Why are Australian marketers second-rate with mobile executions?

It seems we are very slow learners here in Australia. Maybe it’s the lack of innovation coming from a stale agency world or maybe it’s the lack of willingness by brands to think beyond what they did five or 10 years ago. Or maybe it’s simply a lack of understanding about the real power of mobile and what can be done and what should be done. After spending some time overseas recently, it’s become clear to me that the volume of bland, ineffective campaigns in Australia is far higher than it should be.

Mobile is the most ubiquitous personal one-to-one media available offering companies a unique opportunity to put their ‘brand in the hand’ of consumers and interact with them in a way never before achievable. This is something you’ve no doubt heard me evangelise about for many years. So why, in this country, do we continue to get it so wrong?

I’ll certainly concede that there are some brilliant Australian mobile executions. Some of the theme park initiatives by Centryc are still generating a ‘wow factor’ and are now being implemented in other countries. But, sadly, there are so many poor uses of mobile that the great and the brilliant are obscured by mediocrity and now consumers are beginning to complain.

Navigate the active blogs for a week or two and you’ll find a litany of consumer bemusement at mobile campaigns that are lame and dissatisfying. You never hear consumers asking for more billboards, more outdoor posters, more catalogues or more TVCs. But on mobile, consumers crave engagement and entertainment and are willing to immerse themselves in a process of brand discovery and participation like never before. It’s a unique media where consumers are even ahead of the technologists: demanding more and consuming more… every day. Look around, even the Luddites are using an iPhone or Android device to explore like they’ve never done on a desktop computer.

Mobile is not just mobile anymore. The statistics on tablets like the iPad and the growing adoption of web-based kiosks and internet TVs reflect some staggering percentages. The everyday use of tablets for web browsing is as high as 40%, which means the world of ‘non- desktop’ digital content is now very different. The ‘expanding web phenomenon’ of the past 12 months means your digital content not only needs to cater for desktop and mobile, but also tablets, kiosks and televisions; and the list will grow throughout 2012/13.

There are a number of important insights I want to try and convey here. First, when planning a mobile messaging-based campaign, remember that when a consumer reads the message they are like a fish on a hook.

You wouldn’t leave the fish on the line and walk off and bait the next hook would you? So why do so many campaigns start an interaction with a consumer and then stop?

If a consumer has stopped to read your message, they are most often ready to be taken on a journey. Link off to an mobile site and engage with them. Ask for contact information and feed them some entertainment. Encourage feedback: according to a US survey late last year, consumers are 12 times more likely to answer questions and fill out simple forms on a mobile than a desktop.

In messaging campaigns, the biggest letdown of all is the lack of continued engagement. A consumer has read the message, possibly replied, maybe clicked through to an mobile site and has, for a moment in time, been focused on your brand. Why not follow them up and create another touch point? I’ve been involved in literally hundreds of mobile competitions and, sadly, I can count on one hand the number of them that have followed up.

For example, 15,000 people text in to enter a competition and most agencies or brands simply contact the winner, publish the results and move on. Why not contact every entrant saying, ‘You didn’t win, but click through to this mobile site, give us your email and we will send you a voucher/incentive/percent off/some other benefit?’ I won’t go into the Spam Act here, but a single follow-up after a competition ends – within a reasonable time-frame, so that consumers realise why they are receiving the message – is fine. Then, if you create a new engagement, you can start again with contacting them.

I saw one campaign in the US that invested heavily in creating the awareness of the competition, then spent six months interacting with every entrant and taking them on a journey of entertainment, benefits and real value through mobile sites, messaging and Facebook. Six months later, they had built an interaction with 35% of the original entrants. Imagine paying once for above the line exposure and then having six months of far lower cost interaction with your customers – many of them new customers. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the agency issue and hesitation with this model: there’s no ability to continually sell high cost media with high value rebates.

And why ignore MMS in this country? There is some incredible brand reinforcement value having images and over 500 characters of text, plus the ability to discern handset make and model in order to do some basic analysis. Brands actively using messaging tend to pepper MMS as part of their arsenal at least 25% of the time; however, in Australia it’s more like 5% – if at all. Sure MMS costs more, but the response rates and successful click-throughs are far greater and certainly worth exploring.

The next bit of insight is the use of mobile sites and mobile-enabled digital content. These are no longer the sole domain of the early adopter; my Luddite brother never surfed the web, but from his mobile he is a web addict – and nearly all driven from emails or SMS. In fact, ask him and he still says he doesn’t really use the web, but continually links from emails to explore interesting offers and daily deals.

Now, let’s explore some basic technical facts and dispel some myths about mobile landing pages. Your desktop-optimised site is being hosted somewhere and served by a web server; usually Apache or maybe Microsoft IIS. With mobile, it’s not quite as simple. Many claim they can ‘hand code’ websites for mobile, but that’s a delusional misunderstanding of what needs to happen.

