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Mobile marketing: 3 ways to start getting results now

Email enabled marketers to achieve a previously unheard-of level of personalization and customer engagement — and now it's mobile marketing's turn to perfect it.

Consider the opportunity. Open rates for short message services (SMS) exceed 90 percent, compared to 20 percent for email. Text messages are intimate and immediate. Research shows that nine out of 10 SMS messages are read less than three minutes after they are received. Try to identify a more relevant, timely channel for marketing communications.

Yet, many marketers are unsure about mobile. They get the promise of it (it's expected to be a $17 billion market in 2013 and is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent). They just haven't yet been able to figure out how to measure the payoff.

In a recent survey from the Association of National Advertisers and MediaVest, 96 percent of marketers said they were incorporating or planning to incorporate mobile into their marketing campaigns — but 42 percent voiced unease about how to prove ROI.

One challenge marketers have faced when measuring mobile ROI is the lack of readily-available metrics. That's changing as more advanced platforms give marketers new insights about their mobile visitors, conversions, pages viewed, and their device's model, operating system and browser. This information can then be used to target known customers with messages based on their voluntarily disclosed interests and mobile profiles.

Here are 3 ways to start getting results now:

1) Take personalized marketing to a new level

Here's an example of how marketers can use new metrics to strengthen their customer relationships and to reduce their own operational costs: "Stacy" is a working Millennial who often shops online for clothes. We know she likes cashmere sweaters and leather boots based on her previous interactions with email, display ads, points of sale and mobile channels.

The next time one of her favorite brands releases a Fall line of cashmere wear, she gets a message alerting her to its availability — even before other customers are notified. With this kind of personal attention, Stacy is more likely to make a purchase than if she had received a generic offer for Fall clothes.

But the attention to Stacy's preferences doesn't end there. She's got a busy life, but wants to be home to sign for the delivery. To minimize the hassle on her end, the company sends text alerts at every stage of the order processing, including the moment during which it is loaded on a truck for delivery. This allows her to be home for the delivery with minimal disruption to her busy schedule. Later, the brand sends Stacy a simple thank you and a customer service survey. The metrics gathered along the way allow the marketer to determine the acquisition costs and the customer service savings from eliminating costly call center inquiries.

This is how marketing works in an era when customers are in control of their buying experience, not marketers. Stacy gets to decide if her order confirmation arrives via email and a shipment notification by SMS — not the other way around. Incorporating a preference center to allow customers to explicitly define which types of communication they wish to receive over which channels isn’t just good customer service — it’s expected.

Only once a company understands this, and adjust its marketing strategy accordingly, can it start to see a ROI on their mobile marketing.

2) Tapping into the customer lifecycle

Mobile presents fresh challenges to marketers. With ever-faster, ever-snazzier devices arriving at a rapid clip, mobile marketers have to optimize their messaging for various platforms — from Android to iOS to Windows 8. That's not easy, and it's far different from email, where messages look the same no matter the underlying hardware or software.

What's more, because mobile messaging is so personal, consumers must give their permission to receive advertising. Building this "opt-in" list can be a challenge for marketers, who must come up with creative ways to integrate their mobile campaign into their other marketing efforts. Many companies are successfully encouraging customers to sign up for text alerts through in-store promotions, on sales receipts, in email and through traditional advertising. Once Stacy signs up for mobile notifications, the bar gets higher for marketers: mobile is a highly intimate form of communication. If Stacy receives a text message she doesn't want, the risk is high that the brand may lose her as a customer.

When using mobile, think of the best way to deliver certain messages at specific phases of the customer life cycle. When in acquisition mode, marketers can deliver mobile alerts about "flash" sales to prospective customers who have signed up for SMS in return for the promise of advanced notices about limited-time discounts.

To aid retention, marketers can woo dormant customers who have opted in to receive mobile messaging, perhaps with a special incentive or exclusive offer. And regular reminders or alerts go a long way to providing ongoing value to the customer. Shipping notifications from retailers and alerts of gate changes, delays or upgrade opportunities from airlines are both proven ways to build trust and a stronger relationship with customers.

3) Measuring up

Granted, it's hard to link long-term customer loyalty to any specific campaign, mobile or otherwise. But there are steps marketers can take to track the value of their mobile campaign. For example, marketers can use a mobile-specific landing page toward which they direct customers that will allow them to glean metrics on conversion, geo-tracking and device detection. Or a specific call-to-action such as "Order now and you'll receive a $5 credit toward your next purchase" alongside a point-of-sale code specific to one particular mobile campaign can track the success of that campaign.

Email marketing is still king. But mobile marketing is ascending — in large part because marketers finally have the metrics they need to make it succeed.

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