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Marketers overwhelmed by mobile messaging options

Marketers have a staggering number of options when it comes to messaging mobile users ? SMS, push notifications, in-app alerts and mobile email ? and many are overwhelmed just trying to decide which to use and when.

Mobile is an important way to message consumers, who increasingly have their smartphones and tablets within arm?s reach 24-hours a day. However, it is easy for marketers to fall into the trap of sending too many messages and annoying users, especially when the same message is being delivered across mobile?s multiple messaging platforms.

"Marketers are overwhelmed with the number and variety of communications channel in the mobile and social space today,? said Matt Silk, chief marketing officer at Waterfall Mobile, San Francisco.

?Navigating the optimal use cases for SMS, Passbook, push, mobile email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or others has grown exponentially in complexity in the last couple of years,? he said.

?The key to attacking this problem however is simply putting the customer first and prioritization.?

Message overload
SMS is a widely popular method for reaching mobile users and is expected to remain relevant for some time.

However, mobile users are also increasingly using their devices to check for email messages, making it imperative for marketers to ensure their emails are optimized for mobile.

Then there are push notifications, which are becoming a popular way to reach users who have downloaded a brand's app. These can include local push notifications, app-originated notifications and in-app alerts.

But the choices do not stop there.

Mobile social is another increasingly popular way to communicate with a mobile audience. Soon, there will also be HTML5 push notifications, giving marketers a way to message users who are on their mobile Web sites.

Being relevant
The challenge for marketers is that because mobile is such a personal medium, users have a high expectation that messages be relevant and add value to their lives.

There are ways for marketers to address these issues, including A/B split testing and increasingly sophisticated user analytics that provide customer context. As with any direct marketing strategy, testing and learning is key.

"There are an increasing number of choices for how marketers can message consumers on mobile. However the challenge is aligning the choices, or channels, with the user experience on mobile," said Brendan O?Kane, CEO of OtherLevels, San Francisco. "For example SMS gets tremendous cut-through, however is not a channel that a user would associate with app communication and might work better in directing users to mobile Web pages.

"Email is now ubiquitous on mobile, however the volume alone can overwhelm users and lead to users ignoring emails," he said. "Similarly push is more closely aligned with reaching users who have downloaded the publisher's App. 

"Also there are a growing number of messaging opportunities in the app experience itself, from local push notifications to in-app alerts to message fragments embedded in buttons and the content itself. Hence one of the challenges for marketers is aligning the channel with the target user experience on mobile."

 Managing ongoing communications
One place to get started with addressing this issue is to ask customers in a communications preferences panel, survey or service call what types of communications they want and where, when and how they want them, per Waterfall Mobile?s Mr. Silk.

He also suggests marketers review the unique strengths of each channel and compare with their customer requests alongside a realistic appraisal of their ability to effectively manage an ongoing communication strategy via each channel.

SMS should continue to be the major way marketers communicate with users, per Fatema Hamdani, global account director at Syniverse Technologies, New York.

For example, Syniverse is working with large hotel brands for on-property messaging to get offers into visitors? hands for on-premise restaurants. These companies are also looking at using Waif to determine a user?s location so they can send an SMS message to inform guests that their appointment at the spa is soon and how to get there.

Ms. Hamdani also notes that many marketers do not recognize that they may be reaching the same user with the same message three different times across SMS, push and email.

It important for marketers to think of mobile messaging as a two-way communication channel.

?Don?t think of it as siloed experiences ? there is a complete customer engagement whether it is push, email or SMS,? Ms. Hamdani said. ?You especially want to get them how they want to be reached.

?You can?t be giving users the same message across all three ? it will be annoying,? she said. ?Using mobile CRM to help navigate through all of this messaging is critical.?

?You need to think about mobile as being interactive. Gen X, Y is hugely driven by instant gratification and the fastest way to reach them with an interactive message is SMS - they send something and get it back right away.?

OtherLevels' Mr. O'Kane recommends marketers develop a clear strategy that identifies the needles they would really like to move, the segments that will most likely move them, and develop a tactical messaging plan for each segment. 

For example, light app users might be targeted with messages that encourage re-engagement, while heavy users might be targeted and encouraged to share content with their social networks.

It is also important to identify the right metrics to measure.

"Review analytics that reveal the total effectiveness of the messaging campaigns," Mr. O'Kane said. "Most messaging vendors with basic analytics reports merely report messages sent vs. messages opened, but that?s not the complete picture.  Marketers need to evaluate conversions to goals. 

"For example, how many messages encouraging heavy users to be social were opened and how many resulted in a click to share?," he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York