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SMB marketing on the move

The PC isn't quite dead yet, but when it comes to connecting today's SMB with customers and prospects, it might have been played out. Thankfully there's a new frontier looming -- mobile.

Mobile-first has moved beyond being a hot idea and should now be a minimum requirement in your marketing toolset.

Why? Because your customers, users and stakeholders are finding and engaging with your business using mobiles, and are poised to do so in greater numbers than they ever did from laptops or desktops. Roy Morgan reported in August that the number of Australians doing their banking on mobile devices has tripled in the last three years.

Mobile call intelligence provider Invoca analysed more than 32 million phone calls placed to businesses across 40 industries last year and found that 54 percent originated with engagement on a mobile device

Mobile marketing success stories are already commonplace among those in the know. Rob Lloyd, CFO of online console game and accessory retailer Gamestop.com, told ZDNet that 76 percent of mobile traffic accounts for 61 percent of revenue.

But even more importantly, organisations who aren't embracing a mobile-first approach aren't just staying still, they're going backwards. James Blews is an online marketing and SEO consultant who thinks a mobile-friendly website is the absolute least you should be deploying.

"Your website should pass the tests at Google's Mobile Friendly Test tool. Over the past few months, brands who have not corrected their websites to adhere to Google's definition of mobile-friendly are slowly seeing their rankings drop."

The trick to handheld device marketing is to recruit the unique technologies of a mobile device to engage with a customer or user -- powers that have never been part of the desktop or laptop computer toolkit.

As Diaz Nesamoney, CEO of ad platform provider Jivox said, many services don't need any identifying data points about the user as an individual because they work by responding to the user's environment.

"Triggers based on weather, geography, stock market, or location can be used easily on mobile devices and don't need cookies or other identification technology," he said.

A good example comes from Pennsylvania-based mobile-first brand strategy consulting firm Purplegator, who was hired by a Las Vegas hotel away from the action of The Strip to bring in more business.

Purplegator discovered that a lot of people driving from Southern California hadn't made accommodation plans for their arrival in Vegas, so the company geo-fenced sections of the highway that lead to the city, sending ads for the hotel through the Waze directions app which users could click on and be led to the hotel to make their booking.

Mobile devices, by virtue of their form factor, are also driving emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR). Google Glass failed to catch on for various cultural and technological reasons, so for now phones and tablets are augmented reality's habitat.

But far from a novelty, some providers are already seeing real gains. Augment lets retailers add an augmented reality button on their website, which customers can tap on their mobile to launch a virtual view of the product. It's also possible to do while pointing your device at signage or retail displays using an AR app.

While Augment wouldn't mention any names, global marketing manager Lindsay Boyajian said one of the company's consumer packaged goods clients has seen a 7 percent increase in sales as a direct result.

Beyond apps

Nor should we ignore the traditional capabilities of mobile devices. SMS still outstrips apps and mobile data by a considerable margin. It's not as sexy or visible as the Spotifys, Ubers or YouTubes of the world and it's vastly underused for customer contact, aside from irritating SMS spam, but its cost effectiveness -- especially to cash-strapped SMBs -- can't be overstated.

As of the beginning of this year three quarters of Americans owned a smartphone; the number in Australia is even higher according to AIMIA, at 89 percent.

Impressive numbers, but they still leave nearly 3 million Australians and 80 million in the US out of reach of your mobile site or service. To Dimitri Tsitsikas, director of strategic relationships of MessageMedia, SMS means a low barrier to entry, no additional software to be installed on phones, and the ability to reach all phones, not just web- or app-enabled ones.

But Tsitsikas believes the true power of SMS might be the position it occupies in the mobile user's attention hierarchy. He calls it "cut through", and said we all read messages within minutes while email is often unread, and we retain mobile numbers longer than other kinds of contact on our devices.

"After 10 years in the business SMS industry, I haven't come across an industry SMS isn't effective in," Tsitsikas said. Reminders are particularly effective -- he's seen appointment reminders reduce attendance failures by 30 percent.

The two-factor authentication of sending a changing access code by SMS makes ecommerce and sensitive logins more secure, and he believes SMS marketing is a particular success story, with 97 percent of all SMS marketing messages opened, with 83 percent opened within one hour.

Gigi Peccolo, content manager for cloud communication platform OneReach, points to a study conducted by the company which found 64 percent of users would rather text than call for tech support. One client who decided to use SMS to manage their inbound call volume anticipated 20 percent call deflection to SMS and experienced much more.

"It translated to a 33 percent overall call reduction," Peccolo said. "They did it partly by implementing 'channel pivot', which lets users switch from interactive voice response to text by pressing a button on their phone. They could then engage in a conversation over SMS instead of having to wait on hold."

