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Bob Bentz is the President of Advanced Telecom Services in suburban Philadelphia. Bentz’s background is in marketing and sales and he overseas that department of the company.
Bob guided the company from a start-up to a company with $62 million in annual sales through offices in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Taiwan, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
Advanced Telecom Services is a mobile marketing company that provides a complete suite of mobile marketing tools to advertisers and advertising agencies, including: text message marketing; custom QR Codes; mobile websites; apps development; Text Chat.
MO: When Advanced Telecom Services started in 1989, the internet and mobile phones were a non-factor. Can you elaborate on the evolutionary process of the company and how you’ve managed to continue to serve the same market (advertising agencies, advertisers, media) despite a shift in communication mediums?
Bob: Being a small business technology company is not easy, especially as rapidly as technology has changed over the past twenty years. You no sooner develop the technology then something better and more efficient comes along and you have to do the development all over again.
In 1989, we learned that AT&T was going to introduce 900 number services to the masses. At the time, AT&T was the largest company in the world and I loved the idea of another company with the power of AT&T doing the billing and collection for you.
This was the impetus for leaving my television advertising career, as I had seen the power of 900 numbers that were advertised mostly on late night television from 1987 to 1989. We kept raising their rates and the customers kept coming back time and again.
We formed ATS and decided we would take a different path and concentrate on offering business to business, non-adult, 900 number services. And, since I knew media and advertising, I figured we’d leverage that knowledge by working with media partners and advertisers.
We had a lot of great and fun customers like the World Wrestling Federation, 60 major university sports teams, NFL teams, and large newspapers like The New York Times. The 900 number business was a great ride for many years until the internet came along and suddenly people could get information online much cheaper and much efficiently than on the landline telephone. We knew we needed to embrace the internet, despite that fact that we made considerably less money from it than with 900 numbers.
For example, one of our key products was always newspaper-based voice personals. You may remember the dating section in the newspaper classifieds where you called a sophisticated voice mail system to leave a message for a prospective date. That was us. In fact, my own brother met his wife through one of our voice personals services!
Well, we took our voice personals online and began offering our dating solution online. It was tough to move away from newspaper voice personals, but the internet offered something that was very important to the dating process that the telephone could not offer — a photo.
In 2005, we purchased Evanston, Illinois-based Spark Network Services from Infinity Broadcasting, now known as CBS Radio. Spark Network Services did personals for the radio industry as we had done for the newspaper industry. We converted those radio personals customers over to the digital dating business. We also converted many of them into using our text message marketing platform.
Our venture into mobile began in 2001 when we entered the ringtone business. That was also a very exciting time in dealing with music artists from all over the world. We sold that business to a publicly traded company, Zim Corporation of Ottawa, in 2006.
What the ringtone business did for us, however, was give us expertise in the mobile business. We’ve been able to parlay that into being the mobile marketing company that we are today. Our Advanced Mobile division provides a mobile marketing solution to over 1200 auto dealers. Today, we develop apps, mobile websites, text message marketing, and custom QR Codes for our advertisers and advertising agency customers.
MO: What should small and medium sized businesses (SMB’s) consider when it comes to using QR codes as part of their marketing strategy?
Bob: The QR Code has taken a bad rap in my opinion. Yes, it’s not technology that is going to last forever; one day it will be replaced by NFC technology. But, that time is not now. In terms of getting a consumer quickly to a mobile interaction, it is the quickest and sexiest way to make that happen.
The problem is that many marketers just slap on an ordinary black & white QR code on their advertising just so they can tell the boss that they’ve done it. And, there’s no real thought that has gone into the process. The worst thing you can do is just send a consumer to your desktop website; that is surely going to be a bad experience for the user.
In my video, we give you tips on how to maximize the effectiveness and use of a QR Code. For starters, be sure to send the consumer to a mobile-optimized website. Also, tell the consumer in the promotion what they will get when they scan it. Make the content unique and compelling.
And, always use a custom QR Code. We’ve taken on numerous projects where we had the same promotional space and we’ve replaced an ordinary black & white QR Code with one of our Custom QR Codes with the branding of the product or business within the QR code itself. The result is a 2.3 times greater scan rate on average. Not to mention the added benefit of the branding of your logo.
Check out some of the many cool QR Codes we’ve made here.
MO: Can you expand on why you think a mobile website means more sales for small local businesses?
Bob: 17% of all searches today are from mobile phones. Your desktop website may look great on the larger screen on your desk, but how will it look on the small screen of a mobile phone? It may not be a pretty site and it may lead to frustration from your visitors.
That’s why it’s so important that small local businesses have a mobile-optimized website. It needs to be easier to navigate for the smaller screen of the mobile phone. You need to use mobile-only technology like Click to Calls where a simple touch of the screen will initiate a phone call to your business.
According to Google, 61% of consumers will leave your website for a competitor if it is not a good mobile user experience. That’s lost opportunities if you haven’t optimized your website for mobile.
There’s another added advantage to having a mobile optimized website. Google wants to give good results and it has a different BOT (web crawler) for mobile sites than for desktop sites so it supplies two different rankings. If you offer a mobile site where users stay on the site for a longer time and come back, you are going to benefit with higher rankings from all mobile searches. Imagine how much more business you’d have if you were on the first page of Google mobile searches!
MO: What advice would you give to a small company in need of a fully integrated mobile marketing plan but isn’t sure how or where to start?
Bob: Not every small business can afford an app and most probably don’t need one. If you have a limited budget, I’d start with text message marketing and then do a mobile website with a Custom QR Code. You could get a very solid program together that will cost you less than $2000per year.
If you can’t invest this amount, there’s really no reason why every business, even a Mom & Pop pizza shop, for instance, shouldn’t be doing text message marketing. It’s incredibly inexpensive, yet immensely effective. You can do 1000 text messages to your opt-in customers for just $45 per month on our 84444.com (84444.ca in Canada) site. Done right, text message marketing is absolutely the best ROI I’ve ever been involved with in my 30 years of working in television, radio, newspaper, and other advertising mediums.
MO: Why do you think that restaurants continue to be highly under-developed in terms of mobile marketing? What should they be doing differently?
Bob: If there’s one vertical that really needs mobile marketing, it’s the restaurant business. When you think about it, it simply makes sense. People search for restaurants while on the go. In fact, almost half of all restaurant searches today come from a mobile phone. It’s a primary need. I’m hungry and I want to eat NOW.
The studies show that 60% of all mobile restaurant searches result in a purchase from a restaurant within an hour of making that search. 84% of all mobile restaurant searches ultimately result in a purchase.
Those are staggering statistics and it’s why we are emphasizing the restaurant industry. The medium to medium-high priced restaurants tend to be family owned and don’t have the corporate backing of a large marketing department to create its mobile products. That’s where an agency like ours can come in to play to amortize those development costs over the many customers that we have, thus making it affordable for the restaurant owner.
(Editor’s Note – You can read Bob’s “Hungry for Profits” article about mobile marketing for restaurants if you click here.)
MO: Sounds like you keep busy. How do you find time to do anything else?
Bob: Well, I’m admittedly still trying to master the work-personal life balance thing. I make myself do things outside of work. For instance, I am an American Legion baseball coach. The guys are waiting for me so during the Spring and Summer, I don’t have much choice. I have to leave the office at a reasonable hour. The Fall and Winter, well that’s a different story, I guess.
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