Do you have a smartphone? In 2010, for the first time, more smartphones were shipped from factories than personal computers.

Whether or not you use all the functions  of a smartphone — including texting, email and Web surfing — the majority of your potential visitors probably are. That makes now a good time to test the waters on marketing strategies meant to draw in customers using mobile devices.

“In the past, coverage was spotty and a lot of people didn’t carry their mobile devices with them,” says Richard Jett, president of FunTXTic, a mobile marketing company based in Wilmington, Del. “But there are so many more base stations to carry mobile phone signals now, so mobile devices can serve a purpose both inside and outside of the admission gate.”


Mobile marketing is a broad term and includes mobile messaging, mobile applications and Web sites, and even mobile commerce through ticket sales and special offers. All of these different applications of smartphone technology are designed to enable users to make choices and receive information on the go.

Each of these marketing applications has its pros and cons. Here’s a look at each:

SMS Messaging. Short Message Service (SMS) delivers targeted text messages to cell phones. It’s by far the most common form of mobile marketing because every smartphone sold today is able to send and receive SMS texts.

SMS messaging can deliver messages and broadcast special offers on a moment’s notice, and the communications reach potential customers in a very direct way.

“SMS is the only push technology out there, meaning that you can reach customers directly without having to first grab their attention,” Jett explains. “If I have someone’s mobile number and permission to contact them, I can send a message and know that it’s likely to be read. Ninety-five percent of SMS messages are read because they’re short and immediate. In comparison, you have to wait for someone to engage with you on a Web site to really get your message across.”

To use SMS text messaging, consumers sign up via an opt-in service, usually on a Website. (Most SMS’s require that recipients be at least 13 years old.) Sign-up services should have an easy way for Website visitors to opt in and opt out of the program.

  • Pros: Timeliness and flexibility. In aquatics, a delay of a few days can make the difference between profit and loss.

“You have a season, and that season has only so many days in it,” Jett says. “Suppose it’s been rainy, and then it clears and you need to drive people in. You can literally get the message out in minutes rather than days.” In addition, SMS texting can be used in conjunction with traditional advertising to help boost response. One of Jett’s clients ran a radio promotion that asked listeners to send a text message keyword for more information. The client ran the advertising on three different radio stations, using three different codes, allowing the client to track the response from each ad. 

  • Cons: Text only. With SMS messaging, you can only send text — no images or special formatting — so communications need to be timely and to the point.

Example: Cowabunga Bay Water Park in Draper, Utah, features nine water slides; Cowabunga Beach; an endless river; and the Cowabunga Splash water-play structure. Visitors can sign up for discounts, park updates and special member offers by text message through its Surfari Club. (You can view the sign-up form at www.cowabungabay.com/surfari-club/register.) It works this way: Visitors to the Surfari Club sign up through the Website and receive a text message from Cowabunga Bay to confirm the registration. Mobile Applications/Mobile Websites. Most consumers are familiar with mobile applications, which are small programs for smartphones and mobile devices that allow users to interact with a company, play games, take virtual tours and even make reservations or buy tickets or retail items. As of March 23, 2011, the App Store for Apple’s iPod and iPhone has more than 360,000 different applications available for download, according to a survey done by 148Apps.biz.

Mobile Websites, by comparison, are hosted on the Internet and specifically formatted to work well in a mobile environment. Generally, mobile sites have fewer images and small text, letting users more easily see and access information on the smaller screens of smartphones. According to Jett, when a URL recognizes a smartphone user, it automatically redirects the visitor to the mobile site.

  • Pros: Accessibility. Having a mobile Website or application available means potential visitors can access information on your waterpark or leisure pool wherever they are — a benefit in today’s instant-gratification-focused society.

“More and more people are using a handset rather than a laptop to find information,” Jett says, “and it’s difficult to find information on a regular Website because of the small screen size of a phone.”

  • Cons: Additional visibility needed. As with traditional Websites, just having a mobile site or application doesn’t guarantee people will use it. You’ll still need to employ traditional advertising and PR efforts to guide customers to your facility.

