Over the next few years, a series of technologies such as near-perfect voice recognition and near-field communications will reach maturity and converge on our mobile phones, transforming consumer behaviour in ways that marketers, technologists and futurists can't yet predict.
Smartphones will reach near ubiquity as device and data plan prices continue to fall. So, how does the modern marketer, who waits to jump on the mobile marketing bandwagon, navigate through this rapidly changing ecosystem in order to strive for what they've always wanted, acquire new customers, increase sales, and build brand loyalty?
Know your customer
The high functionality of smartphones and the bandwidth provided by 3G now means consumers can be reached via multiple channels (voice, SMS, MMS, email, social and location services) on the one mobile device 24x7. Our phones are truly an extension of ourselves, and the one device that ensures marketers are reaching one consumer, and not one household. And, that is precisely why the burning issue for the modern marketers is one of identity. Failure to resolve your databases of customer phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and social IDs to a unique identity is costly. The over-messaged consumer is a fatigued consumer with little patience for brands who don't really know who they are. The crucial first steps in this journey require you to cleanse and resolve your existing data, and make sure new contact information is validated as you collect it.
Consumer data quality has always been a key issue for the successful direct marketer. Likewise, the key to a successful mobile campaign, as it's always been for any direct channel, is to make sure it's targeted at the consumer's needs and desires. Relevancy is the best tool for high engagement. Marketers now have more data than ever on which to build relevant campaigns. Behavioural data from web browsing and transactional data from e-commerce promise great insight as to what consumers really want, rather than what they told you in a preference page or survey. When consumers opt-in for your mobile communications using their Facebook identity, imagine how relevant your messages can be, coupling their shared social data with behavioural and transactional histories.
Analytics is then crucial to avoid drowning in a sea of data. If you think cross-selling is a myth, consider that 30 per cent of Amazon sales come through recommendations at the point of sale. Aside from propensity modelling, building a preferred channel model based on consumer responsiveness is critical to understand what content the consumer responds to and when. SMS is an interruptive channel, so use it only when the consumer wants to be interrupted, like when product supply is low, or time is short.
Balance investment in mobile websites and apps
Apps will become a dominant force in customer communications. Apps totally blur the lines between dialogue, service and marketing. But, organisations shouldn't depend on them alone. Mobile websites are a must. Every phone will have an HTML 5 browser, but not every consumer will install your app. Currently, too few organisations build websites optimised for smartphones, resulting in unbearably long rendering times and poor user experience. This is simply a missed opportunity to acquire a new customer. While it may not have the flexibility and power of an app, HTML 5 promises the ability to create highly interactive sites with great advertising potential. One of the simplest and most effective strategies is to use an optimised mobile site to encourage the consumer to install your app.
Mobile internet usage is growing much faster than fixed-line internet ever did. Accordingly, more and more online display budgets are migrating from PCs to mobile websites. Sure, mobile display ads are more annoying than on the big screen, but this just means marketers have to work harder at making the ads relevant. Targeted mobile display advertising will be the most hotly contested vendor space in 2012. Having the ability to target consumers based on behaviour, demographics and lifestyle data is a winning strategy.
So, how to divide your budget? Where you invest is dependent on the nature of your highest priorities. Are you trying to acquire new customers, improve average revenue per customer, increase customer satisfaction through greater service? Marketers will have to do the math and ask themselves, for every dollar I spend, which channel will give me the biggest RoI (return on investment)?
More and more of our time is spent on smartphones, but there's only so much consumer mindshare marketers are going to be able to get. Don't waste time by duplicating the message and use the most appropriate channel to meet your business objectives. Mobile websites and apps will co-exist and the balance of how you use them will change as consumer behaviour on these devices continues to evolve.
Businesses looking to integrate mobile into their marketing mix are faced with some uncertainty about which channels are keepers. Will social media kill e-mail marketing? Facebook Messenger now has SMS in its sights, as Google+ does Facebook. The two things I'm confident of are that if you link your customers' identities across these channels, you have a chance to establish an ongoing two-way dialogue with consumers on their mobile device, regardless of which channel wins. Mobile is a sure investment for marketers today, regardless of industry or target market. As technology advances with time, mobile marketing will become more cost-effective and cross-channel-friendly, but organisations will only reap the benefits through targeted campaigns and identity management.
(Based in Hong Kong, John Merakovsky is managing director at Experian Marketing Services for Asia-Pacific).