One of the great parts of being a parent is that your children reacquaint you with the games of your youth. Recently, this happened to me at our block party when my kids joined an impromptu game of Freeze Tag on a neighbor’s lawn. You remember Freeze Tag, right? Avoid the touch of the kid who’s “It” or find yourself frozen in place until another competitor taps you back to life. Yes, the punishment in this game is that you’re immobilized while everyone around you runs around, free as the breeze.
As I watched my kids’ game unfold, I was struck by how we unwittingly play Freeze Tag today as adults. On any given day, over half of the mobile subscribers in the United States run around with smartphones in hand. Empowered by these devices, they do anything and everything they can with them until BAM!—they’re frozen by the tap of an unresponsive network, a glitchy app or a website that isn’t optimized for mobile. Such “frozen moments” are a source of tremendous frustration for many mobile users, but perhaps not more so than the mobile traveler.
According to a new report from eMarketer, the big three online booking sites—Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity—are seeing anywhere from 50%-70% of their same-day hotel bookings made via mobile channels. Moreover, 30% of all online travel researchers are now conducting their research on a smartphone. Immobilize these consumers, and they will undoubtedly take their business to the next website or app that doesn’t freeze them up.
So how can you avoid freezing out mobile consumers? Here are a few tips:
1. Mobilize Web Before Apps
Mobile website or mobile app? It seems to be the marketing question of our day, but, all things being equal, I fall squarely on the side of building and optimizing your mobile website before dabbling in app development. Anyone with a smartphone can immediately connect with your mobile website through their browser. An app, however, requires consumers to find, download, and open your app to engage with it. Why force so many steps on the consumer when a simple URL will do?
2. Avoid Flash
According to Nielsen, the Apple iOS is used by 32% of smartphone owners in the U.S. It is widely known that Apple iOS does not support Flash elements of any kind, so if your mobile website still uses Flash, it is not mobile. Fix this immediately.
3. Test All Links on Mobile Devices
Here’s a pet peeve of mine that continues to happen time and time again. I receive an email from a travel-related company. I open the email on my smartphone. I click on a link in the email which opens my mobile browser. The site detects that I’m a mobile visitor and, instead of taking me to my desired destination, opens up the mobile website home page. I’m then trapped on the mobile site with no way to reach the link that was promoted in the email. Arrrrrgh!!!!
According to ReturnPath, year-over-year email opens on mobile devices grew 82.4% and are on pace to surpass both desktop and website email views. You must, therefore, test that your links work in the mobile environment. If you have a mobile website, this means that each and every link in your email—including the unsubscribe link—must resolve to the specific destination page and not the mobile home page. Fail to do this and you’re alienating the entire mobile email audience you’ve worked so diligently to build.
4. Make Sure Apps Offer More Than the Mobile Website
While I’m a mobile website first guy, I definitely see the value of mobile apps in travel marketing—but only when they offer information, resources, tools or an experience that is superior to what the website can offer. The last thing you want to do is launch a subpar app with glitches that tanks in the app store reviews. Good candidates for value-added apps are loyalty programs, booking apps, travel guides, games, and unique resources—just make sure your budget also includes money to promote the app to build an audience. With over 650,000 apps in the Apple App Store alone, the days of “build it and they will come” are long gone.
5. Continue to Offer SMS Alerts
While the majority of mobile subscribers in the U.S. now have smartphones, we must not forget our “dumbphone” (i.e., feature phone) brethren. Both audiences continue to be very receptive to receiving SMS alerts from travel companies—especially when they add value to the travel experience. Also consider SMS for short-term communications around your guests’ stay. SMS programs sometimes works best with consumers when it has a stated beginning and end.
6. Improve Wi-Fi Connectivity
This should go without saying, but the bandwidth needs of mobile consumers are only going to go up in coming years. If you’re a travel brand with physical spaces, wi-fi improvement should be a permanent line item on your budget in coming years. The deciding factor is no longer whether you offer wi-fi, it’s how fast and reliable the connection is that you provide.
Since we’re still in the early days of the great mobile migration, it’s inevitable that we will unwittingly “freeze” mobile consumers on occasion. The question is whether your brand will not only work to fix issues as they arise but also anticipate mobile consumer needs in ways that create competitive advantage. That’s called freezing out the competition. And that’s a very profitable game.