Mobile: How can marketers catch up with their customers?

15th Aug 2013

How many times have we been told that it’s the ‘year of the mobile’ over the past decade? Hardly a year goes by without some splash surrounding the impact that mobile is expected to have over the coming 12 months. All of which isn’t to say that mobile hasn’t been enormously influential. But trying to pinpoint it to a particular year is an exercise in futility. And as a business, if you’re still waiting for the de facto ‘year of the mobile’ before making your move, then you’ve already been left behind.

“I’ve been working in mobile for more than nine years and every year has been the year of the mobile,” agrees Paul Berney, MD EMEA and CMO at the Mobile Marketing Association. “It’s a nonsensical thing to say – can you tell me what was ‘the year of television’? The reality is we’re in the mobile era. And what we can definitely say, without any shadow of a doubt, is that mobile and mobility have both caused and enabled an irrevocable change in consumer behaviour.”

He continues: “If you think about it, mobile has given us access to almost the sum total of human knowledge at our fingertips in seconds. Almost every adult in the western world has a mobile phone. And everybody knows that in seconds they can click and find, click and do, click and know and click and buy. And if you know that, it changes your mindset in every part of your life, and certainly as a consumer. Mobile has changed the way we behave, full stop. But around the world, brands have been slow to catch up with this consumer-led revolution.”

A perfect demonstration of the way consumer behaviours have evolved to transform shopping and consumption experiences is showrooming – with Gartner estimating that around 30% of consumers now use smartphones to shop whilst in-store. Showrooming caught bricks and mortar retailers offguard and continues to cause angst.

Thomas Husson, VP and principal analyst at Forrester agrees that we are in the midst of a “consumer-driven revolution”, however he notes: “This is not just a change in behaviours, this is also a change in attitudes and expectations, because we as individuals are expecting any kind of information or service to be available in context at the moment of our need.”

And this has had enormous implications for brands, he adds.

“This mind shift that we’ve made as consumers also has to be made by marketers. They have to have a mobile mind shift so that they integrate new aspects into their marketing, taking into account time, location, past behaviours and so on to really deliver more compelling experiences on mobile devices. Consumers are changing their expectations of when they engage with brands and products on mobile devices and the challenge for marketers is to adapt to this shift.”

Technical challenges

Certainly the significance of mobile has been acknowledged by the business world, reflected by the soaring spend on mobile advertising, with its global revenue worth $6.43 billion in 2012 according to mobile ad exchange SMAATO, and set to hit a staggering $19.7 billion by 2017. But mobile still has vast potential that remains largely untapped by marketers.

“Mobile technology/marketing gives us all these great access points, these windows into the consumer’s literal location and, assuming you're using the right kind of tools, you can also find out their preferences, mine their Facebook page for their interests, etc. so we can have access to more and more data,” says Mike McGuire, VP of research for mobile marketing at Gartner.

However, he adds that for most sectors, the use of mobile marketing is still in its infancy, and even those that have embraced it – such as retail – have tended to employ fairly unadventurous approaches. And in some cases there are very good reasons for this.

“There have been pockets where we’ve seen businesses taking advantage of it, but they are using quite obvious campaigns – if you’re a regular at Starbucks or some of the fast food chains then the idea of coupons and loyalty programmes make a lot of sense but they’re obvious.”

He continues: “We’re still in the early days of extending beyond those kinds of things because whilst it’s a great opportunity, there are also a lot of challenges if you’re a mobile marketer – do you do a native app strategy; do you create a mobile website; do you rebuild your website using responsive design? And there are some significant technical challenges there as well. Just think about native apps - which one do you choose? The one supporting iOS, all the flavours of Android, just the versions Samsung is using? So there are significant challenges when you get beyond the staple of coupons, SMS, etc.”

Low adoption

Daniel Rowles, author of Mobile Marketing, and a course director for CIM on digital marketing, agrees that some of the mobile technologies that have been mooted as marketing platforms are not yet mature enough to be seriously considered at this time.

“The reality is that you hear talk about NFC but it’s not on iPhones yet so the level of adoption in the market is relatively low, and mobile payment from mobile devices is a very sensible idea and it will happen but because the technology is so fragmented at the moment it has not really been adopted,” he says.

For this reason, Rowles recommends that brands be wary about the hype surrounding some mobile marketing technologies, and to put serious consideration into how any new technology will fit into your wider customer strategy. 

“You can do new things just for the sake of doing them, and you can get good PR coverage from innovation, but the reality is that strategically you should take a step back and consider what part it plays in the mix of things you’re trying to do,” he explains. By doing that, it means you are actually meeting your users’ needs and you get satisfied customers.

