The truly mobile relationship

19 July 2012 Stephen Hay Regional Director, APAC

The smartphone and other smart mobile devices, continue their march across the consumer landscape; with each new model upping the stakes for new functionality and the quality of its user interface. The mobile device is rapidly becoming a third hand for consumers, permanently attached to them and becoming an essential part of almost any interaction, be that shopping, travelling or socialising.

With so much going on and dangerously so much white noise in this space, what should consumer brands be doing to establish, maintain and grow stronger and more beneficial, genuinely useful, customer relationships across this exciting interface? Below, I consider some that we believe to be important from a relationship management point of view.

Simple things first

Before we all jump on developing more fancy apps and interfaces to social networks and the likes; a well designed mobile website would be a great start. Optimised for use on different sized small screens and that understands that needs on the go may be different from those at a desk. There has been a tendency to rush to develop applications in the past couple of years, when a mobile site would have done the job just as well. This has resulted in a certain amount of app clutter; we are starting to see competition teams and functions with client companies building competing applications, which is certainly not good from a customer point of view.

And let’s not forget that the phone is probably the world’s most successful social network ever. Before we charge off interfacing into the latest social network, consider those more widely accepted social tools already in the ‘dumbest’ of smartphones: voice call, text and email.

Embrace change, don’t fight it

Hong Kong’s recent Dolce and Gabanna street protests have died down, but there are still plenty of retailers that really don’t like the idea of customers taking photographs in store. This is understandable, but completely wrong. Every smartphone user carries a camera and according to the TNS Mobile Life survey growing numbers use their smartphone to compare, research and remember products when they shop.

Embracing change and understanding behaviour evolution, Best Buy has taken this behaviour a step further by actually adding QR codes to product labels in-store that facilitate the customer learning more about a product with their phone. The traditional retailer’s concern is that this only leads to customers switching to the lowest price, i.e., not your price. A valid concern perhaps, but brands that provide better, faster access to trustworthy information, via the mobile in this case, will end up building the stronger customer relationship over time.

It’s about love

The more rational customer motivators still have an important role to play: price, discounts, rewards and so forth. Indeed, we are starting to see rewards creeping onto mobile, location-sensitive programmes like TopGuest. But increasingly brands want their customer to love them.

Customer passion is always going to come from getting the basics right like having good products and good service. We also need to converge that with the right sort of relationship and real-life brand experiences. Apple Stores realise this, facilitating the “always-on” connectivity that only comes with mobile devices. In-store Wi-Fi is likely to become a future hygiene factor like air conditioning or man couches, needed to give your customer a basis level of experience. The mobile introduces the concept that when you are near or in a store you should log on and let the brand help you in a way that sometimes the retail assistants just fail to do. Looking for shoes, follow the augmented reality directions, want to know what sizes are in stock…point and click. Need help with fitting, just press here. The phone becomes a seamless extension to the entire brand relationship.

The interesting challenge here is to fully integrate the mobile device into the physical world brand experience both inside and outside of the store.

The new mobile media

Mobile is just one of the latest new media tools and channels that have emerged over the years. It is obviously different from things like TV, in that it is user controlled and far more interactive. Although it is worth noting that the TV of the future is going to look and behave a lot more like a smartphone than an old TV.

We all dream of coming up with the next mobile app that will go viral and consume the world, capturing millions of consumers making us new media owners. Probably someone else will, but almost certainly they will want to cash in on their success by getting the big brands to pay to participate in their new media. The benefit for the brand owners is access to new customers, either promotional or for acquisition. This suggests we should be looking out for these new killer apps that come and go, be better at understanding them and look to leverage them quickly to engage with customers or prospects.

A recent example of note is iButterfly, a fun AR game that lets you capture cute digital butterflies that turn out to be vouchers for things like coffee or baby formula. It takes advantage of people’s natural desire to collect, interact and swap.

While using these intermediaries is not a relationship in itself, it is an example of how innovative and engaging media is adopting the mobile space. Just like any traditional direct response marketing activity, the key next step in media use is to capture a response and contact from the consumer and build your own relationship from there.


  • Loyalty in South America according to Henrique Donnabella

  • Loyalty in Asia according to Mary English

  • The Rise In Voice Technology

  • The State of Customer Devotion in Retail: Part Two

  • The State of Customer Devotion in Retail: Part One

  • Loyalty in Dubai according to Sanjit Gill