Nike is doing it. So are Volvo and Allstate. Hyatt tried it. "It" is mobile marketing—a direct, personalized channel of communication with the power to touch people anytime, anywhere via their mobile phones and other wireless devices. Consider the possibilities: There are some 184 million U.S. cell phone subscribers, collectively sending billions of text messages a year to one another, according to JupiterResearch. That's 184 million potential customers, each one carrying a perfect little message-delivery system.

It's a space that's intimate and accessible at the same time—a space, in other words, that no self-respecting marketer can afford to ignore.

"Mobile marketing is personal, it's interactive, and it has reach," ticks off Jim Manis, global chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and a senior vice president at m-Qube, a major player in the nascent market for mobile content and applications. "You can reach your customer where that customer is at any time, connect individually and develop an interaction."

In its full flower, proponents say, mobile marketing has the potential to serve up truly innovative opportunities. Picture shoppers downloading product information from your website as they comparison shop in an electronics superstore. Imagine preferred customers redeeming coupons by entering cell phone short codes directly into a point-of-sale system. Consider the ability to beam out customized video- and audio-rich messages to consenting consumers over a wide array of technologically advanced devices—next-generation PDAs, handheld gaming devices, digital music players, VoIP handsets—any device, really, that has a wireless connection and a screen as big as a business card.

Right now, however, when brand managers talk about mobile marketing, they're talking about sending text messages to mobile phone users—and the occasional BlackBerry fan—who have opted in to play a game, download a ring tone, receive a sales promotion, enter a sweepstakes or receive content such as sports scores, headline news or weather updates.

"Consumers these days are mobile," says Roman Vega, brand manager for Jordan, a Nike division that is exploring the medium. "As a brand and as a marketer, if you can't bring them in to where you want to be, you go out to them."

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