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Why the customer rules in mobile commerce

By Jeannette Kocsis

Mobile messaging seems to be a very obvious choice for commerce. The relevance of the device and the likelihood of response cannot be ignored, and as mobile gains acceptance beyond voice and personal text messaging, the possibilities become nearly endless.

And yet, many retailers have not implemented mobile initiatives within their multichannel programs.  Some are testing mobile coupons or SMS for events or alerts, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. 

To reap the most rewards, retailers have to think about their customer data and how mobile fits into their marketing strategy.

Mobile applications or WAP sites may be easier to consider, unless they result in a point-of-sale transaction that must be tracked and measured. But if we are truly to consider mobile as part of our marketing programs, we need to understand the differences between mobile, email and direct mail programs.

Marketers have long understood direct mail – over-simplifying the process: lists are created through database segmentation or third-party sources, we plan creative based on segmentation and/or campaign strategy, it is launched, and we wait for results. 

Email marketing is similar, with the added complexity of gaining opt-in, and the ability to increase frequency and get results faster.

For both direct mail and email, we may look at purchase behavior and frequency, and, potentially, clickstream and shopping cart behavior. Regardless, we look to the database to drive those campaigns out.

Preferences over campaign management
So what makes mobile marketing so perplexing?

Many retailers, and other marketers as well, are looking at their database schematics and trying to determine how to manage intricacies such as multiple opt-ins and how to match mobile numbers to existing customer records to get a glimmer into the individual consumer and what he or she wants.

But here is the most compelling difference between mobile and other forms of communications. Mobile messages take the relevance requirement to an entirely new level. 

Unlike our filled-to-the-brim mailboxes and cluttered email inboxes, mobile “inboxes” are built into the one device that we take with us wherever we go. They remind us incessantly until we read that incoming text message.

Indeed, they are filled with important information from our friends and families – what device is more personal than your mobile phone? And if by chance we do not have a text plan, we could be paying for each and every one of those messages coming in. That message better be good.

Good email marketers have been building preference-based campaigns for years, although it seems that just as many have been content to blast to the list.

But in mobile marketing, the customer’s preferences have to trump any campaign management that we may perform to try and anticipate what this customer needs.  It is critical to capture those preferences, at opt-in if possible, to get the most out of our mobile programs. 

Customer is keying
Customers should be given control to drive their own mobile experience, which is somewhat alien to the approach that marketers have taken in the past. 

Let customers tell us what offers they want, and just as importantly, when they want them. A customer might be more likely to respond to the text message coupon if it arrives on Saturday morning, when she usually shops on Saturday afternoon.

Ultimately, preference centers that help manage the experience, including campaign opt-ins, content preferences and timing of messages, will need to be built to accommodate this. And yes, the database will still be used to store this information.

These mobile preferences should be integrated into our view of the customer overall, allowing us to keep a pulse on the customer’s needs. Then we could influence one-to-one customer relationships in real-time, as well as refine overall marketing campaigns in other channels for better results.

Considerations for mobile preferences in the database are a must, but it is important to understand that this channel must be handled differently when considering push marketing.

However, we should not let our database requirements keep us from moving forward into mobile, knowing that all of the data can be managed externally until we are ready to pull it together. 

Take advantage of this great medium to drive results, but remember that mobile has its own best practices that do not necessarily align with our other channels.