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Mobile missteps: A post-mortem analysis

Mobile missteps: A post-mortem analysis Jordan Greene

With one word, "mobile," clients' ears perk up. The mere mention of the all-encompassing term by agencies, brand managers, and vendors can give the illusion of innovation to executives continuing to search for new marketing avenues with strong ROI.

However, a current issue is that often those recommending mobile media lack the understanding of how to use it well. While professionals with true experience and expertise can be hired, many brands entrust their valuable budget dollars to teams who are learning on the job, and at the client's expense.

The iPhone is a game-changing product in terms of consumer usage and possibilities for brand interaction. However, even with its tremendous success, as well as that of BlackBerrys, more than 75 percent of U.S. users still carry "dumbphones." The iPhone's allure, and its constant publicity, convinced many companies that they had to have a branded mobile app. Not a mobile strategy; not a plan to effectively communicate with its audience's needs.

With an investment of $150,000 to $300,000 in their new app, these companies placed faith in the possibility that a user might find their asset in a sea of 75,000 other apps. Of all the early gambling on branded apps, it is awfully telling that the most successful project with over 5 million downloads is the "Zippo Virtual Lighter."

A better mobile outcome
As the hype-machine kept churning, many companies hoped to ride its coattails and garner their own PR attention by merely putting an app in the market. An alternative and more successful approach would be to place equal focus on the opportunities to create real consumer engagement and increase brand value, as well as the need to generate buzz. 

The first step would be to determine what the company's business -- not mobile -- goals are, and then match them to the right mobile tactics. The app is merely one component that addresses a very specific audience. "Strategy first" needs to be the mantra that the modern-day marketer carries through a day while considering mobile, social, or any other new media.

What follows below is an in-depth analysis of three recent mobile initiatives, which made significant missteps, seemingly right from the planning stage. The one commonality shared by the campaigns from SIRIUS XM, Ralph Lauren, and Foot Locker is that for programs meant to engage the consumer, ironically, each one lost focus on that very target.

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Mobile tactic: iPhone app
Missteps: Diluted content, additional consumer expense, service over-promise

In June, SIRIUS released its much anticipated iPhone app that enables its customers to listen to satellite radio content through their iPhones. While it seems incongruous in name that satellite radio is broadcast over mobile phone networks, it serves a consumer desire. That said, SIRIUS failed significantly from the outset by omitting key content -- while trying to charge its customers an additional premium -- and by confusing both issues with its advertising. The promotional support by SIRIUS for the product was admirable, buying multiple large billboards and out-of-home ads, and promoting the app on its airwaves. However, the conflict of business goals and the lack of thought regarding the customer created a nightmare for the radio provider.

The issues
SIRIUS enraged its loyal subscribers by omitting exclusive content, such as Howard Stern and NFL broadcasts. While rights issues are at the root of this problem, they needed to be solved before bringing this product to market. Interestingly, SIRIUS places a significant premium on its content, as evidenced by committing two channels and $500 million to Howard Stern. Leaving its prized pony -- and, arguably, its largest draw -- off the app was a recipe for disaster.

Of the consumer ratings for the app on iTunes, over 63,000 out of 103,000 people gave the product one star -- the lowest possible rating. To put that in context, the widely used and popular Facebook app only has approximately 25,000 total ratings on iTunes.  SIRIUS clearly has a fervent audience, and it disappointed them greatly. 

Further, the iTunes description actually states, "...listen to all the programming you love from SIRIUS XM on your iPhone..." Its promotional language just reinforces the widening disconnects among the company's larger revenue and growth goals, its mobile development goals, and its marketing initiatives.

In March, three months prior to the app launch, SIRIUS quietly discontinued free internet streaming to customers. Instead, its new "Premium Online" package costs existing customers $2.99 a month -- a seemingly small, additional increment. However, many consumers did not discover this until the app debuted. In its attempt for revenue growth, SIRIUS further highlighted its trimming of expected, existing services. The outrage poured over social media sites, articles, and hour-long queues at SIRIUS customer care.

Ultimately, with its lackluster offering, SIRIUS put itself in a new -- and difficult -- competitive landscape, against free music services like Pandora. The SIRIUS mobile mishap dirtied its brand image, created negative word-of-mouth, and may ultimately cost it existing customers.

A potential solution
Get Howard Stern on the app right away, re-market on a significant scale, and make good to each disgruntled customer. Additional cost is more palatable when the consumer perceives considerable additional value. SIRIUS missed that point, which is ironic as it is the basic principle of the company's very existence.

A comparative win
A good comparison is Direct TV, which got its first content app right on the first shot.  NFL Sunday Ticket is one of Direct TV's largest draws for its primary service. It made sure that it led with broadcasting football games as the basis for its new premium service for internet and mobile access. So when Direct TV took an even larger promotion stage than SIRIUS with national TV spots, consumers recognized both the innovation and relevance to their needs.


Brand: Ralph Lauren
Mobile tactic: QR codes, in response to print ads
Missteps: Consumer disengagement, misaligned business goals, lost branding opportunity

Ralph Lauren's efforts to incorporate new mobile technology into its marketing are commendable, but a recent promotion became an exercise in public relations, as opposed to consumer engagement.

The brand continues its programs that use quick response (QR) codes in its full-page ads in newspapers like The New York Times. These codes are unusual looking square images that can trigger direct action on a consumer's mobile phone when a picture of the code is taken. That is, snap a picture, see a webpage for a sweater, buy it.

