At next Tuesday's OMMA Mobile show in L.A., "Strike Up the Brands," we will be bringing you executives from Adidas, ING Direct, Buick, Paramount, Sony, ESPN, VISA, and Honda to discuss how their brands are engaging the mobile opportunity. That we were able to bring together so many brand marketers from across such a range of categories underscores just how serious brands are getting and have gotten about the platform.
Also encouraging is a new project from the CMO Council called "Engage at Every Stage." This project from the association of 5,000 CMOs is exploring ways in which mobile can be used by brands in a new model they are calling "Mobile Relationship Marketing." Rather than focus on individual campaigns, the CMO Council wants to develop a set of best practices and perhaps even a platform through which brands can have persistent presence in their customers' everyday lives. Mobile is the key.
As CMO Council Executive Director Donovan Neale-May explained it to me the other day, "It is an ongoing sustained interaction using the mobile channel." He envisions a platform by which mobile becomes a driver for loyalty and rewards programs that truly engage the user and put them in persistent contact with the brand. "It is not just about driving sales but about usage, participation in a community, submitting content ideas and images so there could be a plethora of interactive components where people build points and redeem points for rewards." The CMO Council is also working with the Mobile Marketing Association to survey marketers, test platforms and assemble best practices.
The CMO Council has already had conversations about MRM with over a dozen CMOs representing everything from media to mass transit, packaged goods to online retail. The idea is to find ways to give consumers genuine value for engaging with a brand in a way that creates a real communications loop. In the past loyalty and rewards programs have been hampered by little bottlenecks like people not even remembering to engage with the program, or not having an easy at-hand way to get credits.
Neale-May expects mobile to be the tool that helps CMOs get over that hurdle. "We are looking to rewarding people for everything from providing commentary and feedback to riding a mass transit system to more destinations." He sees mobile social activity as one of the things that helps activate consumers to engage with brands. But he also suggests that ultimately brands could band together to make their rewards programs cross-brand compatible. "We do see a future where there is a common rewards currency, potentially the advent of a coalition of programs where you can apply currency across every country."
The CMO Council believes that mobile can help improve a loyalty and rewards channel that could be costly to implement and easy to neglect. A survey of its members revealed that 61% of marketers believe that loyalty program participants are the most profitable customers -- and yet only 13% of the respondents said that their own companies are very effective in leveraging the model. The average household has-sign ups for 14 such programs but only actively participates in six of them, according to Carlson Research and as quoted in a recent white paper on MRM from the CMO Council and mobile marketer Planet Oi. Current loyalty programs tend to capture a small slice of clientele, many of whom are already well-vested in the brand anyway. By using mobile social platforms to streamline the loyalty process and making it more enaging, the Council think MRM will ensure "continuous customer touch."
While I have no idea if the broader ambitions of a cross-brand rewards platform will ever be realized, the basic thrust of this effort seems correct. Mobile changes the dynamic between a brand and its customers. The personal and intimate nature of the device doesn't just invite, but frankly demands, "relationship marketing" in reality -- not just via the usual marketer-speak lip service. The CMO Council appears to be reaching beyond campaign marketing and even beyond the usual loyalty program models.
Done well, mobile loyalty/rewards programs will not just redeem bottle cap codes for points, but recognize that any activity, effort, information, interaction a user has with or on behalf of a brand should be acknowledged and rewarded. A true value exchange begins with the proposition that the consumer herself, her willingness to engage, and her invitation to let you onto her phone deck, are all valued by the marketer. Mobile platforms don't just "extend" campaigns and messages. They truly change the conversation altogether.