As communications channels are shifting to what the industry calls SoLoMo (Social, Local and Mobile), it is the mobile channel that has excited marketers most, not least for its ubiquity and global potential.
Around 87 per cent of the world’s population now has a mobile phone, with China and India leading growth. Analysts predict that this year, smartphone sales will overtake PC sales for the first time ever. 3G mobile internet networks now cover 45 per cent of the globe, and the first 4G networks, with even higher data capacities, are currently being rolled out.
Mobile devices of all kinds are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for both consumers and business users. Accordingly, brands looking for new ways of engaging with customers are eager to exploit the capabilities of the mobile channel.
Mobile marketing has certainly overcome its experimental stage and is now as solid a channel as any traditional one. However, to succeed in this new world of mobile marketing, companies need to ensure they adopt a best practice approach.
A companion, not a device
Not long ago the world’s marketing and technology sages were debating what kinds of devices consumers might standardise on in future: would it be a ‘Swiss army knife’ smartphone with all the functions you could possibly want at your fingertips? Or would people prefer to have dedicated devices for phone calls, taking photos and reading their email, to name just a few. Today, it is clear who the winners are: multifunctional devices like smartphones and Tablets.
Consumer behaviour is evolving in such a way that ever-increasing numbers of users will look to their mobile as the sole mechanism for receiving information and communicating – both at work and at home. There is little doubt that mobile applications – whether on a phone or a Tablet – have to become the new focus for customer relationship management, reflecting this change in consumer preferences.
Within the new marketing adage of SoMoLo, the mobile channel is likely to be the most important one, over which the lion’s share of social and location-based communications will be delivered. So how can companies get on the bandwagon to take advantage of this prolific channel, while avoiding the pitfalls?
Making it personal
There are two key concepts that would-be mobile marketers should focus on when designing their strategy and implementation plans. The first is multichannel communication. Brand communications are no longer one-directional, and given the ever-growing number of customer touch points, even the multichannel concept is now a bit old hat. According to Forrester’s 2012 trend forecast, customers want to be able to start a dialogue in one communications channel, and complete it in another. ‘Agile communications’ seems a more appropriate concept for this. And while mobile will become increasingly important within the communications mix, it is important not to forget the other channels, and to ensure consistency across all of them.
The second concept to bear in mind when forging your plans for mobile customer engagement is the need to personalise messages in both format and content to make the interaction effective. It is not just about personalising messages – “Hello Lucy”. The challenge is to individualise the entire interaction – based on where the person is, what they are doing, and a range of other factors – in order to create a warm sales opportunity.
Sounds obvious perhaps. And yet, it has been the industry’s Holy Grail for many years: much like CRM systems, the mobile channel was steeped in promise for a long time, but few mobile campaigns managed to deliver the much-vaunted benefits.
However, the fledgling years of mobile marketing have passed, and both the technologies and the ways in which they are used to engage with customers have matured considerably. Alongside this, best practice has been established and is being shared, guided by fundamental principles similar to those that apply to mail, phone, web and email marketing.
Here then, are seven guiding principles to make the mobile channel effective for customer interaction.
The first is to orchestrate the channels according to customers’ individual preferences and usage patterns. Mail, phone and email are set to remain important channels for some time yet, as the widely-favoured way for customers to manage transactional interactions. This means that the mobile channel alone will not be appropriate for all marketing campaigns or customer interactions. Success will depend on marketers finding the right mix of channels.
Customize the content according to the interests and habits exhibited by each individual customer. This includes gathering personal information such as their previous interactions, buying habits, use of the website, and their presence on social networks. There is a wealth of customer data and information that has been accumulated over time, and can be tapped into. As such, predictive analytics can help gain further insight into this data to determine which customers to approach with which offers and services and, more importantly, which customers to avoid.
Provide consistent, up-to-date information, within every channel, including mobile. It is important that customers receive continuity in service, messaging and interactions. This not only serves to maintain a consistent image of the brand; if a brand wishes to build viable lifetime relationships with customers, then showing an interest in, and understanding of, the customer, is vital. For one channel not to be aware of what a customer has done in another goes against this very principle. For example, a call centre agent must be alerted to the fact that you have tried to resolve an issue on the website before you called. Otherwise both parties revert back to first base, with the customer losing trust, and the company losing time and money.
Location, location, location: after many years of looking for a killer application, location-based services are now part and parcel of consumers’ mobile usage patterns. By taking into account the immediate environment a consumer is in, marketers can enhance take-up of up-selling and cross-selling initiatives by making highly targeted sales offers in real-time.
Receiving a money-off voucher for a particular store in the post or on your PC will likely elicit a very different reaction, compared to receiving it while you are passing the store. At home you may dither, but you may well follow the impulse to use the voucher if you are only steps away from the store. It is not only sales offers that can be made in this way: if you have been having problems with your phone, for example, you may get an alert to say that a technical adviser at your network operator’s local shop is available to help you, only a short walk from where you are. This personalisation of highly relevant and timely information provides another opportunity for brands to demonstrate true customer centricity.
Allow customers to use the mobile channel to interact with the brand: The interactive capabilities of mobile devices open up the doors for real-time transactional and direct communications. However, in order to integrate this channel with all the others, it is vital that any data and information emanating from those interactions be recorded within the CRM system. More importantly, it has to be fed back into the pool of customer data to help shape customer profiles and guide future communications with them.
Use alerts wisely. By engaging with your brand via their mobile phone, customers are allowing you into their private sphere. Once this door is open, it is easy to be tempted into communicating more frequently than a customer is comfortable with. The danger is that overuse of the mobile channel could easily be perceived as an invasion of privacy. Like any other overused channel, the risk is always that customers might opt-out, or even choose to cut their ties with the brand.
Be device-agnostic. The ever-growing diversity of mobile devices and operating systems has been the bane of mobile application developers and marketers for many years. In spite of some consolidation, the challenge remains of making customer communications work across all types of devices, including smartphones, feature phones and Tablets. Although it sometimes cannot be avoided altogether, it is important not to exclude customers because of their choice of handset.
Beware the intruder
The idea behind modern customer interaction or experience management is for the brand to become part of customers’ conversations and interactions, whether personal or professional. However, this also means that it can potentially become much more intrusive than even before. Nowhere is this more of a risk than in the mobile channel. Therefore, marketers need to internalise the mantra that any outreach has to be relevant, personalised and timely. Otherwise they will see customers opting out in their droves, never to return.
Kieran Kilmartin is marketing director, EMEA & India, for Pitney Bowes Software