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Dos and don?ts of holiday mobile marketing: Experts speak out

Brands that have been stung by the economic slowdown will likely be using mobile as part of their multichannel efforts to drive sales this holiday season.

For many brands, it will be their first foray into mobile. Industry executives agree that the key to a successful mobile marketing campaign during this time of year is to keep the holiday shopper in mind.

?Consider the needs of the holiday shopper verses your normal, everyday shopper,? said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research, Miami. ?For example, you might want to prioritize the mobile wish list or shopping list access, product locator, gift suggestions and etcetera.

?[Also], things that help consumers shop for their families rather than for themselves and things that help them get things done quickly,? she said. "Help them when they get stuck in the store and need ideas or can?t find what they?re looking for.?

Since it is going to be the first time that a lot of brands are getting on board the mobile bandwagon, it is important to know where to start from.

The goals of the campaign need to be spelled out first and foremost.

?Like all marketing channels, mobile should be viewed though a results-orientated lens,? said Charles Johnson, general manager of the mobile advertising business group at Microsoft, Redmond, WA.

?Marketers should be asking themselves what specific goals they are trying to accomplish through the mobile channel, and how mobile can extend and enhance their existing, more traditional promotional efforts,? he said.

However, unlike other, more traditional channels such as email, television, print and online ? mobile can connect all other aspects of the marketing mix.

For example, adding a simple mobile call-to-action makes print, outdoor and in-store media work harder and makes it more trackable.

For mobile advertising it is important to consider whether the advertising strategy matches the goal of the campaign.

?For example, we?ve had retailers trying to drive store traffic and distribute coupons, and others looking to drive email captures,? said Marcus Startzel, senior vice president of sales at Millennial Media, Baltimore.

Mobile presents a unique opportunity to do all of these, but the media must support the goal, he said.

For example, if a retailer has a major one-day in-store sale, a one-day, day-parted shopping hours block will work better than a sustained campaign which drives email captures.

Mr. Johnson said that around the critical holiday period it is absolutely vital for marketers to do everything possible to maximize their ROI. Mobile is essential because it can make other forms of media work harder.

?Adding mobile Web makes your PC Web media work harder,? Mr. Johnson said. ?Adding mobile search makes your PC Web search campaign work harder. Adding mobile couponing makes your CRM systems work harder.

?In effect, mobile can be a force-multiplier to the marketing mix at the most critical time of the year,? he said.

Vibhav Prasad, vice president of Web and mobile marketing at 1800Flowers, Carle Place, NY, said that mobile can really help retailers boost holiday sales.

With the slow economy, there?s no doubt that boosting sales is on every brand?s to-do list.

?Mobile offers retailers the opportunity for incremental sales, potential to reach a new audience, while at the same time providing added-value to existing customers,? Mr. Prasad said.

1800Flowers launched its downloadable application for iPhone last Thanksgiving, right in time for the 2008 holiday season, to ramp-up Christmas promotions and boost incremental holiday sales.

?Launching the app taught us about scheduling and planning,? Mr. Prasad said. ?Allow for development time for your mobile campaigns and offer things that are unique to the channel, including submission turn-around times with Apple, BlackBerry, Android and etcetera."

Marketers need to make sure that their technology is bug-free before putting it out in front of customers, according to Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research, Miami.

But with mobile, Ms. Rosenblum believes it is more important to make sure that it is consistent with the brand image in both look and feel.

?Make sure the information is consistent across all channels and make it fun,? she said. ?We?ve found that consumers have a higher tolerance for small bugs as long as they can actually enjoy the technologies they?re using.?

Targeted promotions are key during the holiday season. Consumers are seeing so many different ads and the best way to make sure that a brand message is being seen is by being as relevant as possible.

For example, NearbyNow does in-mall offers to drive consumers to a specific store.

The company provides mobile alerts for when hard-to-find products are received in stores.

?Whatever you do, you have to pair the immediacy of local context with what you as a retailer or brand have to offer,? Ms. Baird said. ?NRF has predicted that sales will be down 1 percent from last year, but my feel for the market is that this is too conservative.

?And, retailers have been buying conservatively as well,? she said. ?If that turns out to be right, then there are going to be a lot of consumers chasing a lot of products.

?Anything you as a brand or retailer can do to help consumers find the gifts they?re looking for is going to be key.?

