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Highs and Lowe?s of the MMA Forum San Francisco

By Jeff Hasen

At the MMA Forum San Francisco Jan. 28-30 in the city where the coach with a mindset of ?Never Stop Improving? replaced the successful quarterback and reached the Super Bowl, we heard from brands with the same attitude using mobile to sell more stuff.

Sean Bartlett of home improvement retail chain Lowe?s is one such example. Never Stop Improving is actually his company?s mantra, but that hardly gave Mr. Bartlett a blank check to bring mobile innovation into the 65-year-old retailer?s 1,700 plus stores.

Not missing the wood
Mr. Bartlett, who is director of mobile strategy and platforms, convinced senior management that Lowe?s would be better off if it could differentiate via the integration of mobile throughout the customer journey.

Unlike 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, he did not replace anything or anyone ? he supplemented his company?s sales and marketing programs with mobile products, services and technology smarts.

Mr. Bartlett led an effort to get iPhones in the hands of 42,000 sales associates so they could deliver a level of customer service that would combat showrooming ? the employees share information with shoppers via the smartphones.

The executive built a mobile application with such transparency that it actually shows competitors? pricing. He uses Wi-Fi in the 1,700-plus Lowe?s locations to give shoppers what they desire ? easy and free access to product reviews and social networks.

And Mr. Bartlett is seeing business results that are justifying even more effort and dollars in mobile.

Mr. Bartlett?s insights were among the highlights at the two-day event where we moved past the maddening question of whether this is the Year of Mobile ? I am rich with a dollar for every time I have heard it since 2005 ? and spoke of innovation and issues that face us in 2013.

Meet and potatoes
Here is more of what I remember from the show:

Chase, one of the nation?s leading banks, is not resting on its significant mobile laurels. It is continuing to build capabilities, including the ability for consumers to open checking and credit card accounts through mobile products.

An executive also talked about the customer experience and Chase?s need to move at the speed of now. 

?Mobile gives us a rapid, immediate view if something is going wrong and we address it immediately," said Russ Eisenman, head of mobile product marketing and partnerships at Chase, San Francisco.

For its part, Mercedes has gesture control and the full windshield used for connected contextual content on its roadmap.

In an era of distracted drivers, the German carmaker faced questions about whether more mobile activity in the car is wise. It sought to assure those in attendance that while new connected services in the car are coming, safety is Mercedes? primary concern.

Another session by Google executives introduced the search giant?s enhanced ability to gather data from cross-platform users. Then, they were hit with a series of questions about privacy and whether the data will be sold to marketers. It will not happen, they said.

Meanwhile, an advertising panelist from 4D complained about the lack of transparency in mobile advertising, saying that too often buying mobile ads is like buying ?mystery meat.? Happily, that comment came after lunch.

An executive from Mindshare also encouraged the hundreds in the crowd to ?fail smart, fail fast."

There was significant time and attention paid to messaging with surprisingly large crowds that included major brand representatives attending Mobile Marketing Association messaging committee meetings.

Left unanswered were whether the majority of marketers are ready to deal with big data, commit to engage with a customer or prospect after a click or other mobile interaction, and spend significantly more on mobile this year than last.

WE WILL not get there in one day or one year.

But it was gratifying to hear the unified sentiment that we would leave San Francisco with a promise of Never Stop Improving.

Jeff Hasen is chief marketing officer of Hipcricket, Kirkland, WA. Reach him at .