We didn’t invent the term multi-channel marketing, but I can assure you mobileStorm was a first mover in this space. I can say for certain we were the first company in the U.S. to launch a self-service platform that provided six ways to communicate through the same interface (email, sms, video, voice, fax, and rss). We still provide six ways, but you need our mobileStorm Pro service. At one time we even had a partnership with the now-defunct Mailersclub.com and offered the ability to create postcards, so you could say we went to seven. I would ask my developers if we could go to 11, but I guess they haven’t done a Hindu translation of Spinal Tap yet. That joke will make this a hard segue to the next section, but if you laughed you might as well keep reading.
Communication has grown over the years. First there was the carrier pigeon, then the telegraph, then mail, then the telephone, then email, then bulletin boards, then sms, then IM, and now social and mobile apps. Think about this evolution of communication, and ask yourself one question: “Have you ever witnessed more modes of communication available to people than you have in the last ten years?” I think there is a resounding “no” (and yes, I purposely left off Blackberry Messenger and cave paintings).
A flood of new technology, compliments of the interwebs (for those still using IE6, that’s slang for “Internet”) made it happen. I saw this coming when I was working for a decent-sized interactive video game start-up in Santa Monica in 1998. I was making more money in one week day trading ebay with my Datek account than my entire month’s salary (big apology to the CEO for wasting company time). I just knew the Internet was going to change the world and even more so become mobile, which is why I started mobileStorm in October of 1999. We first got into the mobile business, but we were too far ahead of the curve. Nobody wanted to pay us to send SMS messages because the consumer adoption was just not there yet. However, at some point email took off and we decided to integrate an email and sms marketing platform that you could sign up right on the spot as long as you had a credit card. Long story short, as new technologies came out, I made it our mission to create a communication platform that allowed businesses to reach consumers in as many ways as possible. Why? Because people are different and different channels have different adoption rates depending upon age, ethnicity, geography, and savviness. I figured if we covered the spectrum of communication, then companies would flock to our services. Well, I was right and I was wrong.
Yes, mobileStorm has seen killer growth over the last few years, but initially the way we sold multi-channel marketing was confusing. On top of that, we had no money to make a splash in the industry; we built the company with no VC backing. It’s great to see how many larger email service providers (ESPs) are starting to add channel after channel, because it tells us we were right all along. However, it sucks that our competitors are adding channel after channel because now we need to truly compete and differentiate ourselves. And, we are still without the millions of dollars our competitors have raised in venture funding.
Nevertheless, please don’t take this the wrong way. I am not trying to gain your sympathy; I am just relaying the facts. Here is the part where a big smile comes across my face: we have been doing this for so long and with so many different types of businesses that patterns have emerged. We have gathered a major pool of intelligence about what businesses need when trying to promote and sell their products and services in a digital world, and we have had enough time to get inside the mind of the consumer and understand how he would like to be communicated with. We are already arming our clients with this knowledge and, from a product perspective, are working on the next big thing.
Having a multi-channel marketing platform is one thing, but having an integrated communication platform is another. This is where we see the market going, and this is where we are headed. Let me explain:
Usually digital marketing service providers focus on one channel and if they do decide to adopt another, they develop it out separately and say, “Here you go; start using this way to reach your audience.” As new ways to communicate like email, sms, and social are adopted by consumers, service providers (like mobileStorm) create products to allow businesses to take advantage of these new communication mediums. Historically, these platforms only allow channels to be managed in a single silo. Single silos mean multiple locations for campaign management, separate reporting, and even different lists (example: one list for email addresses and another for cell phone numbers). Integrated multi-channel marketing means truly integrating channels of communication so that they work in unison, seamlessly forming a powerful conversation with customers. To me, the word “integrated” means we can stop saying “multi-channel” because not only does it mean multi-channel, but it means getting rid of these silos and truly combining the channels. It’s one stone, two birds. I am going to take this a bit further and get rid of the word “marketing” and turn marketing into “communication.” Why? Because to me, marketing is a one -way conversation, like advertising. But marketing is morphing into a two-way conversation; it’s truly becoming more about communication than anything else. Besides, do consumers want to be marketed to or communicated with?
Integrated communication means one location to manage the channels, timing, and actions of campaigns, as well as one interface for reporting on the effectiveness of a customer’s integrated communication. If I were to tell you any more than this (and get into the features), then I would have to kill you so I am going to stop here because I would be really popular at Pelican Bay.
If there is one take-away from my column, it is that the world is changing quickly and businesses need communication tools to grow their businesses. Consumers don’t want to be marketed to–they want to be communicated with. There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to digital marketing platforms, but most are stuck in single silo purgatory (mobileStorm included). On the other hand, that is changing, and I imagine the smarter organizations will get this and do something about it.