In a culture of advert avoidance and personal 'cocooning', brands face a real challenge in developing highly targeted campaigns that not only acquire new customers but also build meaningful one-to-one relationships, according to Robert Thurner, director of the UK-based mobile branding consultancy Incentivated, who suggests that the ever-evolving mobile phone is rapidly becoming the most effective and trackable relationship marketing channel.
Mobile is fast emerging as an important communication channel for advertisers from all sectors. What started as a trickle a few years ago, with early-adopting brands from the entertainment sector trialling programmes using the mobile channel, has turned into a stream of blue chip brands embracing the channel as a key part of their marketing mix.
Strengths of the channel
To make the most of the mobile channel's abilities, marketers should first consider the channel's unique strengths, and identify ways in which those strengths can be used in their overall marketing strategy:
- Direct response
Mobile phones are with consumers almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whether at home or not. This factor alone turns the mobile phone into an instant, real-time response channel for any other media channel (e.g. adverts on television, in the press, on the radio, on billboards, in direct mail pieces, or even in-store campaigns and on-pack product promotions).
The mobile channel also puts the consumer at the heart of the communication process. Mobile phones generally have one user, unlike PCs which tend to be used by several family members or workers. This means that messages sent to an individual's mobile phone are more likely to reach the right person, and any personalised messages will not lose their relevance by being read or deleted by the wrong person.
Mobile phones are portable, and many have GPS or network location facilities built in. With the appropriate software and consumer permissions, brands can now begin to send location-specific information and offers on demand.
- Accountability and measurable feedback
The mobile channel provides real-time reporting of SMS responses generated by both ATL and BTL (above and below the line) advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion, and public relations campaigns. This means that brands can adjust their traditional marketing budgets to boost those campaigns and channels that generate the highest response levels, each of which can tracked by carrying different SMS key words.
The mobile channel works to best effect when it is properly integrated with other parts of the marketing mix, rather than being an after-thought that's added on later. Today there are more and more integrated campaigns appearing in which mobile plays a key role, instead of being a mere activation or one-way response tool.
Sound reasons for integration
The point about integration warrants significant thought; There are sound commercial reasons for a greater level of integration. For example, the mobile channel provides customers with quick and easy interactions with the brand, and technologically the channel is amazingly simple and reassuringly affordable, regardless of the size or scale of the campaign.
By adding a text message-driven call to action, the brand offers new and existing customers an immediate response path that does not require a pen and paper, a good memory for phone numbers, or even a laptop to visit a web site. In time, Incentivated predicts that the text message response option will make both telephone number and web link response options redundant.
Slick messaging strategy
The key to running slick mobile campaigns lies in the bounce-back messages you send in response to the incoming call-to-action text message. The bounce back message might ask customers what time when they wish to receive your customer service call. Or it might ask for their post code in order to find their nearest store, or to order a brochure for them. It might ask for their e-mail address in order to send details of the promotion they've just asked about.
For an even richer experience, the message could also include video content or a sound-bite, or use 'WAP push' technology to open your mobile web site in the consumer's mobile web browser (although this last technique is easily disabled by mobile-savvy consumers). But each media rich option offers the potential for increasing levels of interaction with the brand.
Keep the data in mind
A major bonus of such interactive campaigns is that you can gathering quite a lot of customer data - even bit by bit - such as mobile numbers, post codes, e-mail addresses, and of course responsiveness ratings.
With this data added to your CRM database, intelligent data mining will reveal not only insights into customer behaviours and preferences but also help you develop more relevant, targeted, one-to-one messages to up-sell, cross-sell and build longer term customer loyalty.
Looking ahead, there are new opportunities emerging for marketers using the mobile channel, too. A new generation of 3G handsets is currently flooding the market, bringing a far superior user experience of the mobile internet and content downloads. The mobile network operators are helping by offering flat rate data charges, removing one of last barriers to consumers wanting to browse the web through their handsets.
Anticipating the growth of mobile internet browsing, there has been a recent spate of acquisitions in the mobile advertising space, with Microsoft buying Screen Tonic, and AOL buying Third Screen Media. The mobile advertising industry is taking shape quickly, and this is allowing more brands to get their messages directly into the hands of the right consumers, and to track their response rates in real time. The mobile channel, in a very real sense, has only just begun what should be meteoric growth.