Five-minute interview: Alexandre Mars, Phonevalley, Publicis
Get the lowdown from the mobile mastermind who steered Phonevalley from start-up to become the mobile arm of marketing giant Publicis in eight years.
As a seasoned Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Alexandre Mars was in a prime position to spot the potential of mobile marketing. He founded Phonevalley in France in 2001, focusing on mobile Internet and messaging campaigns. By the time the company was purchased by marketing-giant Publicis Groupe in 2007 (for an undisclosed sum), it had offices in five European countries, boasting 200 clients (including Virgin, Air France, Sony and Universal) and 1,000 mobile-marketing campaigns per annum.
After acquisition, Mars was put in the driving seat as Phonevalley became the mobile arm of Publicis and he became Head of Mobile for the group. In 2008, Phonevalley set up shop in China, India and Singapore, as well as in three offices in the US.
Mars was recommended for the five-minute interview by Michael Bayle, Yahoo.
Q1: What is your favorite / least favorite mobile website?
I’m a great fan of Facebook (mobile) because it allows me to stay in touch with all my relatives and friends whenever I’m at home or on the go.
Mobile Answers.com is also one of my favorites as it’s easy to search for all types of information; it provides instant answers to any questions you have while out and about. It is simple and efficient. It is a very good example of a mobile site built for the mobile device, as opposed to a mere adaptation of a PC website.
I am not fond of mobile websites that simply adapt Internet websites. These mobile sites lack creativity and they fail to exploit the great features specific to mobile Internet such as virality and geo-localization.
Q2: What can the rest of us learn from these sites?
Every well-designed mobile site answers one key question: what service will my mobile site offer that is specific and helpful to my visitors while on the go? By providing a true, free mobile service, brands will acquire great traffic and build intimate relationships with consumers.
Q3: Who is the new kid on the block - the mobile site to watch for the future?
All initiatives in mobile social networking are really exciting as they answer to two basic human needs: the desire to build up a community and interact within it; and the will to keep connected anytime, anywhere. As you don’t take your PC with you everywhere, you lose contact with your relatives and friends – a source of anxiety for many social-network members. Mobile sites like Facebook or Dodgeball Mobile [mT: The future of this Google-owned site is uncertain, according to press reports], with their great features, help billions of mobile users stay tuned to their community 24/7 – that’s a fantastic leap forward. See also Whrrl, a clever mobile site that allows you to discover where your friends are on a map, what they are doing and get their recommendations on locations or events.
Playfish is quite interesting as well. It develops games specifically for mobile social-networking sites, like Facebook and Bebo, and already boasts 25 million registered players!
Q4. What sector would you say is furthest ahead in mobile marketing?
If you asked this question a year ago, I would have answered that sectors such as retail, automotive, banking and sports were leading the mobile race. These sectors are based on an innovation-based brand image and a quick return on investments.
Today the market is more mature, with more unlimited data rates, high-speed connections and an array of multimedia mobile devices available, and mobile media has been tested by brands in nearly all sectors. Many have now fully integrated it into their global media strategy. Take politics, for example: mobile was central to Barack Obama’s original and brilliant communications strategy in the run up to the US presidential election. [mT: More here on Obamamobile.mobi]
Q5. What can the rest of us learn from the automotive sector?
Each individual industry, company and brand faces different challenges. For some, recruitment is the number-one issue. For others, loyalty is the most important factor. For certain companies, image-building stands as a priority. Whatever the goal, the important thing is that mobile is a key medium for achieving any kind of marketing objective (from recruitment to loyalty programs, from brand awareness to promotions and product launches). Your mobile strategy is determined by, and should be tailor-made for, the specific goals of your campaign.
Q6. What’s the most exciting / inspirational place in the world for mobile marketing?
Speaking as a westerner, parts of Asia are very exciting. Take India, for example. The country gains 8 million new subscribers every month! The growth alone is very exciting… but also because the mobile Internet is not yet as developed as it is in Europe or in the US. Indian mobile developers have demonstrated great creativity in voice service. For instance, they are credited with designing the mobile voice search.
Some forecasts predict that mobile advertising expenditures in the key APAC markets will total US$ 6.9 billion in 2012 (up from US$ 738 million in 2007), making expenditure higher than Western Europe or the US.
Q7. What can the rest of us learn from Japan?
Despite the differing maturity levels between the countries’ markets, the eagerness to find practical mobile-marketing solutions exists everywhere. The results are very impressive.
Q8. What’s the most exciting area of mobile marketing?
I think that today’s most thrilling field is mobile applications. They offer a superior mobile experience that is rich, interactive and immersive. With their user-friendly interfaces, they drive a better relationship between brands and consumers, while increasing the engagement level.
Q9. What sites uses this to maximum effect?
Yahoo! Go contextual searches are a great example of efficient location-based services. With Yahoo! oneSearch, you can search for an item and also locate it within your specific geographical parameters. You avoid getting pointless results; you only receive those suitable to your exact location. For instance, you don’t receive your whole country’s weather forecasts, only your local weather.
Q11. Which mobile marketing guru would you like to do our five minute interview next?
Tom Eslinger, Worldwide Interactive Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi. He has a bright insight into mobile marketing and has an in-depth understanding of all the forthcoming issues.
Which mobi guru would you like see interviewed next? Comment below or email editor (at) mobiThinking.com.
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Alexandre Mars, Phonevalley CEO and Publicis Groupe Head of Mobile