While this sounds like a marketer's dream, this approach can only be accessed by a small audience in the U.S., that has software on their mobile phones that understand what to do with that image

The issues
The most significant campaign problem was the consumer engagement itself. For a consumer to be able to interact with the Ralph Lauren print ad in this technologically advanced way, it required a 10+ step process before even getting started. That is, the consumer had to follow a path that led to the Ralph Lauren mobile website, involved inputting personal information on multiple pages and, finally, moved them on to an app store (for iPhone users) to download the software. Only then could a consumer interact with the print ad. It is easy to foresee why the response rate for a campaign execution like this would be low.

Additionally, the company missed a significant branding opportunity. If a consumer went through the lengthy download process, Ralph Lauren's logo, icon, and name should have appeared on their phone "desktop." It didn't. Instead of the "RL-QR" name on the reader, the app bears the name of the third party that developed it. Ralph Lauren lent its name, reputation, and budget, while this other company gained the exposure, case study, and use of the reader for other clients. 

From a planning and execution standpoint, the app itself should have gone through more rigorous testing on the brand's side. The consumer reviews of the service were quite negative -- yet another crucial detail potentially hurting the brand's image. It further underscored a lack of attention, understanding, or both when the campaign was conceived.

Ralph Lauren continues to extol the virtues of its QR code program on CNN and in other highly visible forums. This platform works as an ideal PR-able story to show just how advanced the company is, even though the actual operations of the program may not yield real benefit. From this aspect, the company succeeded.

A potential solution
Ironically, the primary business purpose of the print ad itself was to drive people to purchase Ralph Lauren products through outlets such as the mobile website. The second step in this extensive interaction, which involved a visit to the mobile website itself, could have been the last, and would have garnered a better consumer experience.

Ralph Lauren could have used straightforward tactics to drive its real initiatives. For example, a consumer could have responded to a call-to-action in the print ad by texting the word "Style" to a short-code (a 5-digit routing phone number). In response, the consumer would receive a branded text message containing and a clickable link. With a single press of the thumb, the consumer could enter a specific page of the mobile website, which displays the product the ad was promoting. Two guided steps instead of 10, and the brand achieves its goal to drive traffic and a potential sale. This type of interaction would also work on virtually any type of phone with mobile web capabilities, expanding the reach of this campaign considerably. 

Further, if the company added an incentive for the mobile interaction such as a giveaway or discount, they could have augmented the response for the campaign.

Mobile services need to be easy-to-do for the consumer in order to create real engagement. Shiny, new technology may stand out, but without a realistic approach to using it, the campaign itself dies before it gets started.

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Brand: Foot Locker
Mobile tactic: Text messaging, in response to out-of-home ads
Missteps: Base media placement, confusion of engagement, best practice infringement

When Foot Locker launched its "Cash for Kicks" text-in sweepstakes, it made considerable mistakes. While it exhibited a willingness to add mobile as a communications channel, it also showed an unfortunate lack of understanding of how to do it well.

The brand placed out-of-home ads on New York City's subway platforms and trains. The ads directed consumers to send in simple text messages to enter the contest. Despite this most straightforward of mobile campaign tactics, a myriad of poor choices on several crucial details doomed this campaign.

The issues
The first and largest mistake was the location of the out-of-home ads -- in subway cars and stations, where there is no cellular reception. Mobile is about impulse. It is about capturing a consumer's attention in the moment, to turn traditional one-way advertising into a conversation. Placing the ads in subterranean areas is tantamount to simply throwing the media spend in the gutter.

Next, Foot Locker's response communications missed the real consumer engagement opportunity and abused the trust of its limited number of respondents. There is a subtle art to maximizing the benefit of a 160-character text message to effectively market a product and generate consumer action. The Foot Locker messaging settled for forcing multiple ideas into text shorthand.  The result was a message that was hard to decipher, making its marketing and intended drive-to-retail easily overlooked.

Further, the campaign sent a second cryptic text message immediately -- and one several weeks later -- in an attempt to reinforce its branding. For a marketer, this is an infringement on mobile best practices, as there was no opt-in by the consumer. Worse, it walks the line of consumer nuisance and violates a simple, implicit trust that each consumer placed in the brand. Any potential positive consumer experience is now gone, and the brand is tarnished by its over-stepping.

A potential solution
It is important to understand the basics of mobile engagement and think through the realities of the campaign from beginning to end. For the Foot Locker campaign, any media intended to launch a mobile interaction needed to be in areas where consumers could use their mobile phones. Instead of subways and platforms, buses and shelters would have been a more appropriate option to attempt to capture the commuter. Without this initial piece, every other component is moot. 

For the response messaging, Foot Locker needed to communicate clearly to consumers.  Further, the messages did not convey that consumers weren't directly entering a contest -- they had to visit a location to determine if a code they had was a winner. This is a completely different type of game than the enticement presented on the out-of-home ads. Confusion of engagement and business initiatives can drown a marketing campaign and are key factors that need to be addressed ahead of time to reduce consumer drop-off.

Foot Locker should have respected its interactions with consumers, and learned more about mobile behaviors. If the brand wants to send future messages, it should cleverly request an explicit consumer opt-in. Mobile best practices require a double opt-in. It is interesting that Foot Locker missed this point, as the campaign poster itself and the response text messaging both had a good deal of legal fine-print. So while managers and attorneys protected the brand against traditional concerns and liabilities, the campaign execution opened the door to others.

It is important to think through a mobile campaign from beginning to end, taking into consideration how and why a consumer will engage with your brand. Mobile is a powerful, flexible platform, which will continue to become more of a central point for how your brand interacts with consumers. Now is the right time to develop smart cornerstone strategies to continue to build off. It will lay the foundations for the shiny add-ons today and tomorrow, all with a business focus.

Jordan Greene is principal/mobile media at Mella Media.

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Jordan Greene has been on the forefront of the mobile industry for over a decade. At Mella Media, he brings hands-on mobile expertise and vast experience to his clients, enabling them to gain a significant advantage in the current global...

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