“We’ve already seen the hype surrounding social media and apps – there were apps for the sake of apps. But why? People don’t take a long-term view of it, they aren’t really thinking why they’re doing it and how it fits into the strategic plan, and they have also forgotten about maintenance costs, marketing costs, ongoing testing and all those sorts of things. We’re obsessed with the next big thing, but actually sometimes taking stock a bit can be very important.”

Mobile strategy

Husson agrees that the hyperbole around mobile has muddied the waters: “There is a fascination with 4G, geocodes, NFC, HTML5, responsive design and so on. Technology is improving quickly and is enabling brands to deliver compelling experiences. But really it should be about starting with consumer needs – how they are using their mobile phones; where; when; what for? And then think about how can we bring value and serve corporate objectives, rather than just mobile with a siloed approach.”

McGuire similarly emphasises how important a strategic view of mobile is – not least because poorly planned mobile marketing can do more harm than good.

“For mobile to be really successful it has to be a logical extension of a multichannel digital marketing strategy, taking advantage of the specific capabilities of a mobile device including geo-location,” he says. “We view mobile as the connective tissue for a digital marking strategy, connecting all the points of a digital/multichannel strategy because those devices are almost always with the consumer.

“But the channel can be extremely risky – the wrong message at the wrong time can do more damage than good across mobile. When marketers first used SMS there were times when folks found it intrusive. Consumers will always be very concerned about privacy but they're willing to exchange personally identifiable information like location in real-time if there's value delivered to them. What they don't want is for that smartphone to effectively put a big target on their backs. So if there's value and it's relevant, people will use those devices and exchange that information that a marketer or brand needs to act with that.

“Creating and maintaining engagement is going to be really important and so we will start to see less of the bombarding of messages and more about how we can create opportunities through mobile devices for the consumer to find the brand and then pull information for what they want, which helps the marketer understand preferences, purchase intent, cet. If you use the funnel metaphor, mobile tends to be viewed as being very effective at the lower stages when you start getting the conversion of loyalty. But you’re going to see it increasingly used for the location-related awareness stage too –where are some good restaurants in the area, etc.?”

And this more strategic approach is something that is beginning to emerge, as businesses take a more sophisticated view of how their customers are using mobile devices.

“Up to now most marketers were lumping smartphones and tablets into the same bucket, but we are starting to realise that these devices are being used for different purposes, in different contexts (mostly at home for tablets) enabling much more rich media experiences in the discovery and exploration stages of the customer lifecycle,” notes Husson. “So we’re starting to see some different shaded strategies addressing two separate use cases for phones and tablets.”

Maturing mobility

Mobile devices have hugely influenced consumer behaviour and expectations, and brands are playing catch-up. The good news is that marketers are increasingly adopting a mobile mindset.

As Berney notes: “Pick up a magazine and see how many display adverts have got some kind of mobile call to action; on your way home see how many outdoor adverts have got a mobile call to action or there’s a QR code on them; see how many TV adverts use mobile as one of the calls to action – ‘visit us in store, go to our website, call us or see our mobile website’… That sea change towards mobile is all around us.”

But to fully capitalise on the mobile platform, brands will need to approach mobile correctly. And for Rowles, this means not focusing on the mobile device, but instead thinking about the change in the user journey – how customers are experiencing the brand and products online in a different way.

“The user journey is changing but we’re not really ready for it at the moment,” he explains. “About 25% of traffic to most sites is coming through mobile devices already, but only about 10% of ecommerce is done via mobile globally. So there’s lots of traffic but people aren’t buying on mobile devices and that’s because the experience isn’t quite there yet. Just because your website works on mobile device doesn’t mean it’s optimised for a mobile device. There’s a lot of talk about responsive design, where you create one website that works on multiple devices, but most big brands aren’t there yet because it relies on some new development work and new content management systems. So there’s a gap between where we are and where we need to be.”

Nonetheless, Husson is confident that provided marketers take a strategic and considered view of mobile, and properly investigate the mobile technologies that can be leveraged and the technical challenges that exist, the gap between consumer and company can be closed. And some brands are already well on their way.

He concludes: “It is early days – you have some players in a couple of industries that are quite advanced in their mobile marketing – but by and large we are just starting to move from the first generation of mobile websites and mobile apps, that were really just brands joining the iPhone bandwagon and didn’t involve any consideration about the value that mobile would add throughout the customer lifecycle. But we’re starting to see smart applications that are connected to the back-end CRM systems where you see segmentation, trying to deliver a specific and more personalised and contextualised experiences to different audiences. So we’re just entering this era and clearly I think marketers are waking up to the opportunity.”

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