“Search” No More For Marketing’s Latest Grail

A funny thing about Google’s mobile search service, called Google SMS, which lets people find businesses by texting names and locations to a short code: Those who know about it utilize it constantly and really love it; but passionate as they are, users are still a minority among cell phone owners.

The dichotomy occurred to me this week after reading several reports indicating mobile search is becoming the hot new space–for investors, tech behemoths, and consumers alike. Seems everyone likes the idea of mobile search even if they don’t utilize it much themselves. While Google’s service is free and gets the job done, many others are seeking ways to improve, leverage, and monetize mobile search.

NearbyNow–whose service lets shoppers reserve products online and sends confirmations, coupons, and other deals to shoppers’ cell phones–has announced it secured $11.75 million in a third round of funding. Some 200 malls nationwide already offer NearbyNow service to their customers.

More importantly, the startup is rolling out an iPhone-specific application that lets users navigate through an onscreen mall and search a particular store’s inventory and special sales. The iPhone app also lets retailers send out enhanced ads, in addition to the SMS ads that they can already broadcast.

While the iPhone seemed central to NearbyNow’s future success, anti-Apple endeavors are what could lead to mobile search’s evolution. A Forbes report suggests that that the real benefit from the carefully-watched potential Microsoft-Yahoo! merger would be for mobile search.

Microsoft’s Mobile Windows is on a vast number of handsets while Yahoo! has worked with carriers to put Web-friendly content and utilities into phone software. Thus the merger could mean a bigger mobile presence for both companies, as Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told Forbes: “If you’re looking for where a tie-up could occur, that’s one place.”

Indeed, there’s much incentive for MicroHoo or anyone else to dominate mobile search. Foremost, digital marketers are clamoring for the technology to reach its full potential. After all, according to a report from Scarborough Research, the “Digital Savvy” consumer is also an active one who relies on his or her cell phone for information–and tends to have money to burn. eMarketer predicts that global mobile search revenue will grow to $3.77 billion in 2012 from $83.3 million in 2007. Meanwhile the race is on to beat Google, which is poised to dominate all things mobile with its open Android platform and consortium of software makers, handset producers, and cellular service providers.

Hmm. Maybe that lack of universal adoption of Google SMSÂ is no skin off Google’s nose, since everyone’s planning on bigger and better mobile search solutions.