What Makes a Good Mobile Strategy? Event Recap from CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit 2015

Innovation and disruption are hot topics, and perhaps nowhere more so than in mobile technology. Globally, mobile revenues are estimated to account for just 1% of total retailer revenues, but figures like this miss most of the picture. Mobile has significant spillover effect on sales through other channels and mobile is undoubtedly more efficient with regard to marketing than comparable email or paper mailing programmes. The importance of this trend is only going to grow in the years to come, so it is critical that retailers and restaurants have a plan for the mobile shift.

Developing an effective mobile strategy was the theme of CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit 2015, held in Chicago on 18-19 August 2015. At this event, speakers, panelists and attendees from across the retail, restaurant and payment landscape exchanged insights and ideas about how to get, keep and grow consumers’ attention in the mobile space.

No one-size-fits-all solutions…

A common theme across panels and speakers was the idea that there is no perfect mobile strategy. A good mobile programme will look different industry to industry and company to company. First, audiences are not uniform. Millennials are by no means the only generation interacting with brands via their smartphones, but they are an important group and do behave differently on mobile than others. Millennials, for example, are more willing to give out personal information in exchange for benefits, according to Michelle Evans, panel participant and Digital Consumer Manager at Euromonitor International. Still, within the millennial age bracket are a wide variety of consumers, from college students to young professionals to parents, all with different interests and needs. A clear understanding of the target audience is critical.

Another factor is that what works in one market may not be successful in another. Within the retailing sphere, retailer-based apps are more common in the US, while platforms like WeChat run away with the market in other countries. As noted by panellist Gaurav Pant, principal analyst at EKN Research, complexity is a deterrent in the US but a draw in other markets. Mobile payments provide another example. Multiple speakers contrasted the prevalence of mobile payments in markets like South Korea and China with the US, where mobile payments remain niche, despite comparable levels of smartphone penetration.

On the app side, the ideal design and even number of apps a brand offers varies depending on the company and the target consumer, according to keynote speaker and panellist Ryan Craver, SVP of Strategy and Emerging Brands at Lamour Inc. Companies with one core service, such as consumer foodservice brands and retailers with a centralised offer, just need one brand-specific app and to participate on third-party platforms like Amazon and eBay. For companies with multiple service streams, “decoupling” functionalities into several different apps may make more sense. The main example of this discussed at the summit was Target, which, in addition to offering a general Target app, maintains separate apps for gift registries, pharmacy operations and its loyalty programme Cartwheel. This allows Target to focus its content towards different groups, ensuring the app and message remains as relevant as possible. Separating functionalities also allows for sleeker apps and more intuitive app design.

…but some guiding principles

First, it is important for all players in all industries to be present across all mobile channels. In his keynote speech, Ryan Craver explained that several years ago when people asked if it was more important to have a mobile app or a mobile-optimised website, the answer was both. Now brand owners ask which is most important, a mobile app, a mobile site or mobile platforms such as Amazon’s marketplace and online foodservice Seamless – and the answer is still the same. It is tempting to believe there is “one app to rule them all” – to borrow a phrase used throughout the event describing an app that outperforms all others in the landscape – but such a super app doesn’t exist in the US. The way to win the mobile strategy game is to operate in all mobile channels, ignoring none. This will power not just mobile sales, but also generate positive crossover effects for non-mobile channels, including brick-and-mortar stores.

Another frequent theme was the idea that, even in light of the functionality and capabilities of apps, hardware still matters. Good Wi-Fi in stores, airports and restaurant locations will motivate consumers to download and use the location’s app. Hardware can also be both a drag and a driving force when it comes to mobile payments. Google Wallet failed to gain acceptance in part because, when it launched in 2011, few smartphones had the NFC chips required to make Google Wallet transactions work. Now, nearly all smartphones sold today have them. By contrast, the EMV chip transition may give mobile payments a boost, since, as Verifone director and panellist Drago Dzerve observed, it takes much longer to process an EMV-enabled card than to swipe a traditional magnetic strip card.

Build meaningful mobile

The central theme of the summit was that it is easy to get customers to download an app – what is challenging is keeping them from deleting it. “Being in touch too often” or “simply irrelevant to the brand’s core mobile audience” were cited as two of the most common ways to get deleted from a consumer’s phone. The fact that a strategy or technology works well for one brand is no guarantee it will work for another. As a result, brands are best off thinking carefully about their end user, whether that is a consumer or an employee, and designing their strategy around that audience.