Dell takes marketing mobile

A campaign targeting college students via text messages has paid big dividends for Dell.

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When Dell recently sent a test promotion for a plasma TV giveaway and a free music download via university students' mobile devices, the company didn't expect to receive a nearly 30% response rate. The company also probably didn't expect that the single campaign would influence its entire future marketing approach.

Dell is one of the national advertisers participating in multi-school, permission-based text messaging promotions hosted by Mobile Campus. By opting in, students at 11 participating universities can choose from which participating merchants to receive messaging to their cell phones. The idea is that students won't be inundated with messages that don't pertain to their interests.

In its first mobile campaign, launched on November 27, Dell intended to drive students to a Web site that was part of a sweepstakes. The company sent 18,000 messages across five universities. Amy Fowler, interactive marketing manager at Dell's University Program, said prior to the Mobile Campus campaign, Dell instead distributed advertising materials on campuses that directed students to text to a specific number to see if they had won a prize from Dell. When they sent their text, Dell replied, directing them to the URL that would alert them if they had won.

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But in this age of social media, Dell realized that this method wasn't as effective as reaching the students directly on their phones. "We realize that most of our [college student] audience live on their phones and spend an unbelievable amount of time texting their friends and family," Fowler said. "We wanted to pilot a program to see what kind of response we could get from them when you send a message directly to them instead of asking them to text you."

Afterward, Dell compared the responses from the mobile campaign to the campaign in which it distributed brochures. Dell received a higher response rate during the first four hours of the mobile promotion than in 30 days with the print medium. Overall, out of 18,000 messages sent in the mobile campaign, Dell received 5,000 responses.

"Obviously, Dell thought that was monstrous," said George Tingo, CEO and cofounder of Mobile Campus, who adds that Dell spent considerably less money than with the traditional campaign.

Fowler agreed, saying Dell plans to move away from print advertising this year and focus more on alternative marketing vehicles, such as mobile, outdoor, Facebook, and MySpace. She added that the company is looking into making the campaign more transactional and is considering adding a mobile opt-in on its Web site for students who want to sign up for exclusive offers and discounts. "A lot of companies are starting to use mobile marketing, but we still feel like it is a strong play for our program since we target a very niche group."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide. 

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