Don't phone it in: Four ways to strengthen your brand's mobile presence

26th May 2010

The Internet Advertising Bureau's John Mew highlights four areas where brands can work harder to strengthen their mobile presence and keep the customer happy.

I’ve worked in digital for some years now (although I refuse to disclose my age…) and I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in terms of new media adoption. Allow me to be bold and argue that when it becomes apparent that a channel can be used to market products and services, there are some who enter the arena all guns blazing, employing what can only be described as ‘SPAM tactics’ to try and hit as many consumers as possible in a short space of time.
It happened with pop-ups online and we saw it with the massive overuse of email newsletters that were sent with no targeting or opt-in in mind. Even with the more recent proliferation of blogs and social networking sites, some of those irresponsible early adopters chose to carpet-bomb consumers with irrelevant messages… because they could. 
Just because a medium is considered cheaper and easier to access than more traditional methods, it doesn’t mean that it should be exploited in the hope that at least someone, somewhere will respond. But this is generally at the very beginning, and the tides soon begin to turn. After the uneasy experimental phase, we then enter the era of mature usage. The bigger, responsible brands start to use a medium for what it’s always best at – polite conversation, engaging creative and great customer relations and retention techniques.
And mobile has been no different. 
We probably all think back to the early days and shudder when we remember those dodgy, dirty SPAM text messages that seemed to appear as if from nowhere. Ladies night and a free WKD at your local disco on Friday, anyone? I don’t even remember giving them my number! Things have moved on from the Crazy Frog, quite remarkably, and today what we’re enjoying with mobile is an experienced, effective medium that’s hitting the headlines (and the communications plans) in a big way.
Mobile audience and adspend on the increase
Plus consumers are flocking to the mobile internet in their droves. Around 23% of all internet time in the UK is now spent on a mobile device as they opt for the convenience and entertainment value that mobile media offers.  And whilst revenues are still only around 1% of the size of digital, it’s growing quickly.
Our latest study into mobile advertising expenditure, conducted with PwC, found that the market is worth £37.6 million, and saw an impressive year-on-year growth of 32%, even during the most brutal recession to hit the advertising industry to date. Within this total, paid-for search advertising on mobile accounted for 54% of the market at £20.2m, whilst mobile display – including banners, text links and game advertising – was worth £17.4m in 2009. Early forecasts for 2010 indicate that this healthy growth will continue, as we gradually escape the downturn and marketers start switching even more budget to mobile methods. 
And what is the role of the IAB in all this? Not only are we charged with proving the efficacy of mobile as a marketing medium, its our job to establish best practice and make sure marketers are equipped to execute the best campaigns. We don’t just want brands doing mobile, we want them to do it well. To facilitate this we’ve identified four key areas where brands can and should be working harder to strengthen their mobile presence and keep the customer happy.
1. Mobile websites
For those 19 million consumers accessing the internet via their mobile device each month, and with an average of 32 minutes now spent looking at the mobile internet every day, having a solid mobile web presence is essential. However, you’d be surprised at how many brands fall at this first hurdle even today. After search results, your site will often be the first impression that potential and current customers get of you on the mobile web. If it’s not suited to all handsets they’ll end up frustrated and probably headed towards your competition. 
According to the 2010 Yahoo! Appetite study, if you don’t have website that works on mobile phones then 44% consumers will blame the brand beyond everyone else. A further 55% are indifferent to the solution you use to achieve a mobile presence, they simply want it to work. Fear not, a mobile website doesn’t need to be the fancy, all-singing-all-dancing property that users have come to expect with a PC-based surfing experience. In fact products like flash don’t even work on most mobiles. It’s best to get the basics right first – make it usable, don’t cram too much information in, have a mobile redirect and ensure it’s easy to access and you’re on the right track.
2. Mobile commerce
Mobile commerce is starting to become big business, with developments in the market last year in particular proving to be a key catalyst for a real uplift in mobile sales for many retail brands. eBay made $500m sales on mobile in 2009, predicting a $1.5m turnover in 2010, whilst Paypal saw 600% increase in sales in 2009. Furthermore, when Ocado launched their dedicated app, they saw a 4.4% increase in sales.
It’s no coincidence that all three of these brands have an exceptional mobile commerce facility, which should be seen as a benchmark for other marketers to strive towards. And you don’t need huge eBay-sized budgets to achieve this – once again usability and a journey to purchase that respects and reassures the user is key.
3. Smartphone apps
Yes, they’re appealing, yes they can be oh-so-quirky and sometimes even get you some press coverage, but it’s best not to put all your eggs in the app basket (or the iBasket, if you will!) Only 5% of UK consumers have an iPhone, so if you want reach or to reach all your customers in one go, this probably shouldn’t be your channel of choice, but conversely, apps can really add to your CRM and marketing strategy.
It’s proven that apps can have a positive effect on brand perception. According to the Yahoo! research, typically apps can deliver an extra 10% of consumers ranking a brand’s mobile experience as ‘good’. In addition, what consumers see as key attributes for a successful app are functional & entertaining, potential ‘wow’ factor, perceived to be unique and can work offline. Essentially, a good app needs to add something to the consumer’s life in order to stay in that consumer’s life.
The npower app on both the Android and Apple platforms is a great example of this, allowing customers to input meter readings as well as providing access to exclusive content. The app lets customers register their meter readings, find answers to frequently asked questions, find emergency contact numbers, a game and all the npower Wallace and Gromit TV ads. It’s an app that makes the customer’s life easier and adds a little something, too.
4. SMS and MMS
SMS and MMS remain the biggest and easiest channel to employ to engage the mobile consumer. According to Comscore M:metrics, 42.5m people use SMS more than any other method on mobile and 34% of people have received an SMS ad from a brand in the last month. But as we discussed earlier, just because this type of marketing may be perceived as easier than more traditional methods, that doesn’t mean it should be overused and undervalued.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to use text messaging is to actually provide a service – contact your customers, keep them up to date with relevant offers and build a loyal database of followers that like to receive mobile communications from you. M&S do this wonderfully with their regular ‘dine in for £10’ text messages that let opted-in customers know what’s on offer in store each weekend (this isn’t just a text message, etc etc…)
So what now?
The IAB has spent just over 10 years now evangelising about online to marketers, why they should add it to the agenda and how best to execute their campaigns. However, rarely has there been a sense of urgency in our tone – take-up of internet advertising has been steady and consistent with many brands taking their time to realise the real benefits of the medium. However mobile is a different beast entirely – the public are already using the medium on a regular basis, and no doubt searching for you there whether you have an established presence or not. Unleashing your brand into the world of mobile should be a journey, and an investment, and it will take time and the work of a good agency to bring it to life. But as long as you consider and cover the four bases above you should be met with some very happy mobile customers indeed.

John Mew is head of mobile at the Internet Advertising Bureau.

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