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Mobile infrastructure, marketing advances face test in winter storm Juno

With winter storm Juno bearing down on the New York and Boston regions, savvy marketers were quick to put plans into place to stay in touch with customers and make them aware of valuable services or offers by leveraging the one device many will be keeping nearby at all times ? their smartphones.

By midday Monday, marketers across the retail, travel, media and utilities sectors had taken to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with messages about how to stay safe and warm during what was expected to be a devastating storm. Advances in mobile infrastructure, marketing and adoption since Hurricane Sandy wrecked lasting havoc in the New York region a little more than two years ago are likely to give smartphones an even more crucial role before, during and after this week?s storm. 

?We?ve unfortunately had a lot of practice with this in the past few years with the storms,? said Scott Hudler, vice president of global consumer engagement at Dunkin? Brands, Canton, MA. ?We look at it in a couple of ways. First, how do we get folks ahead of a storm ? packaged coffee, K-Cups, great opportunities to stock up. 

"Post storm, depending on the severity of the storm, sometimes Dunkin? Donuts might be the only thing in the neighborhood or one of the locations in the neighborhood with power and so it becomes a great service to let people know that we are open and that they can have a place to get a hot cup of coffee and a hot meal,? he said. 

?From a mobile standpoint, it is through push notifications, offers on the app. Email is a big one and we know that most people are viewing email through a mobile device, so we leverage that channel as well.? 

Making a connection
Effective mobile marketing is often about reaching consumers during the right moments when they are engaging on their phones about a topic of interest, opening the door for marketers to deliver a relevant message. When done correctly, this can help marketers build goodwill and lasting relationships with consumers. 

Of course, marketers must be mindful during an event such as winter storm Juno, with expected widespread power outages and potentially life-threatening weather conditions, to take the right tone. If they are perceived as not taking the situation seriously, this could turn away some consumers and result in a backlash. 

On Monday, many marketers in the travel sector were posting messages on social media and leveraging the #juno hashtag to make consumers aware of cancelled flights. 


One industrious hotel in New York, Yotel, made anyone stuck in the city without a place to stay aware that it had rooms available. The message listed the hotel?s convenient location near Times Square and included a ?Book now? button. 

Events such as winter storm Juno provide an opportunity for local hotels to leverage mobile to compete against online travel agents by highlighting their location and amenities beyond rooms, such as gyms, lounges and food.  

Opportunity for differentiation
Savvy hotel and online travel agent marketers will be focused on getting their app in the top downloads right now using app store optimization so people in the affected areas can discover the app easily. This will provide an opportunity to get new customers.

?This is a rare opportunity for hotels to really differentiate either by having more quickly updated inventory information, offering various services through its app or providing additional information/coupons (come to our lounge and power up!) that wouldn?t necessarily be available via OTA," said Josh Martin, director of analytics research services at Strategy Analytics, Boston. 

?Hotels do have other amenities such as lounges, gyms, and food,? he said. ?By exposing availability of these additional amenities hotels may be able to provide a service ? while building their brands ? to those that may not have been able to secure a room or even those just looking for a few hours to re-charge their devices. 


?It?s an exercise in revenue generation but also an exercise in brand building for the long term. Making this information available in-app is a way to create unique differentiation from the OTAs that can boast bigger inventory.?

Local targeting advances
The retail sector is likely to take a big hit from the storm, as consumers remain inside and curb their shopping activities. 

However, some retailers will be taking to social media, email and other digital channels to showcase items for keeping warm, batteries, snow shovels and other relevant merchandise. 

With advancements in local targeting over the past couple of years, more retailers will be using mobile to make shoppers aware that a store is open for business. 

Once the storm is over, local merchants will also use mobile to make consumers aware that they are open for business. 

?Retailers now have the ability to contact their customer directly to offer solutions, hours and updates for customers,? said Chris Doran, vice president of marketing at Acquisio, Montreal. ?This will be an extremely valuable tool for grocery stores and big box retailers such as Target.
 
?Prior and during the aftermath of Sandy, I saw long lines at a big box that was announced open on the local news but smaller lines at a grocery store down the street,? he said. ?The community had no idea this story was open. Now, this grocery store can keep their customers informed via mobile.?

Mobile advances
Mobile has come a long way in just two years since Hurricane Sandy and some of these advancements may be evident this week, including the use of push notifications, geo-targeting and personalization. 

There have also been advances in the infrastructure. 

Some consumers experienced difficulties getting a mobile connection for a week following Hurricane Sandy. While wireless carriers have been working to strengthen their networks, experts believe outages are still possible. 

Transportation companies have also been very focused on boosting their mobile offerings over the past couple of years and consumers could see a marked improvement in their ability to access pertinent information on mobile during the storm. 

"Transit companies can gain a lot of goodwill by using apps to keep travelers informed about the latest developments,? said Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute and
professor in the DePaul University Graduate School of Public Service. ?It creates a we're-all-in-this-together ethos that transit riders appreciate. 

?This year, for example, intercity bus companies like Greyhound and Megabus enhanced their apps to keep everyone informed,? he said.

Utilities have also significantly improved their communications capabilities through mobile over the past couple of years following Hurricane Sandy, when some customers and local governments were asking for more frequent messages from utilities providers, according to Alison Copeland, director of marketing at iFactor, Tempe, AZ.

?Most utilities are acutely aware of the importance of providing mobile channels for customers during weather events,? Ms. Copeland said. ?During storms, iFactor has seen up to 80 percent of all traffic to outage maps coming from mobile devices. 

?Due to the increased level of interaction with customers, storms are an opportunity for utilities to get more engaged with customers,? she said. ?IFactor recommends that utilities take this opportunity to educate customers about the various self-service and automated tools in place for reporting power outages and communicating with their utility. 

Real-time opportunities
With numerous school systems and businesses announcing that they would be closed on Tuesday during the height of the storm, many people in the region were expected to be working from home. 

This presents an opportunity for marketers such as Citrix Software, which provides the GoToMyPC software for enabling employees to access their work computers from home. The company posted a message on Twitter on Monday encouraging viewers to work from home and stay safe during the storm with a link to a landing page where users can sign up to try the service for free for 30 days. 

For marketers in the New York region, steps to take to reach mobile users this week include leveraging weather sites as consumers will be checking them regularly, ramping up paid social media, use geo-targeting and device indexing to reach audience most impacted by weather conditions. 

?We can now appropriately manipulate bid indexes to emphasize certain products in affected regions,? said Valerie Davis, senior vice president of paid digital media at PM Digital, New York.

?Brands with relevant offerings should leverage contextual, real-time opportunities to promote useful content tied to winter weather products and services (i.e. winter wear, generators, and disaster restoration services),? she said. 

?Helpful tips, product comparisons, weather sensitive product promotions and other worthwhile content (promoted via blogs, social messaging etc.) can help brands stay top of mind during critical times when consumers are looking for quick information or perhaps identifying a product need for future winter storms.?

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