Too many marketers are chasing the mobile equivalent of whatever’s new and shiny instead of accounting for how customers actually use their devices, according to technology-based consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. – and the company has the numbers to prove it.

Instead of using their mobile efforts to augment existing user experiences such as text messages and Google searches, an alarming number of marketing teams focus on tactics with poor conversion rates, such as apps, while ignoring high-performing avenues such as email, mobile-optimized websites, SMS messages, and push notifications, author Thomas Husson writes in Forrester’s “The State of Mobile Marketing Tactics 2016” report, published on March 21.

“Too few marketers think of mobile as an opportunity to transform the brand experience,” he writes. “There is a disconnect between the tactics they employ and the mobile behaviors and expectations of consumers. The result? Marketers are over-investing in tactics that ‘check the box’ on mobile and underinvesting in key mobile touchpoints.”

Underpinning Forrester’s report is a list of the most popular mobile marketing tools, which the company gauged by surveying 215 professionals on its Marketing and Strategy Research Panel between May and September 2015.

The top mobile tactics used by marketers (Forrester)
The top 10 mobile tactics used by marketers (Forrester). Note that apps are near the top, while push notifications don’t even make the list.

Husson and his team then proceed to analyze the list by dividing the most popular and effective tactics (which frequently aren’t one and the same) into a series of mobile marketing “do”s and “don’t”s.

What mobile marketers get wrong

They embrace responsive web design (RWD) without thinking about context

Only nine per cent of marketers we surveyed weren’t not planning to use RWD, which involves optimizing websites for viewing across the widest variety of platforms possible, Husson writes, making it 2015’s most common mobile marketing tactic by far.

Yet too many use it as a quick fix, he writes, ignoring the fact that customers don’t necessarily want the same content spread across all their screens.

“However, a scarily high percentage of marketers we surveyed — 47 per cent — admit their mobile services are primarily a scaled-down version of their PC services,” he writes.

Think context, not content (Forrester)
Think context, not content (Forrester)

They under-invest in mobile web searches

With 37 per cent of U.S. smartphone owners using search engines every day and more than half of Google search requests taking place on mobile devices, Husson finds it surprising that only 37 per cent of marketers used mobile paid search and only 34 per cent used mobile search optimization last year, and that 43 per cent said they spent less than $100,000 USD on mobile searches in 2015.

“Many B2C marketers forget that mobile plays a strong role in acquiring customers in the discovery and explore phases of the customer life cycle,” he writes.

They under-optimize mobile email

It might be one of the oldest communication devices online, but 53 per cent of U.S. smartphone owners send or check personal email at least once a day on mobile devices, Husson writes – a potentially lucrative audience that many marketers choose to ignore: only 46 per cent of respondents regularly use mobile-optimized email, he writes.

“Here again, this is not just about scaling down the content to fit into the smaller screen,” he writes. “This is about contextualizing and personalizing the message based on when and where users open email.”

They dismiss proven mobile tactics in favour of the latest popular trends

Mobile marketers may have jumped onto the app bandwagon, but few have created apps that are used on a regular basis, Husson writes, while 45 per cent are using and 39 per cent plan to test or use technologies such as beacons or 2D barcodes that have limited reach.

Meanwhile, only 23 per cent of marketers and digital business executives use push notifications – a key tactic for optimizing app use, he writes – and only 39 per cent use SMS, which may not be “sexy” but has an exceptionally large global reach.

“Apps have access to sensor information that can inform marketers about your situation and location,” Husson writes. For example, “Gatorade is sending branded information to opt-in users to timely reward them for their physical efforts.”

What they can do right instead

They can be more ambitious in addressing mobile customers’ higher expectations

The majority of marketers still view mobile as a subdigital channel, yet it’s producing the largest shift in consumer behaviour in years: customers now expect to receive value whenever they engage with a company through one of its mobile channels, and feel increasingly frustrated if it does not deliver.

Yet only 36 per cent of marketers have used mobile to transform their digital customer experience, and only 17 per cent have used it to transform their offline customer experience, Husson writes.

Few marketers use mobile to transform the customer experience
Few marketers use mobile to transform the customer experience (Forrester)

They can go beyond mobile formats and combine context with personalized targeting

Optimizing content to render on a mobile screen is not enough, Husson writes. Instead, marketers must truly optimize for mobile by combining context-relevant content, personalized targeting, and integrated mobile ad formats into one experience.

“Forrester recently interviewed the person in charge of orchestrating mobile at an apparel brand, and she was adamant: ‘I am the only one trying to connect the dots, but out of a team of 60 people dedicated to digital, every one of them will tell you they are including mobile in their plans. This is simply not true,'” he writes. “Marketers should urgently adapt digital channels for mobile to address the masses.”

Once you have a base mobile strategy in place, use advanced strategies to reach early adopters

Shiny objects have their place. While QR codes, beacon-based Wi-Fi, and augmented or virtual reality might not have significant reach yet, they’re worth monitoring – once marketers have covered the basics.

“Only mature mobile marketers, having already fixed the basics and willing to differentiate, should leverage these tactics to engage with the most mobile-savvy consumers,” Husson writes. “Starbucks and Domino’s Pizza are the poster children for this tactic and tend to integrate every single new mobile technology available. However, they have advanced mobile marketing and CRM strategies and have organized to deliver real-time contextual services.”

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