Engaging audiences with advertising etiquette

Pestering consumers with unwanted ads on their smartphones and tablets will alienate, not endear, potential customers.

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The Westfield group aims to have all digital channels mobile-optimised

Marketing directly to consumers through their smartphones and tablet computers offers a big opportunity to send people relevant messages with perfect timing. But it also runs the risk of annoying and alienating people if messages are badly chosen or poorly timed. So how do brands get the balance right?

Marketers can opt for push notifications via mobile apps, emails or the humble SMS, or use a range of interactive virtual reality technology. But the most important choice is who to target and how often.

For shopping centre group Westfield, marketing directly to shoppers via their mobile devices is of growing importance. “We are moving towards all of our digital channels being mobile-optimised,” says Westfield UK general manager for marketing Myf Ryan.

She adds that more than half of the customers who sign up to use Westfield’s free WiFi also opt in to receive direct marketing messages, and she attributes this to careful segmentation of data that enables only relevant messages to be sent.

Opted-in consumers form part of Westfield’s enterprise data management (EDM) programme, which collates their interests and ensures they are contacted accordingly. The shopping centre group strives not to bombard consumers with pointless messages because it knows that could put them off the service and reduce its effectiveness.

Targeted information about fashion events or new store openings, for example, is sent directly to those with relevant interests; those with children might be sent information about kids’ TV characters appearing at Westfield centres. Messages are sent only for a specific reason – there is no fixed number of regular notifications.

“One key element to the data is to ensure that it is delivering value to the shopper, and it is as seamless and frictionless as it can be,” says Ryan. “What annoys shoppers is when they are bombarded with huge amounts of information that has no personal relevance to them. And that is very much why segmentation of data to understand likes, dislikes and preferences will become even more important as the use of mobile advertising and marketing grows.”

Chartered Institute of Marketing head of insights Thomas Brown agrees that the relevance and context of messages is an important issue, and one that brands must be aware of as they try to keep pace with consumer adoption of new technology. If brands send too many irrelevant emails, push messages or SMS prompts, they could contribute to a widespread rejection of mobile marketing techniques.

“If marketers keep piling in too quickly without understanding the context and etiquette, all they do is perpetuate this idea of spam,” he says.

The etiquette of mobile devices, and of how consumers feel about ads on them, is an evolving field. Brown points to the Kindle Fire HD tablet, which has pricing options that give consumers the choice of a lower price with ads appearing every time the screen is unlocked, or an ad-free package for a higher cost, as an example of brands exploring how consumers value their privacy as well as their connectivity.

Westfield has a policy that all mobile messages should be of practical benefit to shoppers. “In a lot of cases, our mobile communication is based on keeping things simple and analysing what content and functionality is being used by our customers within the mobile market. It’s about seeking to help the customer either plan their journey in advance of a centre visit, or during their visit,” says Ryan.

This follows through in Westfield’s mobile app, which allows customers to search for products and then find the relevant retailer via a mapping function. “Mobile is simplifying the shopper journey and focusing shoppers on what they are looking for when they are in that shopping centre environment,” says Ryan. Customers who use electronic directories within Westfield centres can enter their mobile numbers to receive SMS directions to a store they are seeking.

Property company Lend Lease has also recognised the value of targeting customers directly by mobile. It has signed a three-year deal with mobile network O2 to provide free WiFi around its Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, together with targeted marketing direct to the mobile devices of customers who opt-in. These can be integrated with ads on digital screens around the mall and via social media, a strategy used over the Easter weekend to highlight the opening of a new Superdry store.

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O2 Angels regularly visit Bluewater shopping centre (above) to hand vouchers out to visitors

A dual O2/Bluewater branded web interface lets shoppers view the latest offers from retailers and restaurants within the mall, while O2 customers receive bespoke Priority Moments benefits. The centre has regular visits from ‘O2 Angels’, who deliver random acts of kindness such as discount vouchers to visitors. The WiFi network launched officially in March, but around 20,000 people signed up during a soft launch period in February.

“We are aware that it is not just about having a massive database, it’s about having shoppers that are really engaged,” says Bluewater general manager Robert Goodman. “It’s an important theme for us, whether it is through our database or the work we are doing with O2.” Visitors use the WiFi connection to share their own content, such as tweeting about celebrity book signings or sharing news of purchases with friends, as well as searching for price comparisons or receiving promotional material, and Bluewater aims to be part of the conversation.

Gary Booker, general manager for consumer at O2 in the UK, says: “The mobile phone is fast becoming the new ‘personal shopper’ for customers, with many taking advantage of free WiFi to stay connected to friends and family, compare prices online or get a second opinion on an outfit via social media. We’re bringing the benefits of the UK’s largest digital loyalty programme, in the form of exclusive discounts and promotions, to O2 customers while shopping at Bluewater.”

Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) mobile regulatory affairs manager Marta Costas says that when consumers are aware that by providing data they will receive better, more targeted marketing, they respond to it differently. “When consumers are aware of the value exchange, they react positively to advertising,” she says. “Basically, you have to give them transparency and choice. That applies to the entire online ecosystem, not just mobile. But I think in the mobile world it applies even more strongly. It’s very personal.”

Based on its research, the IAB has established three points of best practice that it advises brands to follow when they collect data about consumers, and when they subsequently contact them.

