Does Your Mobile Strategy Have Real Relevance?

Start-ups, media vendors, and brands are actively looking to create the next (but have we really seen the first?) big mobile destination while touting their product as the ultimate connection. It’s exciting to see the platform get so much attention, but it hurts when brands jump on the mobile bandwagon so they can check off the boxes next to “mobile” and “innovation.”

I recently found myself in a deep conversation with an industry reporter about the current mobile marketplace fads, including what elements tend to work and what don’t. While we couldn’t understand how we weren’t friends on a mobile social network offered by leading national advertisers, we agreed the programs that work best offer personal and contextual relevance.

The mobile phone was invented as a convenience and what I call as a shortcut for daily life. It’s a necessity we can no longer live without (try explaining life without a cell phone to a teenager), and it’s evolved into the device we wouldn’t leave the house without (sorry, American Express). In addition to the beneficial communications services it provides, we rely on its everyday ability to alert us by blinks, vibrations, and chirps. Whenever it does this, we salivate (in a way) and know it has special meaning for us. Regardless of whether it’s a birthday reminder, a text message, or a meeting notice, these alerts have relevance to our lives.

I’ve been critical in the past of mobile marketing programs that exploit the relationship between people and their digital devices. Brands often assume that if a customer likes the product, she’ll want to carry it everywhere. Just because I like a particular candy bar, doesn’t mean my mobile phone should remind me every day. I don’t want to receive text messages from the candy bar, have wallpaper of that candy bar, receive a ring tone performed by that candy bar, nor join a social network of people who also like that candy bar. The candy bar ranks lower in day-to-day importance to me than other things, like personal obligations and reminders. Don’t get me wrong; I like the candy bar (I just had one), I just don’t need to be interrupted in the middle of the day by a stranger telling me how much happier he is eating our favorite candy bar. These kinds of messages are a distraction. The distraction lacks a return for my participation.

Earlier this year, I talked about mobile minders and how entertainment companies leverage these programs to remind people to tune in or record new television shows. The service allows you to send a text message to the short code, and on the day of the airing, you’ll receive a reminder to set your DVR. It’s simple but, more important, it’s an interruption that I asked for and provides a reward in exchange for my participation.

The same can be said for mobile programs that provide a shortcut to longer-term participation. For example, mobile devices are a great way to engage participants in loyalty programs. Text your e-mail address to a short code, and you could have a one-click enrollment program e-mailed directly to the participant. This saves considerable time filling out forms, remembering to log in, and so on. Because the phone is a shortcut for communications, why not leverage it for brand participation?

Both examples couldn’t have been developed without discovering the gifts of mobile users — the insights that are determined after observation, research, and discovery of various brands’ mobile users.

Before you jump in, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you doing a mobile program to say you’re doing a mobile program? Are you doing it because your competitors use mobile? Did a superior place a “BusinessWeek” article in your mailbox about a mobile program? In other words, are you doing mobile just to check off the box that says you’re doing mobile?
  • Are you providing a real value? Or are you annoying someone with a message that lacks a payoff or reward? Will someone tell friends about this program?
  • Do you have any insight that gives you confidence in this program? Have you observed your market and how it uses mobile? Do your products and services have a natural need for mobile?
  • Above all, make sure you offer real relevance, or those blinks, vibrations, and chirps won’t mean anything.

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