On mobile – or, in fact, any device in the ‘expanding web’ – performance, speed and readability are key aspects. Mobile devices are constrained by bandwidth, constrained by size and constrained by what they can support. When a consumer clicks to an mobile site (or a mobilised version of a brand site), you want something loading quickly, so consumers don’t wait and they are able to receive a brand impact visual quickly to start their experience.

Then consider that access to a site driven by a campaign is going to receive a large spike in traffic at time of messaging. You must host your mobile site where there is a mobile-aware transcoding and adaptation web server and not just a web server designed and engineered for high bandwidth multimedia experiences. The reality is that mobile web or the rendering of digital content to the expanding web requires a platform solution – not necessarily to create the site, but definitely to host and deliver.

So a one-size-fits-all strategy will deliver a poor experience to all devices. But the most important thing is compression, optimisation and conversion of all objects to suit the specific device. Using the right platform can deliver upwards of a 10:1 performance improvement. Remember, consumers generally won’t wait for bloated, overcomplicated pages to load. It’s so disappointing to see mobilised sites that are bloated with complex CSS, hiding and showing page objects and using maybe a small/medium/large strategy for images. These sites are not only slow to load, but unreliable on some devices, and relying on a phone to render an image the correct size is brave, as most devices do this poorly.

If you’re still in the mindset that you can develop effective digital content pages for the ‘expanding web’ without a platform solution, then show me. I’ll be intrigued and pretty confident I could show you how to improve. There are numerous platform solutions worldwide,

many of which offer proprietary site development interfaces. But there are also now a couple of platforms with a completely open interface that still allow hand building and leverage the platform performance, optimisation, transcoding and adaptation power.

Now, on to email. This is going to seem obvious, but email marketing must adapt to the new expanding web. Stop and think about the consumer behaviour when it comes to personal email. The majority of personal email is now read on a mobile or, to a lesser degree, a tablet. Has the penny dropped yet? This simple behaviour change has a number of consequences for brands using email to drive traffic, promotions or some other call to action. These observations may seem obvious, but sadly appear to have eluded many Australian marketers:

  • Media rich emails now need to cater for mobile screens. The smarter brands have actually turned back time and predominantly use plain text emails with images simply to provide some visual break points. Key statements and calls to action, should not be in graphic objects, as many devices either load these last or not at all.
  • Unless your database contains handset data, don’t expect an email to be able to launch an application. This is where on-device apps tend to fall down: you can’t initiate their launch through a push messaging initiative. Instead, use smart mobile sites linked to existing desktop content or at least one that provides the tracking. Many email services like Gmail by default download just the first 50 kilobytes of a message to save bandwidth. Don’t have your core message in an attachment like a pdf or buried at the tail of a message. The first thing I see on over 80% of promotional emails is, ‘If you can’t read this, click here.’ Why should I? I usually delete unless I absolutely know it’s of interest.
  • Use the subject line intelligently to generate interest. Disclose your offer in the subject. I [and everyone else – Ed] tend to delete messages with the subject, ‘Great offer just for you’.
  • The final obvious insight is timing of messages. The best time to send a promotional email is very different to when it was being run as a banner ad targeting employees surfing the net on their work computers. Consumers use their mobile for privacy and convenience. Think about when to message, so your email gets immediate attention and is not buried at number 30 on unread messages. Use work transit times, lunchtimes and known breaks for the target audience. I recently found it quite bemusing why a promotional email targeting mothers of young kids in junior school sent emails at 3pm and 7pm: school pick-up and the ‘witching’ hour.

I really hope that these few tips and insights will cause brands and agencies to take a step back and look at what can really be achieved with the whole mobile ecosystem from SMS/ MMS messaging through to email and mobile sites. Consumers are hungry for exciting things on their mobile. They blog about the fun ones and chat in forums about ones that are engaging.

And stop just thinking about mobile as mobile. Mobile is in fact the ‘expanding web’, encompassing tablets, kiosks and internet-enabled televisions. The demands for delivering digital content to this new expanding device arena is far more challenging and complex than the desktop, which hides all our ills through high performance broadband. Use a platform partner with a mobile aware web server and integrated proxy and transcoding engine. Visually mobilising a site is just 40% of the task; delivery and hosting is the final mile that is arguably more important.

Make the expanding web ecosystem work for you and put your ‘brand in the hand’ of consumers with something that is well-planned, compelling and engaging. Let’s hope in 2012 Australian marketers can deliver world standard best practice campaigns.

Joe Barber
BY Joe Barber ON 26 March 2012
Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of Edge80.com with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.