Here’s a headline: Mobile is kind of a big deal, and that means if you don’t have a successful mobile strategy already, whether you know it or not, your customers are leaving you and going somewhere else.

 As I start to write this, I am on an airplane on the way to the National Retail Federation’s big show in the Big Apple.  Just sitting here I can see successful mobile strategies being executed all around me.  Even just within this flying tube, I am bewildered by the ubiquity of mobile in the lives of today’s consumer.  I literally cannot see a person around me not using a mobile device.  Many (like me) have multiple devices open at the same time.

Whether they are checking email, reading their favorite sites, shopping, entertaining, you name it; mobile is such an integral part of people’s lives that the act of carrying and using mobile devices is hardly even noticed anymore.  It’s as much a part of life as breathing air.  Each of these interactions is due to a successful mobile strategy executed by any number of companies (on both the hardware and software side).

However, the number of companies doing well in mobile is still, frustratingly, in the minority.  So if you are one of them, you must by now be focused on building a mobile strategy that works for your business and figuring out how to start executing against it. If you aren’t, you are at least asking how to get started.  Great question.  Let’s discuss!

The five-point plan to a successful mobile strategy

Like most problems, building a successful mobile strategy is not as hard as it may seem.  It’s largely made up of two ingredients: Common sense and the ability to look at the world through your customers’ eyes, not your own.  Still, it helps to have a plan, so I have broken it down into 5 distinct steps.

Step 1: Look at your overall business before worrying about mobile strategy

 A successful mobile strategy is one that connects your customer to your business in a way that adds or enhances value.  A successful mobile strategy is also a seamless part of your overall business strategy so unless you are a brand new mobile only business, your business existed before mobile and you should start there.  Start by understanding how your customer experience is today.  How engaging are your retail stores? How often do customers come to them and for what reason?  Why do they choose to go to your store instead of shop online or call your contact center?

Your store is one of your greatest drivers of your brand and your customer relationship.  Understanding the key value proposition they provide in your business model is critical to your mobile strategy.  Your mobile experience and marketing will drive customers to your stores, it will be used to enhance and augment the in-store experience for product information, price comparison, inventory checking, sharing the experience with their network, you name it.

Spend time walking your stores, talk to your customers, see ho they try to use mobile today.  You will quickly come away with use cases that will drive your strategy and your initial list of features and functionality to consider.

Don’t stop at your stores though.  Spend time in your contact center listening to customer calls.  Why are they calling?  You will be surprised at what you here.  Most calls today are related directly to pain points your customers are having with either your website or your retail store.  Sure, some still call directly to purchase without using any other channels, but those are few and far between.  Your contact center is a treasure trove of relevance, a cornerstone to any good mobile and marketing plan.

Step 2: Look at your analytics

This takes us to step two.  If you listen to your analytics, they will scream opportunities for a fantastic mobile experience at you.  There are three areas to look closely at: web analytics, marketing analytics and customer analytics.

Your web analytics are invaluable in telling you how customers are trying to use your website today.  Obviously, they are accessing this on their mobile device today so understanding what areas of the site they go to on mobile devices, how they get there and what they attempt to do is critical.  If you can identify the top activities they are trying to perform, you will quickly have a list of top priorities to consider.  Mobile experiences rarely are successful if they try to replicate every single thing that is on a desktop website.  They two experiences are just too different.

Find out what your customers are using your website for on their mobile device and figure out how to make that experience faster, simpler, more sharable, or whatever the key metric is for you and your customer.   More often than not, successful mobile strategies are about less, not more.  Listening to your analytics will tell you what you can remove in order to allow what remains to be highly focused and beneficial to your customer.