The first is communication: brands should tell people what data they are collecting and what might be done with it. They must also give them a choice to opt out and, finally, make sure that messages are sent in the right context, and in short and understandable formats.

Concerns about privacy, and what constitutes a breach of it in mobile terms, can be difficult because privacy is seen as an abstract concept, says Costas. “One thing we tend to forget often is that the very concept of privacy varies a lot. I like to think of privacy as a flexible concept,” she comments.

“If you talk to a 15-year-old who is trying to get as many free or affordable services as possible on their mobile and considers that device a convenient tool first and foremost, they would have a completely different view of privacy to somebody two generations older. They have different boundaries, although the generational factor isn’t always the most important one.”

Generational differences are also an issue for record label Parlophone, a division of EMI, another brand keen to maximise its contact with consumers via their mobiles and tablets. “With our content and strategy we are very mindful of tablet and mobile, and we realise there is also value in terms of targeting our advertising on those devices. It’s massively important,” says vice president of marketing Rob Owen.

The label recognises that the demand for its artists’ content drives interaction between the label and their fans, and prospective fans too. Learning more about those consumers is a priority.

“In some instances, we’ll do some mechanics where you can download a track in return for providing a mobile number,” says Parlophone digital creative manager Michael Hanson.

“But going beyond that, we are very mindful of device types and how our artists’ properties are accessed, and that leads into targeting.

“In terms of our media buying, we will do device-specific advertising, such as banners and engagement units for tablet. But then for our traditional online buy, Facebook and the like, we’ll always ensure there is a layer of mobile targeting within that.”

Parlophone scored a hit last December when a track by one of its artists, Gabrielle Aplin, was used in John Lewis’s Christmas TV ad (see MW 13 December). Consumer searches by mobile devices were key in driving awareness and sales that drove the song to the top of the charts. “Our challenge in a way is to make sure the content is surfacing in the right place at the right time. Things like [music identification app] Shazam are important to us,” says Owen.

Again, taking care not to pester consumers with irrelevant messages is key. “Like most marketers, we will segment our audience. Sometimes it is going to be more applicable on mobile or maybe with a younger audience, or a younger teen audience who have phones.

“We will serve the right content to those people, but we will also look to go a little bit deeper than just standardised segmentation.

We will try to make sure we are trying to convert people to finding out more about an artist, rather than just send them a push message to buy.”

This strategy of targeting ‘warmer’ fans who are not ready to buy into a particular artist has seen Parlophone working with mobile phone networks on campaign mechanics that encourage consumers to try out content. “We would probably be equally happy with a video view on mobile as we would with an upsell to buy,” says Hanson.

He concludes: “With the advent of 4G, the traditional challenge of bandwidth doesn’t really stand in our way. Mobile and desktop stand toe-to-toe in terms of what we can do creatively.

So we may push a video view on the device or we may create a microsite you can explore to drive engagement. To us, that will naturally lead to upsell at some point.”

Mobile or tablet?

Technology research group Gartner says US tablet owners are more likely to make purchases via their tablet than those who just own a smartphone are to buy on that device.

Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of US iPad users have spent more than $250 (£164.16m) making purchases on their iPad in the past 12 months, a figure matched by 56 per cent of Android tablet users. The comparable figures for iPhones (58 per cent) and Android smartphones (53 per cent) are lower but phones are more likely to be taken on shopping trips.

Gartner predicts that US consumers will buy 88 million tablets and 160 million smartphones in 2013. The group also makes a distinction between truly mobile devices and those that consumers view as merely portable. An Adobe survey found that 70 per cent of tablet owners mainly use them within the home.

“Tablets are still expensive. People aren’t taking them out and about,” says Jason Cross, a member of the Direct Marketing Association Mobile Marketing Council.

Beware of spam

Consumer group Which? claims that 40 per cent of UK residents have received unsolicited nuisance text messages, and is calling on various government departments to do something about the issue. The group says that a quarter of people who made a claim on their car insurance received unsolicited approaches from claims management companies within a week.

Some have been bombarded with a hard sell approach, with 22 per cent receiving 10 or more texts and 12 per cent receiving 10 or more calls. There is concern that such behaviour will put people off any form of marketing they receive on their mobile devices.

“Many of us have been bombarded with spurious claims of payment protection insurance (PPI) or injury compensation, and people are telling us they are totally fed up with this nuisance and want to see action,” says executive director Richard Lloyd.

“We want the regulators to work together to properly police and punish those responsible for unwanted calls and texts, using the existing law. If they are unwilling or unable to enforce the rules, the Government should step in.”

However, Direct Marketing Association research has found conflict between what consumers say and do. For example, just 23 per cent of those surveyed by the DMA said they were happy to interact with brands via mobile social media, but 43 per cent actually do so.

The long arm of the law

As well as running the risk of annoying customers, directly targeting consumers when they have opted not to receive messages is against the law.

“You are not allowed to send anything to anybody without their consent,” says Michelle Craven-Faulkner, solicitor and partner at law firm Nelsons. Consumers must consent to receive marketing material when they provide data about themselves, and they must opt-in as opposed to being asked to opt out if they do not want to be contacted.

For complete security, “always make sure you offer a way to unsubscribe” from any direct marketing messages, says Craven-Faulkner. She also emphasises that every company collecting data and marketing to customers should have a formal privacy policy.

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