What’s Emerging in Mobile? Key Themes Unveiled from the Mobile Marketing Association Forum

It looks like we’re finally past the “Is this the year of mobile?” gutter, Marketers, agencies and attendees at the MMA Forum in San Francisco were all fully aware that mobile and other connected devices, such as tablets and Smart TVs, are powerful channels to move closer to consumers. During my two days at the Forum, I listened to panelists, vendors, and the movers and the shakers of the industry discuss mobile marketing and innovative technologies that are shaping new opportunities for brands. While brands are finally transitioning from believing that mobile is not merely a nice-to-have, but an absolutely critical piece of the marketing puzzle, marketers agreed that we are still in an experimental phase and it’s acceptable to “fail smart but fail fast!” With mobile at the center of every conversation, I noticed key themes emerged as we discussed the current state of the industry and where it is headed in 2013. It seemed like we all agreed on one overarching priority—to improve the 1-1 customer-brand relationship across all devices. Marketers need to think about creating platforms and processes that capture customers at key touch points to start more engaging dialogs that consider their device context.

Marketers want deeper findings and engagement data to push personalized messaging appropriately.

The critical point in mobile isn’t whether a consumer clicked on a link, but rather how they interacted with the content that the brand presented. It’s up to us as marketers to identify what our audience is looking for and push tailored content to fit their needs. And this is where big data around customer behaviors becomes our best friend. According to a panelist during the “Mobile Advertising & Targeting Through Real-Time Bidding” session, the most valuable consumer data for targeted advertising are audience demographic, time of day, location and interests. Panelists agreed that when it comes to mobile, it has to start with the consumer and not the offer. There is a fine line between useful messaging and too much messaging, so marketers must be cautious in understanding the balance to maintain consumers’ good will.

Apple’s Passbook, a digital wallet platform on iOS6, was mentioned multiple times throughout the Forum. Urban Airship described Passbook as the “third mobile wave” in terms of mobile marketing investments, after mobile advertising and brand-specific apps. Panelists and attendees agreed that Passbook does, indeed, enhance customer relationship because of tailored content delivered to their device in a timely and customized fashion, and additionally discussed the high upside that the implementation would have on businesses in low-risk ways.

Consumers are going to their personal devices to open and read email, but delivering on an experience that caters to the device’s use case is still a challenge.

“Email was invented in the PC era, SMS during the feature phone era, and push notifications during the smartphone era,” states an analyst from Google. Even though the PC era sounds like a long time ago, email still remains an essential form of 1-1 messaging, primarily because consumers need to opt-in and are typically asked about personalization options, such as delivery preferences, content/interests for suggested topics, etc. Even though 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices and 26% on tablets, marketers during the Mobile Email Committee agreed that it’s still a challenge to identify where their traffic comes from, and therefore fail to deliver an experience according to the device use cases as not all platforms render emails the same. Because mobile is all about creating that intimate one-on-one relationship with consumers, it’s crucial to understand how an audience is reacting to emails and where they’re opening them, and then design an experience best catered to them.

Not being able to track traffic leaves marketers questioning the opportunity costs around optimizing emails for mobile devices. Some marketers have invested in responsive design where the content would adjust according to device, but it’s uncertain whether it made a difference in enhancing customer engagement. While there is currently no standardized method for optimizing emails across devices, marketers at the Committee shared best practice suggestions, such as including clear calls-to-action and big buttons, and optimizing the registration forms for mobile. Even though these ideas are helpful, it would be most beneficial for marketers to track traffic.

What’s a forum without showcasing a little bit of brand innovation?

The CEO of Mercedes-Benz revealed that the car of the future would focus less on design and more on connectivity, including car-to-car communication and location sharing. Not to reveal too much, but models of the future would include gesture control and windshields that would provide connected contextual content. For instance, the executive demonstrated how a utility-based, real-time location-sharing app, Glympse, would be integrated into the car’s dashboard so that drivers can communicate their ETA to friends.

From a retail perspective, the Director of Mobile Strategy and Platforms at Lowe’s highlighted the importance of integrating mobile throughout the customer journey. To combat showrooming, Lowe’s equipped Sales Associates with iPhones to better serve in-store shoppers by finding products and providing a speedier checkout solution. The retailer also made Wi-Fi available in all 1,700+ stores nationwide so that consumers can use their device to conduct their own research while in the store. Their customer-focused mobile strategy and clean UX sparks the incentive for customers to come back. Another way retailers are leveraging connected devices is integrating augmented reality to extend the in-store customer relationship in more innovative ways. For example, clothing brands are using the technology as a solution for after-hours “fitting rooms” where customers can “try on” clothing from the outside of stores.

Final Thoughts

Even though many brands offer unique mobile experiences that reinforce their mission and core values, brand executives at the MMA Forum emphasized the importance of delivering personalized experiences that increase engagement, conversion, and loyalty.

I particularly enjoyed the casualness of the Forum. As Michael Becker, the North America Managing Director of the MMA, stated in his opening remark, “I think we are not just setting a tone for mobile marketing in 2013, we are forging a path for the entire marketing community to move forward when it comes to mobile and their marketing mix.” I think the key word here is “community”. As marketers during the smartphone era, I feel that we are all in this wild ride of setting industry standards together. The MMA did a great job bringing mobile enthusiasts together, although I do think that the afternoon snack of glazed mini donuts played some sort of role.

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