After years of hype and hypothesis, the mobile age is finally -- and obviously -- upon us. Last quarter alone, consumers purchased more than 428 million mobile phones and 27 million tablets, often using these devices to research, shop, and engage with brands while on the go. Proof points are everywhere -- mobile purchases doubled in the U.S. this past holiday season, Apple recently delivered record-breaking earnings -- thanks in large part to iPhone and iPad sales -- and this month, the most buzz-worthy IPO filing since Google revealed that 425 million monthly active users access Facebook from a mobile device.
All these numbers simply prove what many marketers already know: Success depends on joining consumers in the mobile space. In fact, according to research that OpinionLab and TeaLeaf released last month, 90 percent of marketers report that improving the mobile customer experience will be just as -- or more -- important than online initiatives in 2012. However, the same survey shows that more than half of us are still in the early stages of developing a comprehensive online customer experience management strategy -- let alone mobile.
So how do we begin to understand the post-PC era while still working up the learning curve of traditional web? For most of us, the online explosion of the '90s provides the perfect blueprint for this new direction. What we learned then was that, regardless of corporate organization, consumers view a brand as a unified entity -- no matter which channel they use to engage. So if, for example, a product is priced differently in the store than on the website or if a customer makes a purchase online and can't return the product in store, his entire perception of the brand is confounded, and his loyalty is likely to suffer as a result.
The challenges and opportunities associated with this paradigm shift have spurred the move to a multichannel marketplace. And mobile is simply the next game-changing development in that transition. The peril today is that, as was too often the case with online in the '90s, many marketers risk approaching mobile as an afterthought rather than an integral component of a consistent, customer-centric brand.
Mobile is so much more than a few paid app ads, a hyper-local coupon, or a QR code added to print campaigns -- it is a vital touch point that can serve as the cornerstone of powerful, consistent customer experience. To realize the full potential of the mobile shift, it's important to begin with deep and ongoing insight into consumer behaviors and attitudes. Here are some tips for establishing a strong foundation.
Challenge your assumptions
Don't assume you know what your customers want in mobile. Instead, listen to them -- some want to comparison shop, some want to play a game, and some want to share an in-store experience with a friend. There is no single right answer -- other than integrating a feedback loop into all mobile properties so you're sure to uncover these insights. Once you've done so, track customer input in real time to say on top of simple fixes and pinpoint issues that merit further examination. And, if you haven't already, consider leveraging this "voice of customer" data into meaningful KPIs.
Stop focusing on conversion
Mobile marketing isn't just about driving a customer to complete a sale -- it's a critical branding tool. Instead of solely measuring conversion, focus on measuring brand engagement and customer sentiment. How you do this will depend on your unique business, but the value of defining such metrics is well worth the effort.
Spur rapid action
All the customer data in the world doesn't make a difference unless it's used to improve business outcomes. Make sure you're collecting actionable data, and that you have the right systems and processes in place to act. And act fast.
The web has shown us that competitors are always just one click away -- and that consumers don't hesitate to desert a brand that falls short of their expectations. Companies that prioritize the mobile customer experience have a chance to leapfrog the competition by leveraging the strengths of the mobile channel -- always-on, personal, and location-based -- to engage with customers more deeply than ever before.
Jonathan Levitt is CMO of OpinionLab.
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