Sometimes industry events can feel like an echo chamber where truth is squelched by vendor-spun happy talk. That’s not to say there aren’t great insights to be had, but you often need to work to discern the signal from the noise. We count on end-users (and Gartner analysts, of course) to help recalibrate the frequency to a more signal-rich channel where actionable, field-tested insights can rise above the din.

So I was grateful to see the lineup at Mobile FirstLook 2013: End-users and practitioners, all, each with an interesting story to tell about their mobile journey. I won’t retell these stories here, but I will attempt to summarize the mobile marketing truths they collectively informed. I counted seven:

1) Mobile gets you ever closer to customers—As Coca-Cola’s mobile boss, Tom Daly, sees it, “mobile connects reach with desire.” It puts marketers in closest possible proximity to consumers, but it’s a privilege we shouldn’t take for granted, because …

2) Customers won’t necessarily let you in—mobile can make marketers feel like the passive spectator on the dry side of the aquarium glass. Jump, shout, make faces; it’s like you’re not even there (or, worse, it’s like you’re slowly agitating the toothy water-breather—as you assume the form of shark bait). Proximity shouldn’t be confused with permission. With mobile marketing, all but the most relevant messages will be treated with indifference, at best, and hostility, at worst. Which is why …

3) Marketers should consider context, not just location—Citi data chief Richard Char tells us that mobile marketers should flip the model from offers that drive targeting to targets that drive offers. Think about that for a second. It’s a subtle, but profound difference that puts the customer—as an individual—at the center of the universe. It means that physical proximity isn’t a good enough reason to trigger an offer. It also reminds us that …

4) All screens are not the same—Too often, marketers try to force web conventions onto mobile realities. It doesn’t work. Marketers should think about mobile as a seamless part of integrated brand experiences, not as a scaled-down, unteathered version of the web channel. Also …

5) Beware of the shiny object—Mobile apps and QR codes are just two examples of the mobile marketers’ objects of blind affection, which have sometimes delivered dubious value. What are your business goals? Allow strategy to drive tactics, always. Don’t be drawn to shiny objects, and …

6) Don’t forget ops—Coke’s Tom Daly suggests getting your operational house in order before you scale. Thinking through an architecture and operating model will save you—and your customers—a lot of trouble later on. Finally, he advises that we …

7) Test and fail to learn and scale—It’s sage advice directly from the Agile playbook that ensures we mitigate risk and validate customer alignment—before we scale. This is utterly crucial.

What other lessons did you hear?

  1. 18 January 2013 at 8:51 pm
    Cezary Pietrzak says:

    Great analysis, Jake. The one thing I would add is that many presenters were not comfortable with mobile apps. They didn’t understand the ecosystem and found it challenging to create sustainable engagement among their customer base. I found this a little strange given that mobile is still very a much an area of experimentation, and there are plenty of success stories to share.

    For those who did crack the mobile app space, the approach was very similar:

    1) create real value and utility in the app by understanding the motivations and needs of your audience (something echoed by Steve Mura from MillerCoors)
    2) create an ongoing dialogue with your customers to ensure that your brand is top of mind
    3) arm yourself with the right analytics and marketing tools to make this dialogue possible

    While mobile apps often seem like a shiny object, they do have a lot of merit, and oftentimes they’re more effective than all other areas of mobile. The best execution of this on among attendees was Seamless, which now attributes 40% of its business to mobile apps.

  2. 18 January 2013 at 9:53 pm
    Jake Sorofman says:

    Thanks for the comments, Cezary! You’re absolutely right. My commentary was less about the tactic than about its frequent misapplication. Mobile apps can be a fantastically powerful part of a digital marketing strategy when they’re informed by a validated understanding of user preferences, needs and behaviors. Too often (perhaps because of the well-document success other apps) marketers hallucinate needs that don’t quite exist–or overestimate consumers’ willingness to engage with yet another app. Done right, mobile apps can make a campaign or transform a business. But, when imagination exceeds validation, it can be a fool’s errand.

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