I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  

The good news? Mobile is hot! According to marketing services firm Listrak, there are more than 270 million mobile phones in use in the U.S. and 100 billion text messages are sent or received every month, making mobile the most popular way to communicate.

Google attributes $1 billion in revenue to mobile ads and consumer usage of mobile coupons is forecasted to exceed 300 million globally by 2014, according to Juniper Research.

The bad news? Mobile is hot. Mobile’s high penetration and usage means there’s a lot of clutter and competition. Marketers spent $790 million on mobile marketing in 2010, up more than 160 percent from 2009, according to media research firm BIA/Kelsey. That’s a lot of advertising to break through.  

And get this: According to news and information site 148Apps, there are nearly 400,000 applications available in the iPhone store alone. Ninety-five percent of apps, however, are never used after the first month, according to Pinch Media.

What is a marketer to do? With response rates 20-plus times higher than direct mail or print advertising, and with the personal connections people are creating with their phones, mobile is too powerful a tool to ignore. But simply acknowledging Foursquare check-ins, blasting coupon texts, and making store locator apps isn’t enough to stand out.

Mobile can be so much more than a promotional marketing tactic. It can be used to add real value, enhance the customer experience, and differentiate you from competitors. In other words, you can use mobile to build your brand.  

Here are five ways to realize the full brand-building potential of mobile:

1. Provide insider information. Today’s discriminating customers want more information about your products than a typical menuboard allows. You can convey detailed product information like ingredient sources and nutritional profiles through short codes, mobile tags, and QR codes. Give foodies access to recipes and preparation methods, and tell others about your community involvement or the brand’s history. This kind of insider information sharing makes customers feel like they’re part of your brand and builds a tremendous amount of goodwill.

2. Build a brand community. Many people enjoy exchanging tips and recommendations with others, and mobile enables this kind of sharing when it matters most—when people are deciding which restaurant to visit and when they’re choosing what to order. With an application that integrates a mobile-friendly website and the Facebook chat function, restaurateurs can follow the lead of teen clothing retailer Wet Seal and enable their customers to get input from friends at the point of purchase.

Imagine customers using their mobile phones to bond over their favorite menu items or the best ingredients to combine in a salad. Your brand becomes part of their conversation and they become brand fans.

3. Make the transaction seamless. Earlier this year, Starbucks introduced cashless mobile payments. Users hold their phones up to a scanner, which recognizes a unique barcode presented by an app on the phone’s screen, and the purchase amount is automatically deducted from the customer’s Starbucks card account. Sonic Drive-In is testing an “On the Go” program in which customers can order with their smartphone and pick up at the drive-thru window. Self-scan-and-pay systems are an option for restaurants with grab-and-go items. With these new mobile technologies, speed of service and hassles go down as customer satisfaction and brand preference go up.

Acknowledging Foursquare check-ins, blasting coupon texts, and making store locator apps isn't enough to stand out.

4. Establish vital customer relationships. Not all mobile programs require serious application development or major infrastructure investments to build your brand. Through simple text messaging, you can engage in two-way communication with your customers. Use mobile to conduct surveys, encourage reviews, and deliver loyalty program benefits. The key is to treat mobile phone numbers as customer identifiers—collect them and use them to foster ongoing communication. When you listen to customers and treat them uniquely, they develop an affinity for your brand.

5. Deliver customer service. Mobile is more than just a marketing tool; it’s also ideal for delivering customer service. Brands that use mobile for customer service are generally perceived as more proactive and responsive to their customers because of its visibility and immediacy. Many customers, particularly younger ones, are more likely to use their mobile device to express their dissatisfaction than to fill out a comment card or confront an employee. So use mobile to solicit their feedback and monitor their comments. And because mobile enables you to communicate in real time, you can use it to head off complaints before they turn into serious problems that spread like wildfire on social networks and cause real damage to your brand.  

Mobile really opens up new opportunities to engage customers and build your brand. Despite the excitement around mobile, it’s important to remember that new capabilities and features are emerging daily. What works now may be very different from what works later.

And the general rules of marketing still apply. Mobile should be driven by your business goals and integrated into a complete approach for acquiring and keeping customers. The tool must also fit the target—mobile may not be the best way to reach your target audience if they don’t regularly use mobile devices. Finally, all marketing communication needs to be trustworthy. That means providing accurate information and keeping customers’ personal data secure.  

In the end, all marketing is about facilitating timely, valuable, and relevant interactions with customers, and mobile is another way to do so. That, to me, is great news.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Marketing & Promotions, Ordering, Story, Sonic, Starbucks