Incentives and Mobile WiFi: Going Mobile with Starbucks – For FREE

The mobile channel is maturing, rapidly.  The statistics validating these are nearly everywhere.  Companies are leveraging the mobile channel for brand awareness generation, prospecting and lead generation, acquisition, loyalty management, and customer care and more.   Brands that use the mobile channel properly recognize that it is an explicit opt-in channel; in other words, as marketers, we must first get a consumer’s expressed consent, permission before we can interact with them through their mobile phone.  A common way of attracting consumers and getting their consent to market to them through the mobile channel is to promote a call-to-action in traditional media and to offer them some form of incentive to engage us.

In fact, one of the most widely accepted pieces of mobile marketing knowledge as of late is that consumers are willing to participate in mobile marketing activities if they are given incentives to do so (you only need to look as for as the latest Direct Marketing Association and Mobile Marketing Association consumer research studies or the MMA International Journal of Mobile Marketing for evidence to this fact). 

The studies show that if you give the consumer a free piece of content, reduce their costs, offer them a coupon or discount, give them something they perceive as valuable in return for their attention they’ll invite you in to share your message with them via the many facets of the mobile channel—Voice, SMS, MMS, Email, Internet, mobile Internet, etc. 

Many of these studies are strictly mobile phone focused, however, they look to offer an incentive that affects the consumer’s mobile service as opposed to giving them traditional products and services value in return for their attention.  Moreover, in my experience, most brands today consider mobile marketing as needing to be related to the iconic mobile phone only (.i.e. the candy bar-shaped, voice/messaging phone).  Which is fine for the time being since the majority of consumers only have the iconic mobile phone, but times are changing and marketers need to look to the future as well so that they can be prepared to address the needs of tomorrow, not just the needs of today.  Consumers are adopting mobile services beyond simple voice; for example, they’re using messaging and the mobile Internet in ever increasing numbers (approximately 20% of mobile subscribers access the mobile Internet today).  One of the future thinking mobile elements marketers should consider is the growing use of alternative network connection technology beyond that provided by wireless carriers, namely wireless LAN (WLAN) or WiFi as it is commonly referred.

It is important to keep in mind that the mobile phone and the traditional radio channel are simply one of many communications access terminals and network methods used by consumers.  In addition to the mobile phone, today’s consumers are using an array of terminals to communicate (i.e. use voice), message (i.e. use SMS, MMS, Email) and stay connected (i.e. use the Internet, mobile Internet), including computers, laptops, Sony PSPs, the Apple iTouch, etc. In fact, Millennial Media (one of the leading mobile advertising network providers) recently informed me that they serve a material amount of mobile Internet ad inventory to Sony PSPs, i.e. WiFi enabled mobile gaming terminals.   More and more devices are WiFi enabled; most laptops come with built-in wireless LAN cards now as do many new SmartPhones.  Again, this is important to keep in mind due to the fact that consumers are adopting increasingly more capable phones, the numbers are still small, but they’re growing.   According to M:Metrics (Sept. 2008), roughly 5% of mobile subscribers in the United States have a WiFi enabled phones.  This number is sure to grow in the coming years as consumers increasingly adopt smartphones (which currently account for about 14% of the phones in the market, again according to M:Metrics).

So, why is all of this of interest, how does the above relate to, of all things, Starbucks? Good question, and here is your answer.  I recently found out that Starbucks and AT&T are using WiFi as an incentive.  If you have and register a Starbucks Card (, one you’ve bought yourself or received as a gift, and if you carry a balance on it, you’ll get 2 hours a day of free AT&T WiFi at any participating Starbucks (and if the system does not kick you off automatically after two hours there are no hidden fees).   This is WiFi what will work on your laptop, our your PSP and yes, on your WiFi enabled mobile phone.  What a great incentive.  Starbucks and AT&T get it and are offering an incentive that should entice the increasingly growing and diverse connected and engaged consumer segment.  

Title Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay