Mobile marketing

Quick definition

Mobile marketing allows companies to connect with and deliver messages to their customers using mobile channels.

Key takeaways

When implementing a mobile marketing strategy, companies must take into account government regulations, differences between devices, and where links direct users.

Mobile is an important aspect of a company’s overall marketing strategy, but it should complement other channels instead of being the only focus.

The right technology can allow a company to successfully deliver messages via mobile while connecting the mobile strategy to other channels and avoiding issues with structural silos.

Jeremy Finch is a product marketing manager for Adobe Campaign. Before coming to Adobe, Jeremy worked as part of HubSpot's sales enablement team and as an operations manager and design strategist for Altitude Inc.

What is mobile marketing?

How does mobile marketing differ from other marketing strategies?

What is a mobile-first strategy?

What is mobile-first indexing?

What is a mobile conversion rate?

What is the business value of mobile marketing?

What steps does a company need to take to start implementing a mobile marketing strategy?

What technology is necessary for mobile marketing?

What are common goals companies hope to achieve with mobile marketing?

What mistakes do companies sometimes make with mobile marketing, and how can they avoid them?

What are some mobile marketing best practices?

Q: What is mobile marketing?

A: Mobile marketing is a marketing strategy that specifically takes advantage of mobile channels like SMS & MMS messaging, mobile apps, messaging apps, and mobile-optimized browser sites to reach customers. Beyond simply delivering messages, it has to take into account how information looks on different devices, how well an app performs, location-based information (since people take their mobile devices everywhere they go), and how companies can use mobile data responsibly and ethically to provide a better customer experience.

Q: How does mobile marketing differ from other marketing strategies?

A: Many things are similar and transferable between different types of marketing in the sense that a company needs to understand who someone is and what they’re looking for. You need to have a level of trust in the relationship between a customer and a business — the business explains what they’re offering, how it benefits the customer, what data the business will collect, and how they will use that data to provide a better customer experience. This implicit contract between company and customer exists across the board for all types of marketing.

Where mobile marketing differs is in the specific requirements necessary to reach customers on their mobile devices. A mobile marketing strategy has to consider different regional regulations for mobile, different device and hardware types, new generations of digital cellular networks, different operating systems, and the layers of data and partners between a customer and a business, like the operating system layer or an app store layer.

For example, when implementing a mobile marketing campaign, marketers need to take into account that SMS messaging is generally more regulated than things like in-app messaging, push notifications, or mobile-responsive email. Companies are often restricted from sending promotional messages through SMS and are limited to using SMS marketing mainly for communications like password resets and account notifications. They need to be aware of what type of mobile marketing they’re doing and the specific mobile channel they want to use.

Mobile marketing also requires that companies understand how regulations and user behavior vary from country to country. Some countries have leapfrogged the desktop era of the internet and gone straight into mobile. Other countries are still more based around the desktop or laptop version of the internet. A mobile marketing strategy works differently across countries and verticals depending on where they are in terms of mobile maturity and what their regulations are.

And different networks and devices have different requirements. If you have a mobile app and you have a big segment of customers using an iOS device and another big segment using Android, you're going to use a different type of push notification for each. The notifications will render differently, and you’ll need to proof it. Companies need to take into account how their apps and mobile sites will look for all their users.

Something unique to mobile is that it requires permissions and a lot more trust building. People are rightfully cautious now about what data they're sharing and with whom, as well as what they’re getting in return. Most people aren’t ideologically averse to sharing information with businesses that they frequent, but they need to know what they're sharing and, most importantly, how it will benefit them.

The two key permissions that you hear about frequently in mobile are the prompts asking if the app can track the user’s location and if it can send push notifications. Ultimately, that's up to each person to opt into that. And they’re more likely to opt in if they know they’re getting something out of it. For example, a consumer might let a music app access their location if they know the app will inform them of local concerts put on by their favorite artists.

Q: What is a mobile-first strategy?

A: How much priority a company gives to their mobile marketing strategy depends on the company itself. A company may have existed for many decades and have a lot of technology, processes, and systems in place for the desktop internet era. Newer companies like Lyft, Uber, or Spotify have grown up and come of age in the mobile-first world. All of their products have been designed specifically for mobile. Mobile-first is an outlook and a series of technologies that builds the entire business around mobile as a touchpoint. It doesn’t mean that the company won’t use other forms of marketing or pay attention to other channels, but mobile will be their priority. And mobile-first companies tend to be newer digital product companies, which are generally more tech-savvy than the more traditional businesses that are trying to continually evolve from an older way of doing business.

Q: What is mobile-first indexing?

A: Mobile-first indexing means that when Google is ranking and indexing a site to display on their results page, they will use the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop version. Google automatically indexes the mobile site for new websites created after July 2019, but older websites are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to make sure the most relevant version of the site is considered.

Q: What is a mobile conversion rate?

A: A conversion rate analyzes the effectiveness of a single touchpoint and examines how well it moves a customer from one stage of the customer journey to the next. The conversion rate tries to quantify that effectiveness in numeric terms.

A conversion rate could measure anything from the number of messages sent and the number of people who opened them, to the number of people who clicked on in-app messages, to the number of people who clicked a link in an email. It looks at how many people took the action the company wanted them to take. And those actions will vary depending on the industry. Many actions that companies track as conversions on a mobile device are specific to mobile, so a conversion rate will differ between mobile and desktop.

Q: What is the business value of mobile marketing?

A: More and more people are interacting with the world, the internet, and businesses through the device in their pocket. Focusing on mobile marketing lets a company reach a customer wherever they are, whenever the communication will be most effective. Mobile marketing can also take advantage of geofences and location services to send messages when the customer is in a specific location, like shopping within the store or in a theme park. A store might let the customer connect to their free WiFi, and in return the business gets some information about who the person is, what device they’re using, and maybe which sections of the store they’re exploring.

If your customers are under the age of 30, you've got to get mobile marketing right. Every business is trying to engage with young people, and mobile channels are usually the best way to do so. Unless you're in a very specific sort of business, having a good mobile strategy will become even more important over time because there's a whole generation of people growing up that just sees the internet as happening through their phone. They might not own or even see a need to use traditional desktop computers. And many younger customers are more comfortable using an online support chat than calling into a help line. The expectations and standards that younger people are setting is drastically swinging the world towards this mobile-first place. If your business deals with people under the age of 65, mobile is one of the best ways to communicate with your audience.

But even though mobile is an important channel, it hasn’t rendered every type of digital marketing or customer engagement strategy irrelevant. Companies should connect their mobile marketing strategy to their other channels. They should think omnichannel, just like their customers do, and consider how their website connects with their email program, call center, in-store point-of-sale technologies, mobile devices, and offline strategies like catalogs and direct mail. Mobile is one piece. It’s an important piece, and it’s a piece that will continue to grow quickly, but it serves a specific role that can’t do everything. It should complement the other strategies.

For example, a travel agency recently made a lot of investments in mobile to supplement their traditional desktop way of booking trips, flights, and hotels. What they found as they made some of these investments is that mobile users and desktop users are interested in different things and exhibit different behaviors. They noticed that mobile users were most commonly interested in exploration and discovery. Customers used the mobile app or site to look at different possible trips, see what was out there, and discover what the prices might be and when the best deals were available. When it came to actually booking the trip, customers would more often use their desktop to complete the purchase.

In some cases these two journeys could be different people — one person might be more of a browser, and the other would be a loyal customer. Other times, these two use cases could be the same person but at different stages in the customer journey. A customer could start getting inspiration for their next holiday with their family on their phone and then feel more comfortable doing the checkout and purchase, which requires entering all their information at home on their desktop computer. Mobile and other marketing channels serve different functions and are often used for different purposes, but they should work together to create a cohesive customer journey.

Q: What steps does a company need to take to start implementing a mobile marketing strategy?

A: It depends on what type of mobile marketing the company is doing. Some of the common types of strategies are mobile-responsive emails using designs and templates that render well on a smaller screen and location-based strategies. Mobile marketing can get as sophisticated as building a custom mobile app using software development kits from different companies so that it integrates with other pieces of marketing software, like a cross-channel campaign management solution or analytics solution.

When deciding on what type of mobile marketing strategy to pursue, companies need to refer back to their goals and their customers — who are the customers and what problems do they need to have solved? Then to implement the strategy, the company needs to figure out what technology will help them meet those goals.

Q: What technology is necessary for mobile marketing?

A: If you're sending text messages to your customers, you’ll need an SMS aggregator. And if you're building a native mobile app, you’ll either need to work with a partner to do that or hire developer talent in-house. If you want to build your mobile app to integrate with other things like mobile marketing technologies, mobile marketing software, or cross-channel campaign management or analytics software, you'll need to connect the data from your app.

You might also want some email rendering and proofing tools to make sure that your emails are going to look right and render perfectly, depending on whether someone's using Gmail, Outlook, or another inbox client, regardless of screen size or device type.

Q: What are common goals companies hope to achieve with mobile marketing?

A: For some businesses, like Instagram or a mobile game, the mobile app is the product. So those businesses will try to achieve goals that revolve around an action like in-app purchases. For other companies, the app serves as a support or service touchpoint. The app could be one way a customer might shop in the online store, or one avenue to receive information, like a way to check delivery times or loyalty points. Those companies might base their goals around anything from customer acquisition and building awareness to converting people to customers, retaining customers, or troubleshooting performance. They might also simply want to focus on figuring out how to best reach people in exactly the places and moments where they can take action.

Q: What mistakes do companies sometimes make with mobile marketing, and how can they avoid them?

A: One common mistake is not making sure the customer can easily move from their email to a mobile site or app. If you have a link within an email, you want to make sure that it’s on its own line, it's easily clickable, and it's obvious and noticeable to someone when it's open on a tiny screen and the customer is clicking it with a thumb. Companies also need to consider where the link directs to — will the link take the customer to a desktop version of the site, a mobile-optimized version, or a section of the mobile app already installed on the phone? Companies should think about what their goals are for the email link and what end result will best encourage the customer to take a specific action.

Many mistakes arise if companies don’t think through different scenarios, like how well a website renders in a smartphone browser or whether they need different links depending on whether someone is opening their email on desktop or mobile. They need to make sure customers are seamlessly directed to where they need to go, rather than opening an app homepage and forcing the customer to search for the relevant information. If people have to go through a lot of steps and make too much of an effort, they’re going to get frustrated and give up.

Q: What are some mobile marketing best practices?

A: First, recognize that mobile marketing is nearly always one piece of a larger business strategy and shouldn’t be the only thing companies care about. Second, take steps to make sure that all teams within a company can collaborate well. A lot of mobile teams report to the IT part of the organization or the engineering product organization, whereas many other marketing channels — like advertising, display, website, email, or offline — often report to the traditional marketing side of an organization up to the CMO. This may work best for the company, but decision-makers need to keep in mind that these silos can get in the way of collaboration. Having something like a cross-channel marketing solution that can support things like email, mobile, and offline all in the same place can bring a company together so that they're working off of the single view rather than working off in their own worlds.

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