Without a solid strategy, forays into mobile marketing and m-commerce could do more harm than good, warns Shane Leahy, Group CEO at Oxygen8 Communications
With the accelerating proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices, there is mounting urgency for businesses to incorporate the mobile medium into their promotional communications and sales strategies.
Intriguingly however, very few organisations to date have developed formal strategies for exploiting the medium as a distinct channel for reaching customers. While ‘apps’ are popping up all over the place, sophisticated, optimised mobile promotional vehicles remain thin on the ground.
This is surprising, given that IDC now believes that sales of mobiles and tablets (the iPad and equivalent devices) will overtake that for desktops by as soon as next year.
Things are set to change, however. Forrester Research has estimated that business-to-business mobile marketing spending will quadruple over the five years to 2014 to $106 million. Opportunities include using mobile as a means of engaging customers – for example getting an application in their hands to educate them about their products.
The imperative now is to capitalise on these trends strategically – and before rivals do.
The challenge for commercial organisations is how to channel the opportunity for maximum impact. The starting point must be a solid strategy based on genuine insights about the medium’s potential – and limitations – and a rational understanding of target customers’ preferences and requirements.
Get it wrong, and the potential to damage relationships and turn off customer attention is huge. Then there is the technical complexity involved in making the mobile experience work equally well across multiple platforms – Android, Apple, Java, Symbian; and device types – from small smartphones to bigger tablets. Other technical considerations include available bandwidth. Until high-speed connectivity for mobiles is more ubiquitous and reliable, marketers need to be able to cater for the full range of conditions.
When developing a mobile strategy, there is no substitute for getting among target end users and establishing what would add value and make their lives easier.
Facebook has done very well in the mobile sphere, by adapting to the new environment in ways that are subtle (to protect the familiar user experience from the original online version), yet which add clear new value for the user. Mobile users, for example, have the option to ‘check in’ at their current location, showing ‘friends’ where they are, and determining at a glance who else may be in the vicinity so they can choose to meet or swap itineraries.
Official statistics issued by Facebook last August claimed that more than 150 million active users were now accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. Significantly, the organisation noted that people accessing Facebook on their mobile devices were proving to be twice as active on the site than non-mobile users.
Clearly, retailers trying to display multiple views of products along with pricing and delivery information have a harder task as they try to adapt their online marketing and sales activities for a mobile audience. The statistics show that consumers will buy this way – provided the experience isn’t fiddly or difficult. If a serious clothes shopper needs a microscope to view the pair of trousers they’ve selected, the chances are they won’t have the confidence or inclination to pursue the purchase.
Making the experience as natural and as intuitive as possible is crucial. The aim should be a one- or two-click experience – avoiding the painstaking form-filling associated with traditional online sales, as users are required to go through the process of registering all of their details.
Once an organisation has embraced and invested in the mobile channel as a powerful and distinct route to market – one which has the potential to influence customers at just about any time, and anywhere – it may be worth introducing incentives to drive potential customers through the mobile medium. Preferential pricing, as employed by many web-based retailers, or use of voucher codes as a reward for taking the mobile route could be options here.
Mobile strategies must be highly flexible, too, allowing for the fast pace of change in this rapidly developing technology area. Just as new device and platform manifestations will emerge – as well as applications that exploit touch technology, voice recognition and motion detection – so commercial models will adapt and move on. Once mobile content and service access is the norm and consumers are hooked, data consumption charges are likely to rise, making customers more discriminating about what they consume – especially where content and services make extensive use of video or 3D. Businesses’ response to this might be to subsidise data use.
Early innovation with the mobile channel can be seen among retailers that use location-based information to point consumers in the direction of their nearest physical store, to special offers in designated aisles; or which allow customers to scan products so that they can price-check items, add them to their ‘favourites’, calculate the bill as they go along, even ultimately collecting payment. In a business context, a company exhibiting at a show might issue a barcode on its business cards which, when scanned, links to a presentation of information about its products and services – saving show visitors from being weighed down by carrier bags full of brochures.
For a fully joined-up customer experience, mobile should be considered in its broadest capacity, blending marketing campaigns and sales activities with more direct customer communications, from delivery status updates to facilitating direct interaction with customer services teams.
Bringing all of this together is no simple feat, particularly if the co-ordinator’s remit includes all other customer-facing communications across other media. While integration and alignment between mobile activities and existing customer communications are paramount, it would be unrealistic to suppose that an existing marketing team could amply absorb all of the considerations associated with the continually developing mobile opportunity. A dedicated, full-service mobile communications agency can help here, catering for all aspects of mobile strategy, including internal mobile broadcasting and mobile information dissemination.
As things stand, the mobile opportunity is all to play for, but there will be plenty of losers for every deserving winner. Planning and preparation are vital in making sure you take the right path, first time and gain that critical early lead.