Marketers Need to Stop Looking at Mobile as a Channel. It's a Lifestyle

That means putting customer experience above all else

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What do you think is the No. 1 digital priority among today’s brands? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not social marketing or Internet of things. It’s not content, video, cross-channel, data or even marketing automation. (You might be wondering, what’s left?)

It’s customer experience.

That’s right, good, old-fashioned customer experience. That’s what an Econsultancy survey of 7,000 marketing professionals turned up: The world’s top brands and agencies believe that “optimizing the customer experience” is the most exciting opportunity in marketing today.

If you think about what they’ve witnessed—the meteoric rise of companies like Uber, Airbnb and Dollar Shave Club, all of which disrupted deeply entrenched incumbents by putting customer experience as the heart of their business—it should be less of a surprise that Fortune 500 brands are making it a priority.

If you look a bit more carefully, you’ll start seeing that customer experience, or CX, is everywhere today. Companies now have chief customer officers, and marketing teams are conducting client-experience journey mapping exercises to see each and every touchpoint, each “moment” of truth” that their customers have with their brand throughout their lifecycle—with the goal of optimizing each and every one to increase revenue across the board.

But how are all these customer experience innovators and experts treating mobile?

Mobile is how we communicate, how we spend time and, more and more, how we transact.

Some see it as a medium, just another advertising and distribution channel, no different strategically than TV, print, outdoor or desktop—like a portable version of the web. Others view it as a technology, or as a self-contained experiential platform. Some brands create a mobile-first element, but then push customers to outdated or mismatched experiences, or force them to go cross-channel or multi-screen. None of these are right.

Mobile is not a channel. It is a fundamental part of our lifestyle. It’s how we communicate, how we spend time and, more and more, how we transact.

And your customer’s journey? It’s not your journey, it’s theirs. You cannot force someone to go down a path that they don’t want to go down. As much as brands want all of their customers to start at the top of the funnel and go neatly swirling down the nurture stream into a conversion (or other business outcome), that’s just not how it works.

Customer journeys are messy; they can start in unexpected places, take detours, speed up and slow down. And like a road trip, they have drivers, and the driver is in charge.

I’ll say it again so it’s 100 percent clear: The consumers are in the driver’s seat, and they are the ones making all the decisions. The days of “push” advertising are over.

Fortunately, the key to “pulling” your customer in the direction you want them to go lies in exactly that: Their empowerment, their decisions. Think about it. Choices are simply expressions of desire. And what do consumers desire? Value. As a company, your job is to provide your clients with value, right? Well, that job begins before they are officially customers.

The first opportunity is to make their lives easier. Create value by adding functionality or eliminating friction and you’ll “pull” your customer right in.

A great example of this is in retail. In June 2017, research from UserTesting showed that Best Buy, The Home Depot and Target scored the highest among all retailers for mobile experience because they outperformed everyone else on ease of use, speed and aesthetics, and these were the factors that enabled online shoppers to find what they wanted to buy.

Whole Foods, Walgreens and Starbucks take it one step further and invest heavily in the in-store mobile experience to integrate shopping behavior, loyalty programs and mobile payments. And, as more consumers adopt mobile payment systems, we’ll begin to see truly seamless, end-to-end experiences.

Smartphones are capable of hosting an entire customer journey, from discovery to purchase—and even after, as part of an ongoing loyalty program.

That’s the beautiful thing about our smartphones: They are capable of hosting an entire customer journey, from discovery to purchase—and even after, as part of an ongoing loyalty program.

Some of the trail-blazers in mobile (and digital marketing overall) can be found among today’s top gaming developers who are demonstrating this perfectly.  You see a compelling ad for an app—perhaps even an entertaining mini-game, playable experience—tap on it, enjoy it, then tap once more to immediately download it from the App Store or Google Play. That’s it, you’ve converted into a customer without leaving that screen, or even leaving the app ecosystem. And now that app has you as a customer and can monetize further through advertising, in-app purchases, etc.

Go back to the beginning of that story now, and think about how that gaming company captured its customer: The playable ad. Entertainment is the second primary way that mobile marketers can provide value to consumers. Unfortunately, this can be far more challenging, as consumers’ attention span is at an all-time low, and breaking through the noise to give them a “delightful” mobile experience can be difficult. You’re not going to delight anyone with a banner ad. To differentiate from the thousands of brand messages on people’s phones, marketers should really think about the best way to delight users.

This requires both looking at content (apps and sites) that fit the brand and where consumers are open to your message. And, in terms of the engagement, to create more immersive ad experiences with taps, swipes and even shaking for full activation. Mobile has the opportunity to “surprise and delight” in a way that no other medium can. When done right, and fully considering both the state of mind of the consumer together with the right creative execution, brands can deliver a level of entertainment that is going to surprise and delight today’s distracted and sometimes downright jaded consumer.

Take note, too, that even the most brilliant creative execution can fall flat if it isn’t backed by the right technology stack (e.g., spot-on targeting or speedy delivery) to bring it to life and make it effective.

If you value your customer, take a moment to put aside traditional KPIs and focus instead on customer satisfaction. Create experiences that center on their needs, wants and expectations. The new KPIs will be a higher Net Promoter Score: willingness to recommend, higher lifetime customer value, and outcomes that move both the consumer and the P&L for your brand.