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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