Wondering why you can’t seem to connect with your audience on mobile? Chances are you’re working hard to deliver a mobile experience that mimics the most successful digital marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, those strategies were developed for desktop and laptop environments. Brilliant as they are, the same strategies won’t address the needs and behaviors of mobile users.

If your mobile experience is inconsistent with the reasons visitors reach for their smartphone or tablet in the first place, they won’t bother to engage. And I can guarantee people don’t open an app because they want to be confronted with ads.

A recent study from Dartmouth University found that 70 percent of mobile consumers “are just too busy for ads.” They are walking, commuting, multitasking, or searching for quick information and support. Roughly the same percentage said that when they do click on an ad, they “hate it that they cannot easily return to the content they were reading or watching.” These on-the-go visitors feel annoyed when an irrelevant pop-up interrupts their flow.

Marketing with Service

The future of mobile marketing lies in service. What if your marketing was seamlessly integrated with the tasks people are trying to accomplish on mobile devices? One widely recognized example of marketing through service is the Nike+ running app. Nike created the tool to meet the needs of runners—a core audience for the brand. Runners are always looking for better ways to time runs, store statistics, and measure progress. The app does all this for free with GPS. Plus, it’s customizable to ultra-marathoners and occasional joggers, and it links users to social networks for easy stat sharing and midrun motivation. Users quickly develop loyalty and end up promoting the brand each time they post their mileage to their Facebook page.

Provide a service—and do it better than any other app—and mobile users will keep you on their home screens. If your brand can assist users as they search for directions, scan reviews, share photos, do their banking, or record their workouts, they will gladly and naturally interact with you again and again.

Three Principles of Forward-Thinking Mobile Marketing

I’ve come up with three core strategies to help increase relevance and enhance service in your mobile marketing in 2014.

1. Keep It Simple and Responsive

The small screens of mobile devices magnify design flaws, leaving no room for superfluous elements. Simplicity doesn’t mean watered-down features; it means making every word, image, link, and action count.

With every detail of function and design, ask yourself, does it work with the user, or does it get in their way? Done right, simplicity can build momentum into users’ tasks and encourage them to spend more time in your app, including taking the extra step to link their activity to social accounts.

Responsiveness is the ultimate expression of user-centric simplicity in design. We’re long past the days when responsive Web design (RWD) meant resizing your website for smaller screen sizes. The RWD I’m talking about anticipates users’ behavior and delivers useful content or logical next steps as they navigate your app or mobile site.

Geolocation is a powerful piece of responsive design and is often used to speed and guide searches in apps like Yelp! and Groupon, where a user’s exact location matters. For brick-and-mortar businesses looking to draw customers through the doors, responsive elements can smooth the online to in-store transition. Use geolocation to offer turn-by-turn directions to users from wherever they are, or add a “click to call” button so they can instantly reach you without having to search for your number.

2. Dive In-Stream

This year’s mobile growth statistics reveal 91 percent of mobile Internet access is for social activities. Of total time spent on mobile devices, users devote 31 percent to playing games and 24 percent to social networking. Add to this the surprising statistics that “189 million Facebook users are ‘mobile only’” and “YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18–34 than any cable network,” and we begin to get a picture of social media’s dominance of the mobile sphere.

The takeaway? If you want your message to consistently reach your audience, meet them where they’re at. Facebook, YouTube, and Pandora Radio were among the top 10 apps of 2012, and this year Vine, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, and Foursquare made the fastest growing list. There’s a mad dash to go in-stream, adapting branded messages to the constant cascade of social content on mobile devices.

We know by now that you can’t just stick an ad in someone’s feed and call it a day. Ads stick out like a sore thumb in our personal networking spaces, next to pictures of the new niece and your foodie friend’s lunch. The marketer’s challenge is to make branded content look and feel native to its environment. In-stream content must be contextual and relevant, and triggered by the user’s activity, preferences, or friends.

Just the other day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw a snap of a car parked in front of a popular coffee shop, with a dazzling pink and orange sky overhead. At first, the photo blended into my feed as yet another sunset pic. But I got stuck on the unfamiliar username: lexususa. Reading it here, you instantly recognize the brand. But in the self-curated context of Instagram, it took me a moment to puzzle it out. The company’s native ad came close to the style and content of my feed, drawing me in instead of making me feel bombarded or invaded.

3. Create Real-Time Interaction

One goal of the Lexus Instagram photo was for me to elect to follow, thus inviting a regular stream of ads into my feed. With 47,000 followers and photos that receive upward of 100,000 likes and too many comments to load, Lexus appears to be engaging many mobile users in real-time interactions every day.

However, real-time interaction can go beyond “likes” to personal connections with individuals. More brands are beginning to host online events, creating a memorable bonding experience with their audience. To promote the network comedy Parks and Recreation, NBC has twice turned to user-generated news site Reddit. Nick Offerman, one of the show’s stars, participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA, where fans could ask questions and receive a direct response. Thousands of comments and questions were amassed, and tickled fans kept talking about it long after the AMA ended.

Nothing Beats Value

The best way to reach mobile consumers is to align your brand message with an activity they already perform, or one they will want to perform because of its added convenience, relevance, usefulness, or delight. By working with mobile users, and not creating friction, you can help your brand become synonymous with value.

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