Contextual engagement (IRM57)
Igor Faletski, CEO, Mobify examines the art and science of creating extraordinary shopping experiences through the unique capabilities of modern mobile devices
Back in 2007, just before the iPhone changed everything, Mobify began by developing what can be thought of as an early “contextual mobile marketing” software product. It was a simple system designed to tell mobile phone users, through SMS text messages, when their next bus was due. Back then, contextual mobile marketing wasn’t a bona fide marketing model, but the genesis was there: we knew who we wanted to reach (people with a mobile phone), what they wanted (bus schedule), when they wanted it (upon texting a code), and the “where” and “why” were obvious. The story evolved to a global one when lines for the iPhone formed at Apple stores, and we began to help some of the world’s largest brands launch adaptive mobile websites to improve mobile conversions and increase revenue.
Now is a time of tremendous transformation in how retailers engage customers with a mobile device that has become a truly personal, ever-present, contextual connection to the world around them. Most retailers are now somewhere along the path of understanding how mobile influences the non-linear shopping journey. Our best customers recognise how mobile influences offline purchasing, and they are reorganising their businesses with it as their core.
Wherever you are in the process of engaging customers through mobile, it’s important to think about how we can use mobile, not just as a channel to reach shoppers, but to form a lasting relationship that makes shopping a better experience. We all want the same thing: to engage shoppers in the right place and time, remove roadblocks, and make it more likely that they will check in often and check out more.
To understand how the art that is marketing and the science that is technology can engage customers, we need to examine what effective mobile customer engagement looks like. We know that mobile shoppers’ needs – and the opportunities to engage meaningfully at each point along the way – are in the moment. Consider this example:
A woman sits in a garden, planning the first outdoor party of the summer. She is scrolling through picnicware on a mobile site on her phone when she receives a Facebook message from a friend suggesting they host a tropical theme party together. Next, she’s looking at punch bowls on a department store site, selects one, buys it and arranges to pick it up at a local store. That afternoon, she’s with her friend at a gourmet coffeehouse buying beans, then off to the department store to pick up the punch bowl. Her Facebook profile identifies her as a “coffee fanatic,” so as she nears the department store, she receives a push notification right on the front of her phone, with a digital coupon for a state-of-the-art espresso machine. As she approaches the espresso machine, she pops open the store app, scans the espresso machine’s bar code to get more information, then decides to order it, in a different colour. She pays with Apple Pay and has it sent home to avoid carrying the heavy item. On the way out, she gets a beacon notification for an in-store demo of the new machine, which they attend before heading home. Back in the garden, the espresso machine arrives while she and her friend are decorating for the party.
This shopper’s experience is highly contextual and enjoyable because we’ve been able to gather every data point along the way, from which sites and stores the shopper searches to how long she physically spends in each department or aisle, as well as where she completes her transaction. We can correlate her online and in-store behaviour and tailor a unique experience designed just for her. This is a loyal customer because the native app she uses is fast, optimised for her mobile phone, and ready to take advantage of everything that makes a smartphone so different from a desktop. Her journey is an integrated one across web, apps, messaging, social, location, in-store, at home and in between.
The shopping example makes it easy to see why marketers view themselves as purveyors of creativity, innovation, design and experience, in short, art. People prefer to engage with brands and retailers that do things that are not simply relevant but remarkable, even amazing in their connection to personal desire. “Look, they know me, they understand me, and they’ve connected with who I am!” represents the ultimate in marketing art. Customer loyalty, can be thought of as the result of ongoing, artful engagement.
But what about the technology, the science that powers mobile customer engagement? What steps can retailers take to exploit these technologies to amaze their mobile customers?
The first step is to provide the best mobile customer experience, whether through a mobile-optimised website, an app or both. Increasingly, customers expect an AirBnB or Uber-level mobile experience. Expectations are growing fast. Launching a fully custom mobile experience is a big job, but it is absolutely essential to give customers the easy shop and pay experience required to drive revenue, conversion rates and customer lifetime value.
In the second phase, retailers can begin to deliver mobile customer engagement. This involves integrating messaging and location marketing, for example, to reach customers beyond the capability of email newsletters. What is most fundamentally different about this technology compared to the early days of mobile is the way in which we communicate. Email is now 35 years old and clearly can’t exploit interactive opportunities as chat commerce, apps, messaging and social networking can. Now we have so many channels, including the latest push technology that makes it possible for retailers to send a message in context, direct to the front screen of a shopper’s mobile phone. The customer likes it because they have opted in, the message is timely, relevant, and personal, and it comes without the need to download an app. Retailers are intrigued by it because it brings agreeable customers into the mix fast, without integration work or app development.
We are already seeing a major shift in the way retailers engage as they move from the old mode of desktop based, email driven communication to a model based primarily on mobile-first app heavy messaging that is context sensitive and personalised for the user. Where we are headed next can be described as “headless commerce,” in which we separate the front end of the ecommerce platform focused on users from the back end, tuned for transactions. This enables retailers to create a face to the customer that is much better suited to the mobile experience. The resulting mobile experience is far better suited to engagement with customers than today’s shopping cart and storefront metaphor.
We already know that customers love great, personal and timely messages that are context sensitive and help them make the purchasing decision and shopping processes easier. It wasn’t clear at the start how mobile would advance from its humble roots delivering the bus schedule. But we know now it’s the right platform to connect businesses with customers in the most distinctive and personal ways.