The Current State of Mobile Marketing and What to Expect in 2018

February 2, 2018         By: Jack Philbin

Marketers are continually reaching for new ways to reach their target audiences and build stickier relationships with their customers. Mobile marketing is the key to unlocking these highly personalized experiences that build brand loyalty and drive more revenue.

Pew Research says that more than three-quarters of Americans now own a smartphone. With that number on the rise, consumers’ appetites for interacting with brands on their mobile devices have also increased.

Brand marketers from all industries and segments have realized this opportunity and now investing in holistic mobile marketing strategies. Consumers have come to expect this real-time, one-to-one interaction, and the message for businesses and marketers this year is clear: go mobile or go home.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen trends and technology move at lightning speeds. Here’s my take on the current state of mobile marketing and where I see it going in 2018.


Messaging: An Oft-Forgotten Goldmine

Even I’m overwhelmed by the wealth of digital marketing channels. The market saturation, duplication of solutions and promise of platforms create a lot of analysis paralysis. Under-resourced marketing teams often get caught up in seemingly more demanding channels, like ecommerce platforms. As a result, mobile marketing becomes an afterthought, or is lumped into a broader strategy.

What they have yet to realize is that marketing through mobile messaging– especially text messaging marketing – can be a goldmine when a strong mobile strategy is aligned with greater business goals.

As mobile’s first form of messaging, SMS provided the initial glimpse into the power of messaging, with its ability to deliver information instantly and be read by consumers at extremely high rates. Brands are quickly embracing that value and jumping aboard the messaging train, but it’s been a long journey.

We first saw the height of text messaging come into play at the turn of the century. Text messaging grew massively in the 2000s, with TV programs like “American Idol” inviting the public to vote for their favorite contestants via text and then-U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama announcing Joe Biden as his running mate through the use of bulk text messaging.

Then messaging started to take a backseat. Consumers were still lukewarm to the idea of interacting with anyone but their BFF and their mom via text messages, and sending and receiving individual texts cost money (this was before unlimited plans came about). SMS was tricky for brands, and then they found a way to message differently with the rise of applications.

Apps were, at first, largely a novelty for those who made the jump to smartphones. But marketers—as they are known to do—quickly realized the brand-building potential behind those tiny icons.

Today almost all major brands have invested in an app. From your favorite TV networks showing exclusive footage, to major multinational corporations expanding their core functions. Modern apps offer a wealth of unique, and even proprietary, functionalities that can showcase a company’s brand better than their websites. They deliver rich and contextual content, and those who download apps are often a brand’s most loyal fans.

Despite the excitement of building apps for a loyal customer base, many brands have seen their download and usage rates wane. Marketers are bolstering those in-app experiences with the tried and true consumer engagement via messaging. Consumers want it, SMS and MMS services have evolved, making it easier for B2C messaging, and this channel is now experiencing some of the best engagement rates of all the marketing platforms.

We are experiencing the renaissance of messaging, as evidenced by tech industry investments and movements. I’m just as, if not more, excited today about messaging in all its various forms than I was at the dawn of SMS when American Idol put text messaging on the map.


Proliferation of Mobile Messaging Channels

Consumers are no longer limited to just text messaging or just app notifications, they’re interested in rich conversational interfaces with seemingly limitless possibilities. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have billions of users. In China, WeChat penetration is astounding. The tech industry’s momentum in this space really began in 2014, when Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $22 billion. That was also the year the company isolated Messenger as a separate app – a strategic and highly successful move. While Facebook Messenger usage is strong throughout all age demographics, the company’s competitor, Snapchat, has capitalized on the millennial and Generation Z audiences.

These channels serve as oxygen that fuels the mobile messaging fire, highlighting that all-important, in-the-moment relationship with consumer.

This is the time that marketers are putting down the megaphones and joining a dialog with the consumer. The brands that are ahead are the ones who have discovered that true personalization is an authentic one-to-one conversation.

Mobile messaging also supports other commerce channels and modes of customer support. Mobile messaging can enable immediate dialogue with a customer service representative or billing rep. It’s small moments, like being notified when a bill is paid or when a package is on your doorstep, that can help build a loyal, trusted relationship.


Mobile Wallet: Leverage new mobile messaging moments

Mobile messaging leads naturally into the mobile wallet – a marketing channel that is transforming into a rich customer engagement platform. Brands are already rewarding their consumers with valuable benefits, delivered by direct mail, email, SMS/MMS, and app push channels. Now it’s time to add another experience:  Allow consumers to store digital versions of these assets on their mobile phones, inside Apple Wallet or Google Pay.

