Mobility, Brand Humility, And A New Customer Relationship

When we started the OMMA Mobile series seven years ago, the point was not just to follow the agencies, the marketers and the users onto yet another new platform. In just the first few shows, and the first year of Mobile Insider columns on the topic, a theme emerged to the programming and the writing. Mobile represented more than another smaller screen. Its size, portability, intimacy and more would force marketers to interact differently with consumers than they ever had before. The medium was not in itself transformative so much as it coalesced a series of forces that had been at work in media, marketing and culture for many years. More targeted and niche media, segmentation, interactivity, connectivity, personalized media and marketing, more direct access to consumers -- all had been evolving across multiple media platforms for years. But the phone amplified these forces and made it imperative that marketers do more than pay lip service to these larger shifts.

No kidding, this time -- marketing really did need to start providing service rather than pitches. They really needed to start working at a smaller scale to reach more target segments with a goal of engagement not reach and frequency. They needed to let the consumer take the lead in showing how, when and where they wanted brands to be there.

For years we heard marketers talk the talk without really walking the walk. Listening to the customer, being mobile first, providing service and value, pursuing engagement -- all of these quickly became jibber jabber at countless conferences, including some of our own. It was less clear whether and how these marketers really were executing on the clichés.

At yesterday’s OMMA Mobile, the seventh anniversary edition, I finally came away with the feeling at least some brands really were walking the walk now.

Let me just cherrypick some of my favorite glimpses into this.

Dunkin Brands’ President, Global Marketing and Innovation John Costello opened the show by asking marketers whether they were really being honest with themselves and “have the courage to change what is not working.” Dunkin' Donuts had to recognize that its core product was no longer in the brand name itself. It was coffee, not donuts, that drove the business. And even more to the point, Costello admitted that the customer knew better how to market Dunkin' than Dunkin'. They harvested tweets and images posted by customers about their Dunkin' experience and turned them inhto TV spots. “Sharing our customers’ love of Dunkin' is more powerful than anything we can do,” he said.

In fact, this was a theme throughout the day yesterday. More than a few brands were marrying mobile and social platforms to make the customers the star, not the brand. Dunkin has a Fan of the Week. Likewise we heard how GoPro, Lilly Pultizer, and the Philadelphia Eagles all turned the spotlight on users who then in turn activated their social networks to brag about being singled out by these famous brands.

But even more impressive is how it became clearer that marketers (some at least) really are listening to consumers by leveraging the mobile data to deepen understanding. 1800Flowers’ Amit Shah declared outright that “mobile offers disruptive data.” In his case their data showed that mobile users were accessing their service late into the night, long after florists were closed. It forced them to think harder about what the journey to purchase really is for users and to devise ways to capture those potential buyers. “We need to think about situational targeting. Even if stores are closed, customers are still on a journey. When you get down to customer context you get to the harder questions.”

Citi’s head of Internet Banking Melissa Stevens recounted how they heavily tested their new Snapshot features that puts basic account information above the login stage of their app. She described an interactive process whereby they had data from consumers about wanting easier more streamlined access to their information. But it was Citi that turned the data into an insight and solution that they provided in a Southern California test market. This was not a common thing for Citi to do. But the cycle of ideation, insight, testing, refinement and iteration is being built into the app evolution process.

Which is another way of saying that mobile at last is allowing and making marketers come into closer contact with their customers, listen harder, and think about how they fit realistically into people’s lives.

My suspicion is that the mobile platform itself is forcing some of these issues. When you look hard and honestly at how people make use of your brand, need your brand, couldn’t care less about your brand, minute by minute throughout a day, you get a more accurate and perhaps humbling view of where the brand really fits into everyday lives. That true picture may not always fit in with marketers’ fantasies about themselves and consumer brand love. But it can also be the foundation of a more genuine and useful relationship.

Videos of all keynotes and panels from yesterday's event are online

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