Example: KeyLime Cove in Gurnee, Ill., features a 65,000-square-foot, tropical-themed indoor waterpark. Its booking application and mobile Website went live in September 2010, allowing guests to book rooms at the resort using a mobile device. Dale McFarland, general manager of KeyLime Cove, says customers can call up keylimecove.com on their smartphones and are automatically redirected to the live booking application.

Mobile Commerce. Mobile commerce, or mobile ticketing, enables consumers to make purchases using their mobile devices. For example, a waterpark patron might buy an electronic admission ticket through a smartphone, and then scan the electronic ticket on the phone at the facility. If you offer retail items, customers also can make purchases directly through an application or mobile Website.

  • Pros: Environmentally friendly, immediate delivery. “The combination of using a Website and text messaging to deliver a ticket to someone’s phone using absolutely no paper is phenomenal,” Jett says. If you send out special offers, such as coupons for food, customers carrying their smartphones at your facility can take advantage of sales offers on the spot.
  • Cons: Special equipment needed. To scan a mobile coupon, the right hardware must be installed at your facility, and it can cost between $1,500 and $5,000, and more, to set up a bar-code scanning infrastructure. Scanning mobile coupons is becoming more commonplace among retailers, however, with approximately 50 percent of major retailers in the United States updating their scanners to read mobile phones, according to Jett.

Example: One of Jett’s waterpark clients ran a partner promotion with a fast-food store partner. Coupons that were distributed had two options for redemption — one regular paper coupon offer for a season pass, and one mobile-based coupon for a daily admission ticket. The return on investment for the program was 100 times or more, Jett says. GETTING STARTED

Unless you’re experienced at working with mobile and Website technology, the best way to get started is to hire a company that specializes in mobile marketing. Before choosing a company and a strategy, however, it’s good to ask yourself several questions:

1. How will potential visitors respond? Your visitors may buy and use mobile apps, but will they buy and use your app? To know the answer, you have to know the people who are likely to use your park or pool. KeyLime Cove discovered through its Website statistics that visitors were ready for mobile applications. “We use TravelCLICK for many of our services, and they let us know that in August 2010, 90 people tried to book rooms using iPhones,” McFarland says. “That meant that just by setting up a mobile booking engine, we could encourage an average of 100 room bookings per month.”

2. How does mobile marketing fit into my overall marketing scheme? If you currently have a Website or use radio and outdoor advertising for your waterpark or aquatics facility, then mobile SMS text marketing may be a good choice to enhance your ads. “If I can get a visitor to text in because of an ad, I can reinforce the selling proposition,” Jett says. “I can contact the visitor at a higher frequency because I can deliver the message again and again, or I can deliver additional information.”

KeyLime Cove’s marketing strategy is a mix of traditional/nontraditional and electronic marketing initiatives — and mobile marketing has helped the resort double its online reservations from 2009 to 2010.

“We’re shifting more of our marketing online,” McFarland says. “Once a week, we spend a couple of hours looking at where our bookings are coming from. When we got information on the mobile booking, it was a no-brainer to adjust our strategy.”

3. Can you give me references? Once you know how mobile marketing fits into your overall marketing, the next step is to find a company that’s reliable and has a history of successful mobile marketing, McFarland says. “There are a lot of companies out there that say they can do mobile marketing, but if they don’t know what they’re doing, it could cost you more and take a lot longer to set up.” Ask for samples of a marketing company’s work and for references — and then call the references and ask about the work the company did for them.

4. Can we start simple? Don’t jump into the deep end of the mobile marketing pool unless you’re absolutely sure it’s the right strategy for you. It’s smarter to dip your toes in through a simple campaign that includes SMS texting or a mobile Website, depending on where your information requests come from.

If these strategies work well, then consider a more complex mobile marketing strategy, such as mobile applications or mobile coupons. 

A simple campaign is quick to set up. “Our first mobile marketing effort took less than two weeks to set up,” McFarland says.  “We pay a small annual fee, and the first four or five reservations paid for it. We have a great partnership with our mobile marketer. As a result, they help us understand the concept, and that’s led to greater success.”