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A Pragmatic Mobile Communication Strategy for Retailers in Asia

  |  March 11, 2011   |  Comments   |  

Mobile marketing firms might have released novel technologies and solutions but here are three well-tested tactics retailers could engage consumers and meet revenue targets through mobile.

Mobile is one of many channels to reach a pre-determined target audience. It is not a panacea to achieve marketing success, and is certainly not a medium that can connect a client's communication message to the millions of mobile and tablet users today. Indeed, the success of mobile marketing is dependent on how it is integrated with the client's existing communication mediums.

Let me use the retail industry as an example. Most firms in this highly competitive industry face low profit margins and shareholder pressure to drive unit sales. Marketing efforts are driven primarily to acquire new customers or to increase conversion rates so as to meet sales volume targets. To this end, many mobile marketing firms have released many solutions that are designed to meet retailers' expectations. The graphic below illustrates the various mobile-related technologies that are designed for the retail industry:

These are novel technologies which I have no doubts will be services to look forward to in the coming years in the retail industry. However, retailers are faced with challenging revenue targets which need to be met in the short term.

Hence, I recommend any interaction or engagement with users on the mobile medium should use the following well-tested solutions:

  1. Engagement done on mobile Web browser. This will require a good content management solution such as Netbiscuits to repurpose the mobile Web pages to suit varying handset screen sizes.
  2. Engagement through mobile apps. This will depend on the handset's operating systems (i.e., iOS, Android, Windows 7, etc.) and the market penetration of these handsets in the market. For instance, Nokia's Symbian operating system is the dominant handset operating system in Thailand and Philippines, while Hong Kong and Singapore are predominately iPhone (i.e., iOS) users.
  3. Engagement through barcodes. Retailers should consider QR codes that are personalised to the users (which require an updated CRM-segmented user database).

Using QR code in shelves

These tactics are not revolutionary. Yet, the intent to use novel mobile technologies is mitigated by the need to raise the awareness of these new services to the target audience. In this instance, the service provider and client will have to invest considerable resources to educate the target audience on how they could use their handsets or tablets to interact with the new mobile services. Collectively, the client will have to either increase the marketing budget or stretch the campaign period to accommodate the use of these new mobile services. I doubt today's budget-constrained retailers will have excess resources to experiment on such new mobile services, and I believe the practicalities of my recommendations are best positioned to meet the short-term needs of retailers.

Hence, the key mobile marketing tactic for retailers is to create the strongest-possible call-to-action by getting the user to visit the store. A carefully thought-out call-to-action that is broadcast to users within an immediate radius from retailers' stores will increase the referral rate as most users tend to react spontaneously to the invitation. In contrast, communicating the call-to-action to users that lies outside the retailers' immediate perimeter will lead to users taking an extra step of making a decision at their present location on whether they should bother to travel and visit the store.

Given that today's mobile user is inundated with multiple call-to-action by retailers (and those in other industries), the relative upside from location-based marketing is evident. Clearly, informing mobile users through location-based marketing services adds precision to the mobile marketing initiative, but raises the caveat of user privacy which varies by the level of cultural acceptance.

Finally, the mobile marketing strategy has to integrate seamlessly with retailers' existing communication platforms. Retailers can rely on many physical structures that augment the mobile marketing campaign - store front, shelves stocking product items, etc. that allows retailers to integrate customers' visceral purchasing instincts.

Store front

Increasingly, these traditional communication channels of retailers are enhanced by complementary digital tools such as video walls (store front) and digital photo frames (shelves) that leverage today's content management systems such as Joomla to deliver relevant and dynamic content to consumers motivated by the call-to-action.

Digital video walls to complete store front communication medium

Collectively, these tools represent the end of the purchasing funnel where sales conversion takes place following the call-to-action, thereby establishing a clear relationship between mobile marketing and actual sales results.

However, retailers will have to find a way to differentiate random walk-in customers to those attracted by call-to-action in the mobile marketing initiative so as to determine effectiveness. In this instance, there could be a need to have customers flash a mobile page or coupon that is sent through the call-to-action message that differentiates these individuals with walk-in customers. This will allow retailers to measure referral rate (from the call-to-action) and the subsequent conversion rate (final purchase from store).

Clearly, a mobile marketing strategy extends beyond the deployment of mobile services and requires the service provider to contextualise the intended premise with the realities faced by their clients. Only then will a pragmatic mobile marketing strategy be established to meet the needs of clients today.


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Darren Yan

With more than 16 years of experience in mobile, digital media/advertising, and e-commerce, Darren has successfully developed and launched pioneering mobile Internet initiatives such as subscription-based mobile news services, location-based advertising, behavioral targeting using consumer analytics in Singapore Press Holdings, SingTel, Cisco Systems, and DBS.

At InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Darren will serve as the regional subject matter expert on mobile and drive overall utilization of mobile to increase revenue and engagement in Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA). His mandate includes developing, implementing, and managing mobile marketing strategies to generate greater brand awareness and revenue through owned, paid, and earned media.

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