Your marketing analytics will tell you several key things in determining your strategy.  Knowing where and how your customers find you will tell you a lot about what they likely want from you.  If social is a big traffic driver for you, odds are having an inherently social mobile experience will be well received (and let’s face it, all businesses are social by nature).  Understanding how many marketing channels customers interact with before doing business with you is also very telling and informs you not only of how to market your new mobile experience, but what they don’t find from you today that they go somewhere else to find.  If you don’t have good product descriptions, shipping information, or enough product images, you will find customers going to affiliates, search, comparison-shopping sites etc. looking to find this information.  If you can provide it, you can grab more customers, spend less marketing dollars and have a better mobile experience.

Your customer analytics are the most crucial.  Understanding who your customers are and what their behaviors are will drive a great deal of your strategy.  How often do they purchase from you in a year?  How many products do they buy when they make an order?    Do they ship to themselves, or to others?  Do they buy at the same, or regular intervals?  Do they pay with credit cards or via PayPal or other service?  Do they tend to repeat things, providing an opportunity for one-click purchasing, gift lists, or streamlined product merchandising?

Once you have a good feel for how many purchases they will make in a year, what their lifetime value is, how they tend to purchase and what types of offers or marketing messaging they respond to, you are ready to for the next step.

Step 3: Talk to your customers:

We’ve already mentioned this in the first few steps, but you can never talk to your customers enough.  Once you have gathered feedback from your contact center and talked to customers in stores, it’s time to step up the game.  Surveys, focus groups and testing are critical components not to be skipped.

Surveys can be quickly and easily executed from big service providers like Foresee, to free tools like Survey Monkey.  Providing a small incentive to customers to complete short surveys can give fantastic insights.  Keep surveys short, 3-6 questions and make the questions open.  You don’t want to run a survey structured to simply give you the predetermined answer you already want.  Let them speak and be heard.

Focus groups are the most overlooked yet potentially most valuable tool you have in building a mobile strategy.  Focus groups tend to fall from the project list because they are seen as expensive and unwieldy to manage with everything else going on in your business.  Ever heard the phrase “An ounce of prevention”?  Well, believe it.  It is hard to think of a more valuable place to spend some of those limited funds.  Focus groups will do just that: focus.  Narrowing in on what your customers want eliminates needless coding, project work and maintenance and raises customer satisfaction and sales to boot.

Step 4: Think out of the box.  Literally.

Now that you have all the data and have reviewed the business, comes the hard part.  I strongly believe that no great mobile strategy was ever conceived sitting in a boardroom, in a room full of cubicles, or during some weekly management meeting.

Take all that learning, get it to your teams, and set them free to innovate.  Taking that knowledge out of the office, into the real world will deliver better results every time.  This is where you match the customer needs with the business knowledge you have.  Get them out of the box that is your office.

Give your team a series of challenges, gleaned from your customer feedback and force them outside to try to solve them. Send them home, send them on the street, put them in cars, get them into malls…get them doing what your customers do.  They will come back with a fresh perspective on your business and great ideas for solutions that fit your customer feedback and the practicalities of your business.

Step 5: Make the hard decisions

Now comes the hard part:  Making the touch decisions and looking in the mirror.

Does your business really have a strong mobile use case?  Not all businesses do today.  If you only interact with a customer once a year for a one-item purchase, it’s going to be difficult to build a mobile strategy that goes beyond a single transaction.  That may be OK, but it will help you focus on what is going to work for your business.  Alternatively, it will make you redefine your business to find a way to be relevant.

This is critical in understanding the App vs. mobile site strategy.  Unless your mobile experience is going to be so engaging as to get regular interaction from customers, a mobile app is probably a bad strategy.  Focusing on a mobile optimized site that centers on your learning from above may be a more successful, and less costly strategy.

Regardless of which direction you go, know that a successful mobile strategy is just like a successful business strategy.  You are never done with it.  To steal from my favorite movie: Once you start down a path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

Of course the real journey just gets started at this point.  The hardest decisions will be ahead.  What makes it in and out of scope, what platforms to support, what technologies to use and how to turn your new mobile strategy into a marketing strategy all lay ahead, but we’ll talk about that soon.

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