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New event explores rapidly expanding mobile technologies and markets

Saturday’s Mobile March Twin Cities brought together business strategists, developers, startups, marketers and others who are keenly aware of the opportunity that the accelerating growth in mobile represents.

Talk to strategists, financial analysts, venture capitalists and most Internet or web startups and you’ll hear one word mentioned over and over again: mobile.

It’s on everyone’s mind because of the sheer numbers of us globally who are walking around with computers in our pockets, as well as the speed increases occurring in the mobile networks we use, a growing availability of Wi-Fi in coffee shops, libraries and many other public places, and the incredible success of devices like Apple’s iPhone and the 150,000-plus applications available for it right now.

The respected analyst for Morgan Stanley, Mary Meeker, gave her annual presentation to the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on the state of the mobile market globally. One key statement she made is that the mobile market is growing faster than the desktop personal computer market did during the 1980s and 1990s. She believes that (based on that growth) more people will be connecting to the Internet in five years with mobile devices than with desktop PCs!

It was within that context that I was delighted to attend Mobile March Twin Cities (MobileMarchTC.com), an event Saturday that brought together business strategists, developers, startups, marketers and others who are keenly aware of the opportunity the accelerating growth in mobile adoption and use represents.

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Put on by organizers Justin Grammens, Phil Wilson (also w/Minnov8) and Linda Cummings, this event was one of the first I’ve been a part of that started off by providing everyone with a context of the size of the market, the people that are using it, and even with how traditional media (e.g., Clear Channel, StarTribune and WCCO) are jumping headlong into the mobile space.

The revelations that came out of that context setting were, to put it bluntly, a wake-up call to those of us far too enthusiastic about smartphones, iPads and other new and sexy platforms emerging and, instead, gave us all a firm foundation from which we can pursue opportunities in mobile.

Lisa Foote, CEO and co-founder of MixMobi, started the day with an overview from her perspective, one that looks at the mobile space from a 360-degree perspective, and her company approach is one that chooses the best mobile “target” for their client and not just the hottest or sexiest one at the moment. One surprise for many of us in the audience was her slide that revealed that mobile use of applications and access to music, movies, Internet content and videogaming pale in comparison to the use of text messaging worldwide.

By far, text messaging is the leading revenue generator in mobile marketing worldwide.

Next up was keynoter Mark Mosiniak, director of business development for Best Buy Mobile. In order to gain a foothold in European mobile retail, Best Buy created a joint venture (JV) in 2008 by acquiring half of the retail operation of the wildly popular CarPhone Warehouse, based in London, for $2.1B. Mark discussed this JV and not only validated the mobile space and the opportunities within it — and how Best Buy already has 100 free-standing “Best Buy Mobile” stores as well as mobile-store-within-a-store at all Best Buy locations — he revealed some of their strategies surrounding the direction they’re taking with a focus on mobile going forward.

Those revelations included such things as mobile ecommerce (i.e., payments made from your mobile phone), access to Reward Zone (a Best Buy customer loyalty program) and a continued expansion and integration with customer service (e.g., Best Buy’s Twelpforce).

The rest of the day was broken into two tracks: one for business users and one for developers. Each was highly focused on the needs of these two groups and covered topics meaningful to each.

On the business side, first up was Doug Rozen, senior vice president for Global Lead — Creative, Interactive, Media & Mobile at Carlson Marketing Worldwide. Doug presented the findings of the company’s recent study that analyzed the demographics and psychographics of mobile users and placed them within eight categories.

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Mobile Usage Personas are the eight slots people are placed within by Carlson Marketing based on their demographic and psychographic data.

Though not mutually exclusive (meaning people can be in more than one at a time), this sort of analysis guides business strategists, marketers and developers toward a more pragmatic view of the potential of any market segment. While seasoned businesspeople know that they need data before making decisions on markets and making subsequent investments in them, for any of us who are highly technical, early adopters, it was sobering to realize that most of us in the room were in the “mavericks” category, which makes up only 5 percent of the market!

Then there was a media panel of three leaders in leveraging mobile media for their respective traditional media companies: John Daenzer, director of new media for WCCO-TV and WCCO.com; Terry Sauer, the assistant managing editor for digital at the Star Tribune; and Gregg Swedberg, operations manager for Clear Channel in the Twin Cities. Their collective conversation was about the status of their mobile efforts, what they saw happening with mobile technologies and subsequent opportunities, and so on.

What was missing from the panel seemed to surround connecting with the community. Gregg and Terry seem relatively invisible to the movers and shakers in social media and technology circles in the Twin Cities, while WCCO has completely embraced and connected to the community with technology. It’s my (and others with whom I’ve talked) opinion that the community engagement will be the deciding factor on whether or not traditional media can deliver to new media enthusiasts.

Left to right: Gregg Swedberg, Clear Channel; Terry Sauer, StarTribune; John Daenzer, WCCO

The technical tracks focused on tools and approaches to such popular platforms as the BlackBerry (with Shawn Butler) and iPhone (and by extension, the iPad, a session led by Aaron Kardell). People who attended this track included developers and business users interested in the nuts-and-bolts of creating and delivering mobile applications and content.

Shawn Butler led a BlackBerry developer session.

The afternoon offered sessions on mobile marketing, further development, what the future holds and more. If you’d like to see photos, videos (still being edited as of this writing), slide decks and more, head over to the MobileMarchTC site and check ’em out.

What was missing? Perhaps discussions around ways more of us can participate in delivering content to the mobile space without huge investments in application creation. One way many of us are delivering our content to mobile devices today — and are on the wildly successful WordPress platform being used for personal-to-corporate blogging and increasingly to drive entire websites — is through mobile plug-ins (and iPhone specific ones) that deliver content to virtually every mobile device shipping today and many older ones, too.

In addition to those sorts of possibilities, there is the emerging iPad mobile platform, which many who publish content in print see as the potential savior of magazine, newspaper and publication businesses. I personally know dozens of designers who use, for example, Adobe’s InDesign publishing platform for print output (and I do as well, in our business) and who want to be able to purchase plug-ins from companies like WoodWing which is showing a sneak preview of its upcoming InDesign-to-iPad publishing platform. It’s those sorts of openings within the mobile space that will enable legions of content creators, businesses, organizations and individuals to participate in the accelerating mobile marketplace.

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The mobile market is still a nascent one expanding at a pretty fast clip and MobileMarchTC was a phenomenal first event. I predict that it will become an annual one with a consistently increasing number of attendees.