Commentary

Mobile CRM: Just Imagine You Are Talking To Someone Who Doesn't Really Want to Talk

"What do you want for Christmas?"

"To see my daughter every once in a while?"

"Sorry -- you know I am working a lot."

And what doesn't fit in the weekly flurries of text exchanges with my daughter is that she is also taking very seriously turning 18 and relegating Dad to "as needed" communications for now (I trust). She would like to think otherwise, but this has been her pattern since she could walk. She used to hang way back from me in shopping malls to exert her independence -- and then panic suddenly if she lost sight of me as I let her keep her distance. Passersby used to think she was an abandoned child, and I would have to scurry back and retrieve her whenever an adult starter circling out of concern. But this was just an "independence dance" she learned early on. Now if I neglect to answer her SMS in an hour, I get a "WTF Dad did you turn your phone off?" Stay away.... Hey, where did you go?

She has discovered what I like to call SMS PRM: Parental Relationship Management via mobile messaging. That tether-like tie a text message allows a modern kid (sorry -- "adult" child) may be maddening to the parent, but it is the very model of CRM for brands:  keep your distance, don't smother, check in to show you care, let them come to you.

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Consumers may be more willing to engage in a productive mobile relationship with their favorite brands than they or the brands are aware. According to the latest iteration of Hipcricket's annual Mobile Marketing Survey, only 9% of consumers recall that their favorite brands have marketed to them via mobile. And yet 35% of them say they would be interested in participating in something like a mobile loyalty program that included promotions and information. And among those who have joined a mobile loyalty program, 90% felt they had gotten value from those programs.

Well, the sample is small, especially once you get down to the 9% who have joined a mobile club of some sort. But I would add that personally, the experience of subscribing to brands like Urban Outfitters, Paramount Pictures, Famous Footwear, etc. have been a bit like my daughter's current SMS relationship with her Dad: a tether-like connection that is helpful without being overbearing. In fact, I actually miss a mobile club that Borders Books used to run because it delivered the company's regular member discounts directly to my phone.

But according to Hipcricket, which of course specializes in mobile CRM for major brands like Arby's, there is an enormous untapped opportunity in these mobile programs. This survey found that 84% of mobile customers have not yet participated in a mobile loyalty program, even though actual interest in such programs is much higher than that. Someone in the marketing loop is not getting the message out there to users that their brands are waiting for customer to sign up, or the brands themselves are just not ready to offer and maintain real mobile CRM.   

The term "relationship'" is bandied about so often now in marketing parlance that I am not sure it is taken seriously enough as a word and a concept. But whenever I consider the mobile CRM program I use, the natural terminology is highly personal. Almost all of the programs I have elected to keep on my phone are polite enough to leave me alone most of the time. Even the brands that are only tangentially interesting to me, get to stay on my phone because they are not so much of a bother anyway. The brands I have excised are almost always the ones that sent me just one message too many too often, even if the messages were relevant.

I imagine there is a low threshold among mobile subscribers for pulling the trap door on marketers' clubs and sending the universal "stop command." The safeguard against cancellation is to ensure that value is delivered with every message. I found Paramount and Famous Footwear are modestly effective in this regard. Paramount generally is offering more than a trailer and a notice of the weekend opener. It will offer a free download and a direct link to tickets. Famous Footwear not only notifies me of deals, but then offers an additional discount for using a mobile code.   

But I think some of these marketers are still missing the point of mobile by not offering me more. Letting a brand onto your phone and giving it the permission to contact you on the same channel your daughter uses to communicate with you is a new and different level of intimacy - one that should be acknowledged, through both polite restraint of messaging and special rewards for mobile subscribers. The customers are looking for this added value, I think. The Hipcricket survey found that 38% of respondents are at least somewhat interested in receiving mobile coupons, and that is up substantially from the 18% last year.

Lack of opportunity is no real excuse for brands not to try engaging users in ongoing mobile relationships. This study also found 53% of mobile customers had used their phones to access a retailer's Web site, and 30% interacted with a brand in some way via their cell phone. Somewhere in these exchanges, marketers should be offering to be of help to that user on an ongoing basis through an SMS sign-up. Using mobile media to touch customers without giving them the opportunity to stick with you is like leaving a voice mail without your return number or clocking caller ID. And mobile Web usage is skyrocketing. Hipcricket also found that 70% of mobile users are now accessing the mobile Web at least once a day, up from 21% a year ago.

The challenge is no longer getting users accustomed to the data channel on a mobile platform. The challenge is knowing how to talk to them. 

It has to be a damn sight easier than learning how to talk to a stubbornly independent 18-year-old who wants to stay only so much in touch -- but never out of touch. But CRM on mobile may actually look a lot like that kind of relationship.

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