SMS promotions are going to be very popular this holiday season.

1800Flowers? Mr. Prasad encouraged brands to use double opt-ins for SMS programs.

Brands should also keep promotions tailored to the small screen of the mobile device and always keep user experience in mind in terms of easily redeemable offers.

?Ensure mobile merchandising also takes user-experience into account, rally around top-performers allowing for a slimmed down catalog that is easy to view and navigate,? Mr. Prasad said.

The industry experts all agreed that mobile is very beneficial to retailers if used strategically.

Microsoft?s Mr. Johnson said that mobile possesses two key qualities that render it uniquely valuable to retailers.

?It?s always on you and it knows where you are,? Mr. Johnson said. ?In many ways mobile sits at the last mile of the marketing funnel ? allowing marketers to drive consumers right into the store nearest them and then close the loop by extending purchase incentives ? all on the device.?

From a targeting perspective, mobile allows marketers to really ratchet things up.

?Location targeting ? whether through mobile search or display - efficiently targets mobile media to users who are literally closer to an actual in-store purchase,? he said. ?Extending behavioral targeting to mobile allows marketers to reach consumers who have already demonstrated an interest in their products online, but in an out-of-home environment when they are far more likely to be ready to buy.?

The application craze is even crazier during the holidays.

Mobile applications and the devices they ride on have proven to be great productivity boosters for consumers.

?So, let?s say I?m sitting at an airport and I remember a particular gift I wanted to buy someone,? Ms. Rosenblum said. ?If the retailer has a mobile-ready app, I can go ahead and order it right there.

?Or, if the brand has a mobile-ready app, I can do research on prices, products and features during that otherwise idle time,? she said. ?You could even argue that I could do these things while waiting in line at a check-out stand in another store.

?Having a good mobile application is a win-win for the user and the retailer. The opportunity to recoup at-home time is a big one, and the opportunity to improve the brand image and also increase sales is also huge.?

Holiday mobile marketing best practices:

    1. Consider that these purchases are primarily for other people, so make sure to orient mobile offerings to that context.
    2. Because it?s holiday, if a brand doesn?t already have an established mobile market, it will need to do in-store tie-ins - ?Can?t find that perfect gift? Text HELP to 123456 for a link to our holiday gift finder!?
    3. Consumers during the holiday season are typically tight on both time and money, so anything that can be done to help them save in either department is a nearly always a winner.
    4. Allocate placements to on-the-go, ?time saving? categories such bite-sized news, information, entertainment or even communications channels like mobile IM or email ? all categories that are endemic to mobile.
    5. Use tactics like store locators, discounts or just key product information or tips made mobile ? basically anything that can make the lives of consumers a little bit easier will always be a hit during the holidays.
    6. Make sure if you are launching or have a mobile marketing application, it is compatible with the full range of devices out there (no flash).
    7. Think of the least common denominator in screen size and browser capability and make it work. Remember, in aggregate, BlackBerry has a larger penetration than the iPhone and it doesn?t do flash at all.
    8. Keep your mobile marketing application lightweight. Not every area has 3G coverage.
    9. Make sure messaging is consistent with other channels and information is accurate.
    10. Make it fun.
    11. Start with reach. There are more than 64 million mobile Web users according to Nielsen. Your customers are carrying iPhones, flip phones, and gaming handsets. Don?t artificially restrict your success by choosing a specific device unless your product is unique to those users.
    12. Target and then target again. Mobile targeting is easy. You know your consumers meet a specific profile, target that profile. One caveat: Sometimes the cost of the targeting outweighs the benefit, as broad targeting can usually produce a better ROI.
    13. Get media in the market on shopping days. We know that timing media closer to the consumer purchase point works. Use the uniqueness of mobile to get people while they are out. Consider day parting by store hours, or sending traffic to an ecommerce or registration site while stores are closed.

Based on a study by Universal McCann, 81 percent of mobile Web surfers are browsing while they are shopping.

"Mobile presents a unique opportunity to have your ads impact a consumer while they are near your store," Millennial Media's Mr. Startzel said. "With a compelling offer and creative, you can use mobile to redirect the foot traffic into your store.

"Mobile users are already out and about, so it?s not about creating movement, it is about funneling the activity," he said.