and/or Android application, will this reach the target audience? Text messaging reaches all phones, mobile Web reaches most phones, and applications reach only specific phones. When designing a sales service, think about what devices the target audience uses.

Shortcodes. Most services have a text-messaging component, ranging from initial sign-up for the service to alerts. A business will need a shortcode to send and receive text messages. This number becomes part of the company’s mobile presence or brand, so select one carefully. Local telecommunication regulations might also restrict what numbers can be used.

Longcodes. Shortcodes work only with local consumers’ mobile phones. If the company wants to support international visitors, it will need a longcode in addition to the shortcode.

Use an aggregator. To be accessible to all consumers, then the company needs to be connected to all the local operators. Using an aggregator avoids building and maintaining these connections, because they are preconnected. Aggregators can also advise about local telecommunication regulators.

Which phones will the company build applications for? Any market has more than a thousand handsets in use, so building device-specific applications is not practical. Select the key devices for the target market or customer base, then backfill with either text or mobile Internet versions of the service.

Project Planning

When planning the first mobile project, the project plan should incorporate:

  • Operator delays. Most services need approval, so allow time for this. How much time needed will vary by operator and the nature of the service.
  • Certification. If launching an application-based service, some operators will require certification before release. This is also true for app stores such as Apple’s iTunes Store.
  • Approval. Operator approval is required if the service will be using operator billing.

Using an aggregator will help the company better plan for these situations, as they can advise about operator-specific requirements, regulations and certification times.

Designing the Mobile Service

There are basically two approaches to launching a new mobile service: the big bang, which launches with all functionality present from the start, and the staggered approach, which launches with a minimal set of key functions and evolves slowly over time.

Mallon’s experience has shown that the latter is the better approach. However, to decide which approach is better for the circumstances, consider these points.

  • Early in the process, determine objectives. What is essential for the service, and what is a nice-to-have?
  • Don’t include the kitchen sink. Be realistic in what is in the product. What is the minimum set of features that makes the service functional? Too many features will make the service harder for customers to understand.
  • Break out future functions for future phases. Add new features gradually, and bring customers along gradually.
  • Work on the flow of the mobile service. The mobile experience is very different from the PC.
  • Include all the carrier-required screens and verbiage. Depending on the service, operators will have regulations on what can, cannot and must be said in applications.
  • How to get help, contact info. What are the phone numbers and URLs for the service?
  • How to cancel the service. Most operators have strict rules on this.

Manage Costs

Unlike the Internet, where consumers incur no direct costs for accessing Web sites, mobile users are acutely aware of costs relating to mobile services. When designing a mobile service, consider:

  • Length of text messages. Determine early in the process one text message (160 or 70 characters for non-roman alphabets) or two (320 or 140 characters). Two messages cost twice as much (both for the bank and, in some markets, the customer) and will work differently on different phone models and for different operators.
  • Screen size. When designing messages and layouts, keep in mind that some customers will have smaller screens.
  • Not everyone owns an iPhone or BlackBerry. Order several test phones of different brands, models and carriers and document the experiences.
  • Keep Mobile Web lite. Keep graphics to a minimum on mobile Web sites. Fewer graphics keep the user experience smoother and reduce the risk of consuming users’ mobile data plans.

Going Live

Constant feedback from customers is that one can never advertise one’s mobile services too much. For example, an mBanking customer found that online banner ads worked extremely well for enrollment; when this bank stopped online banner advertising, enrollment dropped by as much as 60%.

Advertising should not be limited just to banner advertisements. Make use of all the customer touch points: statements, Web site and print ads. Often forgotten are physical stores or branches. Make sure the staff is not just aware of, but promotes, the mobile services.

As one customer recently told Mallon, “The best mobile solution won’t succeed if no one knows about it—adoption is crucial.”

Diarmuid Mallon has 16 years of experience in mobile telecoms. During this time, Mallon has held a wide range of roles, but all with a common focus on the consumer benefits of the introduction of new communication technologies.

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