The term ‘mobile marketing’ is thrown around a lot these days, but many people are only vaguely familiar with what it actually is. It’s important to understand the fundamentals of what this new breed of marketing is, how it works, and why it’s important to begin utilizing it for your business.

Nearly every business can benefit from using mobile marketing and advertising methods. Whether your business is virtual, brick-and-mortar, or both, you can utilize this new and powerful marketing tool in some way.

=== Defining Mobile Marketing

To start with, let’s define the phrase ‘mobile marketing.’ The Mobile Marketing Association defines it as:

‘..a set of practices that enables organizations to communicate and engage with their audience in an interactive and relevant manner through any mobile device or network.’

Broadly, this refers to mobile phones, smart phones, wireless handheld devices such as the iPad or ultra-portable netbooks, and so forth. Usually, the focus for mobile marketing is on mobile and smart phones, however. The term ‘wireless marketing’ is often used, though this is less descriptive.

=== Common Mobile Marketing Tools

Marketing to cellular phones didn’t really hit the main stream until about five or six years ago. This was due to the introduction and wide adoption of short message service (SMS) text messaging. At first, the methods were pretty ad hoc with a lot of hit-and-miss attempts (and angry consumers). Since many wireless carriers were charging customers by the message, these customers would get angry when businesses sent them unwanted texts.

Eventually, as unlimited SMS plans became common and marketers became more savvy about opt-in methods, this smoothed out to the common practices used today. Today, most mobile marketing is opt-in and requires the potential customer to actively sign on to marketing lists. This is usually done by having them send a text to a corporate number (often a five- or six-digit number) to opt-in.

Systems have been built around this marketing to include opt-out options for the user (generally by sending a message to the corporate number again) and even allowing for surveys and interactive, automated communications.

Newer phones are capable of multimedia message service (MMS) interaction on top of SMS. This allows for images, short videos, audio and other media to be sent to the mobile phone. Most newer phones with a colour screen are MMS capable. This is the newest and hottest trend in mobile marketing right now. It otherwise works in the same way as SMS marketing and often uses the same systems.

=== How the Small Business Can Utilize Mobile Marketing

The SMS and MMS systems listed above are cost-prohibitive, of course, so many small business owners believe them to be out of reach. Third-party providers and services, however, are now proliferating the market and allowing greater access to small business.

Mobile Web marketing is another tool used by businesses looking to tap the portable market. This is basically the same as any other Web-based marketing, but is targeted towards mobile Web surfers rather than desktops or laptops.

Other services, not necessarily meant for mobile marketing, but becoming used for it, are also becoming highly popular. This is especially true of geo-location-based games such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Using these games, which are becoming very popular (and fast), businesses can leverage their ‘profiles’ and other advertising tools within the games to market themselves.

This geo-location marketing is currently the hottest, fastest-growing trend in mobile marketing. It’s simple to get involved with, costs little to utilize, and has a user base that is growing exponentially.