Why is it that those brands that get mobile really get it, and those that don’t really don’t?

It was a question put to me a couple of weeks ago over networking drinks after a mobile conference, and it got me thinking about what the answer might be.

So here, for what it’s worth, is my take on it.

First, the easy bit: Why do those brands that get mobile really get it? Because they’ve seen the writing on the wall or, more to the point, the spreadsheets.

Rising smartphone ownership, coupled with an increasing proportion of traffic hitting brands’ Web sites from consumer devices, provide a compelling argument for brands to build mobile properties and, once they’ve built them, to use mobile search and mobile advertising to drive traffic to them.

At the same time, those that have physical outlets (and have seen the light about going mobile) can also see how the channel can be used to drive foot traffic into those outlets, using geo-targeted mobile advertising, mobile coupons, and eye-popping augmented reality posters on bus shelters and other street furniture.

The evidence is in the figures. In April, the IAB and PwC reported that mobile advertising spend in the UK reached £526 million in 2012, up from £203 million in 2011.

As long ago as 2008, BMW ran an MMS campaign in Germany that targeted 114,000 new BMW owners. It showed them what the new BMW, in the correct colour, would look like with winter tires fitted.

The campaign cost US$120,000 to run and, according to Forum Oxford, generated sales of US$45 million.

But what of the naysayers? I believe there are four factors holding mobile back from more widespread adoption.

1. The first is the long memories that some budget holders have with regards to the mobile Web. Anyone who remembers the mobile Web’s first incarnation in the early-to-mid 2000s will remember what a half-baked experience it offered.

The infrastructure (in terms of data-friendly mobile networks) was not there; the devices were not there; and the brands were largely not there.

In other words, there was little for those early pioneering customers, with their Nokia WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) handsets, to look at. And what there was to look at didn’t look too great.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that those brands that did try the mobile Web the first time around are in no hurry to try it again.

But I believe they should, because things have come a long way in the past 10 years. The infrastructure is better, with 3G and 4G networks. The devices are unrecognisably better.

And we are also getting to the point of ubiquitous free Wi-Fi in public places, with things like The Cloud and O2 Wi-Fi in the UK. And, most importantly, the consumers are most definitely there.

What Forrester calls the “perpetually connected” consumer lives life with his or her mobile at the centre of it. True, there are more of these in some demographics than others, but if your target consumer has made what Forrester calls the “mobile mind shift” and your brand hasn’t, it’s about time you did.

2. The second factor holding mobile back is confusion. Put simply, there’s so much you could do with mobile, it’s hard to know what you should do.

This problem is exacerbated by mobile tech vendors selling a solution, rather than trying to solve a business problem: “You need an app. Or a mobile site. Or QR codes. Or an augmented reality campaign. Yes, that happens to be what we do, but it also just happens to be exactly what you need.”

The answer to this one is to forget the tech; look instead at your business and your customers.

Identify the problems and needs that they have, where it would be appropriate for you to provide a solution, and then look at the role that one or more of these clever mobile technologies might have to play in that solution.

That’s a much better way to approach the problem than applying a piece of cool tech someone has sold you as a sticking plaster to fix a problem that might not even exist.

3. The third issue brands have to overcome when assessing the need for mobile in their business is politics. The mentality in many companies seems to be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or, “If we’ve come this far without doing anything on mobile, why start now?”

In an atmosphere dominated by this kind of thinking, a mobile project is probably going to be pretty small beer and, therefore, a pretty low priority, compared to some of the big IT projects going on at any one time in a typical large company.

My response? It probably is broke; you just haven’t noticed yet. Look at Kodak, the archetypal example of a company that failed to see which way the digital wind was blowing.

If you can get on a train or a bus or just walk down the street and not realise that tomorrow’s consumers — people under the age of 25 — live their lives glued to their phones, then you must live your life staring at the ground — or, most likely, at your phone.

If this sounds like the attitude in your company, or the companies you are targeting, you have to overcome this blindness by getting senior level buy-in to the mobile project and permission to blow the whistle on anyone dragging their feet. Secure small budgets for testing, fail fast, learn from the failures, and move on.

4. The final factor holding mobile back is ignorance. The idea that the smaller screen on a smartphone is a limitation, so you can’t do anything creative on it.

I think this attitude is changing fast, as brands and agency creative start to draw a distinction between smartphones and tablets, and to appreciate the rich canvas that tablets offer as an advertising medium.

This is also being fuelled by the innovative ad units offered by publishers that have really embraced mobile, such as Telegraph Media Group in the UK, for example.

But ignoring tablets for the moment, it would be wrong to dismiss smartphones as an advertising medium, even with their smaller screens. Don’t get fixated (in a negative sense) on the smaller screen. Think instead of the opportunities offered by a mobile phone in comparison to a PC or a TV.

Think about the fact your phone knows where you are. And whether you are currently pointing east or west. The fact that you can deliver a coupon to a phone when the person using it is within five minutes’ walk from of one of your stores. And that mobile offers an instant connection to social media channels from almost anywhere.

Make no mistake, the mobile revolution is in full swing and the last ones to the party risk missing out on the fun.