Mobile wallets have two segments – payments and non-payments. The payment side of wallets allows customers to store card information to pay in stores with their device. But the future of mobile wallets will go far beyond mobile payments and represent the opportunity for brands to get strategic and creative with their how they engage with the customer.

The non-payment side of wallets allows users to store boarding passes, tickets and other offers, but consumers are hungry for more. In the 2017 Mobile Consumer Report, 73 percent of consumers are interested in receiving mobile wallet content from retailers, restaurants and brands. Others are interested in the same content from travel and hospitality companies, and financial institutions.

Furthermore, 66 percent of mobile wallet users are likely to save personalized wallets offers and coupons. Commerce and marketing are a united front in the mobile landscape, and all strategic marketing strategies should incorporate a wallet component. Mobile wallets are mutually beneficial for both the brand and the customer. Thanks to mobile wallet technology, customers do not need to worry about forgetting a gift card at home or a specific coupon because it’s already pre-loaded on their phone in their digital wallet. Plus, brands can analyze their customers’ habits through wallet technology, and this intel can ultimately help drive in-store visits, coupon redemptions and ROI.


Best Practices and Takeaways

As a leader in mobile marketing, I’m often asked about mobile marketing best practices and over the years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. For any brand looking to create or expand on their mobile strategy in 2018, here are the basics:

  • Identify the opportunity: There isn’t a blanket mobile strategy. It comes down the specific opportunities that mobile offers and how it can serve as a tool to provide strategic value to an audience. A great starting point is look at the industry as a whole and how mobile could work. Then it’s best to identify brand goals, what’s currently a barrier to meeting the goals and how mobile might help the brand achieve goals.  
  • Build a plan: Start with building a budget for mobile which includes platform, messaging, creative support and testing. Brands should also consider key milestones like ideation, modeling, projections, marketing, technology and budget.
  • Determine mobile channels: This stresses the notion of using the right mobile channels to reach the right audience. Brands can identify the right mobile channels to reach their targeted audience by recognizing their customers’ journey all the way from acquisition to engagement. The customer’s journey is categorized by personalized mobile moments of interest like a mobile page, SMS, push and wallets and can vary depending on the customer. The mobile channel should align with the brand goals and from there, brands can decide which messaging channel (or combination of several channels) will work best.
  • Develop mobile engagement strategies: The more creative brands get with their strategies, the better. Loyalty offers from mobile wallet, interactive gaming and personalized offers are all proven strategies but it’s up to the brand to identify one that works best.
  • Look at the metrics: Mobile marketing is so trackable, brands can see where they are at any time. It’s imperative that they establish KPIs at the very beginning of the program to measure against. From there, the strategies can be adjusted to ensure the right KPIs are being met. Mobile marketing is a process and one that needs to be continually adjusted as consumer expectations and tastes change.


Embracing Mobile Engagement In 2018   

Messaging is just one facet of mobile engagement, but it will prove to be a key driver of continued customer loyalty. There are several types of messaging that brands utilize in their mobile marketing strategies. Here are some examples:

  • Transactional messages: These types of messages are shared via text messages and offer an update or exchange of information such as notifying a customer their payment processed or return was received.
  • SMS: This method drives customer loyalty and allows consumers to communicate one-on-one with a brand. Consumers are given the option to opt-in or opt-out of the SMS program. One example of SMS is where a customer can text in a keyword and the brand will then respond accordingly.
  • Chatbots on Messenger: Chatbots remove the human interaction of a phone call, for example. Chatbots can field orders, inquiries or any other issue that a customer may have. Chatbots are an efficient way to drive customer engagement.
  • Mobile Wallet: Messaging provides a gateway to a multichannel approach with your consumers. Using SMS, brands can send coupons, special offers or loyalty cards that consumers can load right into their wallet for easy access.

Jack Philbin is co-founder and CEO of Vibes. With over 15 years in mobile, Jack is one of the industry’s premier thought leaders. In addition to his role as CEO of Vibes, Jack serves as Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association’s North America Board of Directors and Vice Chairman of the MMA’s Global Board of Directors. He has been a member of the CTIA Wireless Innovation Council since 2006 and is a regular speaker on mobile innovation.