Commentary

Context And The Humanizing Of The Brand: Our Summit Video Show Reel

We were graced at this week's Mobile Insider Summit with about the best lineup of presentations from brand marketers that we have ever hosted. The Gap, Hillshire Farms, GE, 7-Eleven and 1-800-Flowers all helped us explore through examples and candid sharing of their learnings how targeting user contexts is changing everything for their companies.

We teased it out in the setup for this event: Mastering Mobility, The Year of Contextual Marketing. The concept here is that mobility is a broader concept than “mobile” as we have been discussing it in the first stages of post-PC media and marketing. Mobility shifts the focus away from targeting screens, devices, and operating systems toward targeting user contexts, use cases, need states, and specific behaviors. In fact, one of the interesting themes that emerged from this Summit was defining ”context” in more complex ways. It may at times denote physical place, but it can also indicate the place a user is in the path to purchase, what mood he or she is in, the mode they are in, and of course, their own history of use and even previous relationship to the brand.

In many ways this exploration of “context” is a more sophisticated and concrete evolution of last year’s “customer first” trope. Contextual marketing is where we see mobility accessing and surfacing the true complexity of the user experience and their relationship to the brand.

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Tricia Nichols, global lead of consumer engagement, media innovation and partnerships for Gap Brand, kicked off the Summit by going to the heart of the matter: mobility changes the relationship to the consumer and requires a strategy that gets beyond the usual channel-based media plan. She urged fellow marketers to embrace what she called “brand bonding” and “consumer planning” rather than media planning.


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Being a CPG brand trying to leverage mobile in a universe of retailers and third parties also targeting the shopper is not easy. As David Ervin of Hillshire Farms and Liz Ross of BPN NA explored, the category has been reticent and slow about mobile because of risk. Their metaphor of a “Boiled Frog” is not to be missed, as it describes the risk of missing tectonic changes because they happen slowly. Ervin talks about creating a more “human experience” with a brand, very much extending some of the concepts Tricia initiated. Mobility and contextual marketing means having a more human relationship with consumers.


Video streaming by Ustream

GE’s Paul Marcum went beyond discussing his and his brand’s magnificent Vine videos. He showed what the company is doing with Instagram and a new platform called Tapestry. What is an appliance maker and jet engine builder doing making cute and cool mobile social content? It is about having a core brand story that can be embodied in many ways on new platforms. Invention is the story theme. Vine series like 6SecondScience embody inventiveness. Paul said part of his job is to help GE get beyond its former label as “conglomerate.” In other words -- making it more human. And the most intimate and human of media, mobile, is one of the most important venues.


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Getting brands to speak candidly about what they have done wrong as well as right on an emerging platform is one of the toughest sell jobs I have in recruiting marketers to share their stories at these events. When it comes to mobile, most brands feel unprepared and generally shy about extolling tactics and strategies that are necessarily incomplete. Stephen Kinch, senior product manager, mobile, 7-Eleven, was a welcome exception. He talked us through the four lessons he learned by iterating the 7-Eleven app and coming to understand what users wanted from his brand and what they didn’t. Along the way he got surprised. Some of the early mobile iterations got slammed for not supporting earlier versions of Android and for downtimes that the IT team couldn’t detect. But he also discovered that the negative feedback with consumers established relationships with users that helped them troubleshoot new iterations.


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Almost all of our marketers at the Summit broached the thorny question of how a mobile ecosystem that demands constant iteration and getting beyond channel-based thinking can be a tough sell internally. Amit Shah, who leads mobile at 1-800-Flowers, helped cap off the three-day Summit by addressing this issue head on. His presentation on “Hacking Mobility” showed how his company is actually staging regular rigorous “experience hackathons” to develop and troubleshoot new approaches to consumers involving multiple departments. Each hackathon focuses on a specific element of the user interface with the brand. Take a look at how these exercises resulted in tweaks to the 1-800-Flowers mobile experience that had substantial lifts in sales.


Video streaming by Ustream

I can’t remember a cast of marketers who so fully embraced the theme of one of our conferences and advanced the conversation about it. They demonstrated that “context” is not just this year’s buzzword. It has real implications once we unpack its potential meanings on the basic relationship brands have with consumers. It forces marketers to respond to the heightened intimacy of these devices and their omnipresence in people’s lives with more human interactions. We have spent years alluding to how mobile “changes everything.” I think many of these presentations start showing us in more concrete terms exactly how that is going to happen. 

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