September 16, 2014, 1:53 PM

Keeping the creepiness out of mobile marketing

A mobile marketing expert offers five tips to retailers on how to approach new marketing styles.

A sweater you looked at while shopping online shows up sandwiched between your friends’ status updates, alongside your searches and in your e-mail inbox. While there was hesitation from consumers surrounding online ads for years because of the Big Brother essence of personalization and retargeting, consumers now are more comfortable with the concept, or at least used to it.

But mobile makes things different. Our smartphones are with us as we travel about our daily lives, literally with us every second, everywhere we go, nestled protectively in our pockets or sitting on our desks or nightstands. They have become an extension of ourselves and, not surprisingly, this can conjure an entirely new level of creepiness (in other words, I don’t want anyone tracking my every move) when brands attempt to engage in our lives. Mobile provides contextual data that can help marketers understand in which circumstances consumers are acting; where they are, the weather around them, their emotional state, how fast they are traveling and more. Even their heart rate.

It’s a bit of the chicken and the egg. To market successfully on mobile, experiences, offers and messages must be highly personalized, but consumers are suspicious of a company knowing where they are or what they are doing. The creepiness, however, can be overcome. Here are five ways marketers can personalize the mobile consumer experience without scaring shoppers:

  • Understand and act in context. Contextual marketing personalizes every message and experience by fusing the soft signal data from sensors that reveal a person’s physical situation (location, weather and traffic, etc.) and how fast or slow they are moving (in a car at 60 m.p.h., walking down a street leisurely, lounging at home, etc.), and hard customer profile data like past purchases and demographic information. Retailers can’t simply send a message every time a consumer shows up close to a store. Do they pass by on their way to work? Then they should not get a message inviting them to try on their items in a wish list when they pass during rush hour. On the other hand, when they are on a leisurely stroll on a Saturday afternoon, they are going to be much more receptive and likely to act.
  • Anticipate intent.Customer intent is the biggest factor in successful marketing and focuses simply on what your customer is trying to do. When you understand your users’ intent at a given moment, you can help them accomplish whatever they are trying to do. For instance, normally a married father should not get discounts on nearby products when he passes through the women’s department unless, that is, it is close to a holiday. In that case, he might well appreciate gift ideas for his wife, as that is what he is currently trying to accomplish. To start, predict needs based on personal and societal events and identify behavioral patterns (i.e., Courtney only purchases sale items when next season’s line is in).
  • Celebrate everyone’s differences. Retailers need to integrate all data streams they have—CRM, social, transactional, etc.—to have a deeper understanding of individual consumers. Not only will this ensure a consistent experience for customers across channels, but it will also extract more value from your customer data. Creating a single customer view allows retailers to treat everyone as individuals, not a single mass. Your customer Sarah who follows celebrity fashion blogs would like to know if an A-lister was just spotted wearing this dress. On the other hand, Hannah, who has inquired into your fair trade policies, would rather know about a dress’ origins. Sarah and Hannah are motivated by different things and should be engaged differently.
  • Offer something of value. You have to give something to get something. While this is true, retailers don’t have to—and shouldn’t—rely simply on offers and discounts. Brands can “pay” consumers by removing friction from the process, like streamlining contactless payments, allowing shoppers to pre-select items to appear in their dressing rooms, or giving them the power to complete price or inventory checks through an app. As a result, consumers will see value in engaging with your app, and you will glean valuable insights to inform future interactions.
  • Be transparent. While all is fair in love and war, the same doesn’t hold true for mobile commerce. Retailers must create relationships with their customers based on trust. Be forthright with how you’ll use their data, which should first and foremost be to enhance their shopping experience. From the initial contact and throughout your relationship, let them know you’ll only give them relevant marketing messages and inform them of upgrades, changes in policy, privacy settings, etc.

Mobile offers a truly unprecedented opportunity to treat every customer in a special, individualized way. But retailers need to thoroughly think through their strategy and approach because consumers’ hesitation to feeling that their behavior is tracked will not go away; they will instead invite only a few brands they trust into their lives. To find true success, anticipate their needs, leverage context to provide the right experience at the right time, help them accomplish something easily and remove friction from the process.

Puneet is CEO and co-founder of MobileROI, a mobile marketing technology and services provider.

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