Mobile Innovators: Q&A with Colin Billings, Growth Expert

Mobile Innovators Colin Billings

In this installment of our Mobile Innovator Series, we’re happy to share an interview with Colin Billings, growth expert and principal at Resonance Growth Consulting. Previously, Colin was part of the founding team at Stitcher, which was recently acquired by Deezer. Colin discusses how brands can embrace an omnichannel strategy, as well as which companies do a good and not-so-good job of communicating with users.

Why should brands be concerned about mobile engagement?

Brands seek to own certain critical associations inside the minds of their potential customers because these associations drive consumer choice.  As markets become more competitive, brands must seek out and engage customers with their brands in order to win and maintain ownership in this battle for consumer mindshare.

In previous eras, this battle played out during primetime TV or on the desktop web because that’s where consumers spent their free time. Today, the stage has shifted to mobile phones. People are on their phones every day interacting with hundreds of touchpoints so brands need to be there too. However, because mobile activity centers around very personal user interactions, the way that brands integrate into this experience is very different than on other mediums.

This challenge also comes with great opportunity because mobile experiences offer compelling ways to make it easier for customers to interact with your product, experience the value your service and build a deep relationship  with your brand. The more opportunity you have to increase engagement with your brand, the more likely you’re going to be top of mind when that person needs a service or product.

Think of a company like Kayak.com. Their goal is to own a customer’s association with the idea of travel planning and the best place to find the lowest fare. A potential traveler can explore and book tickets from hundreds if not thousands of different sites but because they’ve done such a great job at mobile engagement and weaving together their cross platform experience with features like fare alerts, many customers think of Kayak first and foremost when they want to book a trip.

It’s also important to understand how mobile engagement fits into your business. If you’re mobile-first, well … mobile engagement is your business. Traditional businesses have also found mobile to be effective for extending their value and even adding to it.

For traditional businesses, what are some of the challenges for getting into the mobile mindset?  

You can’t just copy what you’re doing on the desktop and expect it to deliver great results on mobile. You have to really step back and rethink what constitutes your mobile experience consists of and ensure it’s delivering an interesting or valuable service to the user that is natively mobile.

What are some effective strategies you’ve seen work for mobile engagement marketing?

Personalization makes your experience feel tailored to individual users and consumers appreciate that by repaying you with their attention. Make sure the experiences you’re delivering or the messages you’re sending really reflects your knowledge of the user. Consumers can easily discern between a “message that was meant for me” and a “message was meant for someone that is kind of like me.”

Over the last couple years, we’ve seen a real maturation in the way different mobile engagement channels appeal to users. Early on, brands and apps went heavy on push notifications through mobile but that quickly became a crowded channel with users tuning out meaningless communications. Now, mobile app marketers need to spend time considering how they are using each channel, how that channel relates to the user’s experience with their mobile property and how they are crafting their messages to be meaningful in the channel inside of which it’s reaching the consumer.

How can brands embrace an omnichannel experience? How do you find the balance between the channels?

One way of thinking about your omnichannel experience is to borrow from the practices of other industries. Think about what salesforce.com has done for sales: it acts as a central source where decision makers can see everything that’s happened with a potential customer over the lifetime of that customer’s experiences with a company.

Having a centralized space for your customers’ information will help you develop a holistic mobile engagement strategy—enabling you to deliver messages with the correct context to the consumer in the appropriate channel. Understanding which users prefer which channels is a good first step toward delivering a great omnichannel experience. Additionally, having siloed teams sending messages without working together can damage the user experience because the messages won’t feel cohesive.

You have to also be aware of the channels themselves. Push notifications are much different than email because it can be much more annoying and invasive to customers if the messages aren’t valuable. It’s a very sensitive channel.

Lyft does a great job of using an omnichannel strategy—email, SMS and push notifications—to communicate a range of messages that add value to the ride-sharing service. An arriving vehicle message will come through SMS or push notification, depending on how I prefer to engage. They also make it easy to tailor how I want to receive the messages so I feel like I have control. I don’t ever want to get receipts or loyalty notices through push or SMS, so Lyft drops that into email, which is the proper channel for that type of content.

As a counter example, I think that Nextdoor could improve its omnichannel experience because I’m getting the exact same messages via push notifications, in-app messages and in emails. As a member of their community, these experience doesn’t make me feel like they have a good understanding of where and how I want to interact with; I’m having to manage all that extra noise.

What’s some advice you can offer for mobile marketers trying to deliver a great omnichannel experience?

You have to begin with a system that has the capabilities to power the experience you want to deliver. It’s better to make those decisions early on but if you are integrating a tool later, make sure you’re able to connect the data from your users’ behaviors into your mobile engagement platform.

Be very observant how brands communicate with their apps. Download as many as you can and start writing down which ones are doing good things and which ones are making mistakes.

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