Five Tips for Mobile Marketing Beyond Text-Message Ads

                What meant simply text-message ads. No more. Now a range of free and low-cost technology can help you market products and services to mobile consumers in a variety of new ways.

Of course, mobile ads remain effective, but they're just a small part of a comprehensive mobile-marketing strategy. New to mobile marketing? Consider these five ways a small business on a budget can take its marketing on the go.

1. Develop a mobile-friendly website.
An essential first step is to make sure your small business website looks good and performs correctly on mobile devices. If you do nothing else for mobile marketing, do this. That's what I advise my clients as a marketing consultant. Anything else you do to market to mobile customers will be icing on the cake.

Take the time to test your site on an iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone, a BlackBerry, and other popular devices. There are many different tools and companies that can help small businesses create mobile-friendly websites. A few low-cost and easy-to-use options worth investigating include MoFuse ($7.95 to $199 per month), Mobify (free to $1,000 or more for complete ecommerce mobile sites), and Wirenode (free to $259 per month).

2. Use location-based apps.
Consider how you can geo-target your audience using the local features inherent in GPS-enabled mobile devices. For example, an increasing number of consumers are using free mobile apps such as Where, Google Places, Yelp, and MerchantCircle to find local businesses while they’re out and about. Visit these websites and claim your business on them. Ask customers to publish reviews on these sites, too. I’ve had clients who have experienced business increases of up to 10% within a couple of months of claiming their businesses and collecting reviews on localized websites with mobile apps.

Related: Five Ways to Win a Sale Using Your Customer's Mobile

An excellent free mobile-marketing app for small businesses with brick-and-mortar locations is Foursquare. You can easily create your own Foursquare company page and offer check-in specials, discounts, and frequent-visitor deals. If your customers enjoy mobile gaming, and mobile gaming is consistent with your brand, then the free Gowalla app can be a great mobile app for brand building.

3. Create your own mobile app.
If you have content or functions that mobile consumers could use at least once a week, then a custom mobile app could be a great option to help you connect with them. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to develop a mobile app of your own. Prices could range from a few hundred dollars to $10,000 or more, depending on the type of app you create and the developer you work with.

Your mobile app can help drive sales through real-time promotions and bring in foot traffic through local marketing. It can provide quick and inexpensive customer service by offering answers to common questions. Make it a game and it can even add some fun to users’ lives. It’s up to you to create a mobile app that matches your customers’ needs, your brand promise, and your business goals.

4. Use quick-response codes.
QR codes are those black-and-white squares that look like a box of pixels and appear on websites, email messages, ads, posters, packages, window decals, and other marketing materials. When people scan QR codes with their mobile devices, they are typically taken to a website where a specific message or offer is provided. The QR code scanning and traffic is tracked, so it’s easy to calculate your return on your marketing effort.

Related: Six Tips for Mobile Marketing to Engage Customers

There are many free and affordable websites that help you create and track QR codes. ScanLife and iCandy both allow you to create QR codes and track scans for free. Custom price quotes are provided to businesses that need more comprehensive tracking and management. For simple QR code creation without tracking capability, Kaywa and Zxing offer free bare-bones QR code creation tools.

5. Publish mobile content.
Companies of all sizes are publishing content for their target audiences to build relationships that lead to sales, loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. These efforts should be integrated into all areas of your marketing plan, including mobile.

For example, you might write an ebook and publish it online in PDF format for sharing. Further, you could offer it on Amazon’s Kindle ereader device for mobile reading (learn about Kindle royalty rates). If you publish a podcast or online radio show, make it available on BlogTalkRadio (free), Podbean (free to $39.95 per month), or another site that enables you to easily make your podcast content available on iTunes for mobile listening (or publish your podcast to iTunes directly).

If you send marketing email, make sure those messages are mobile-friendly. A growing number of people view their email on their mobile devices. If your email message doesn’t load correctly or displays poorly on a smartphone or tablet, you’ve lost your chance to connect with those customers.

More people purchase smartphones and tablet devices every day, and annual sales of mobile devices have surpassed sales of personal computers. Your customers are using these marketing-friendly gadgets, or will soon be, so don’t wait to create a mobile-marketing plan. While you hesitate, your competitors could already be connecting with the mobile audience.