Another OneReach client is the US city of Evanston, Illinois. Rather than call the city information hotline, users can receive text updates for snowy conditions, report broken traffic lights, and even text the name of a restaurant to see its city health inspection score.

But tools that make creative use of SMS abound online. One is CallText, a service tailored for small business operators who can't respond immediately to every customer enquiry that comes in. CallText lets people text your number from a simple web interface without your actual number being revealed to them, letting you call up and send any of a series of stock responses, or getting in touch directly when you can.

The no-Wi-Fi market

When we think of mobile we think of a device connecting us to the larger world, but there's another surprising product class few consider. Sometimes the handset is constant but the connection isn't nearly as present.

Glen Furnas, VP at mobile business app developer Formotus, said of the capabilities available in mobile software products on offer, the most popular function his company is asked about is offline access.

"The original idea of 'software-as-a-service' was that big computers on the network would do all the heavy lifting and thin clients like browsers would simply provide communications between the user and the network," Furnas said.

He believes mobile platforms offer the best app experience, but the new profile of the mobile worker -- always on, always connected -- has made the industry forget about what Formotus knows as the 'other mobile workforce' of inspectors, service technicians, engineers, and surveyors.

"[That kind of] work was mobile before there were cell phones," Furnas said. "And this workforce is for the most part still using paper and clipboards for the bulk of their data collection and workflow processes."

The answer is to build and deploy apps that encompass and action the data we usually leave on far-flung servers for local interfaces to access.

Depending on your market, you might be perfectly happy to target professional connected urbanites who are never without a mobile data or Wi-Fi connection, but just because everyone else ignores far-flung rural communities or mobile reception black spots and misses all those potential customers, doesn't mean you should.

Of course, the biggest point of difference handheld devices offer is the reason they were invented in the first place -- phone calls.

For James Blews, one of the cornerstones of better mobile marketing is the "click to call link" on a mobile-friendly online interface or website.

"When we switched out some of the text-based phone number links to image-based links in a few brands we saw an increase in calls," he said. "The format for the links stay the same, but the visual is the only change. Probably the most impactful activity was using 'click to call' advertising in Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. Our price per click value never increased, but the click was a guaranteed phone call."

Of course, there's a single flaw when a customer calls you. When they click through a website and make a purchase you can track the pathway that led them to spending their money down to a fine art. If they use a link to call you that then leads to a purchase, the digital pathway that reveals the marketing that's done the trick is lost.

"As customers do more retail shopping on mobile, they'll be calling more too," said Kyle Christensen, VP of Marketing at call intelligence platform Invoca. "The most successful retailers in this new world will optimise for the entire customer journey, not just between screens, but offline too. Many of us aren't equipped to analyse and automate the inbound call experience in the same way we are for clicks."

Invoca's solution offers session-based or static phone numbers that let the user intelligence continue when the call starts. It gives you a piece of code you can add to a campaign or a page on your mobile site that tells you where calls are coming from, report on the location or time of day of the call, identify keywords that mention promotions, and tie all the resulting metadata into your CRM tool.

Hitching your wagon

Naturally. the investment of time and money into development, testing, publishing and troubleshooting into your online customer interface or marketing tools tailored to mobiles is only the beginning.

In May this year there were 177 million websites, around 1.4 million apps in Apple's App Store, and 1.5 million in Android's Play Store. That's a lot of competition, much of it with more money for marketing than your entire revenue as an SMB to cut through to get attention.

Here's an idea: Stop seeing them as competition. No matter what your business model, there's probably a service you'd complement who might be only too happy to partner with you, saving a lot of development cost and giving access to a much larger potential market.

Levi Aron, general manager of Australian online restaurant reservation service Yumtable, found a great partner in Uber and has never looked back. The Yumtable app now contains a full Uber user experience thanks to API integration. The user browses menus and options, makes reservations, and closes the loop by booking their ride with their Uber account.

Apart from the obvious branding association, Aron said it's about the customer remembering how simple and delightful the experience was.

"Until now, collaboration has mostly been limited to simple referral linking or click-throughs," he said. "In the last few years there's been a giant push forward in the app space which has caused us to rethink how we go about partnerships, how our customers use apps, and the technology that sits behind them."

Aron said Uber was a natural fit when Yumtable was looking for a partner thanks to aggressive growth plans in Yumtable's region and almost identical target demographics, and it works both ways.

"Like any other business, Uber needs to scale quickly," he said. "By forming a partnership with Yumtable, they're able to instantly capture new customers as customers are exposed to Uber at the end of each restaurant booking."

The future

Near field communications and radio-frequency identification technologies are common in new mobile devices today even though there aren't a lot of applications around to take advantage of them.

But those that do exist are seeing results. One is a platform called MPact, from technology provider Zebra, which uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to capture analytics in the retail environment.

Opt-in data sharing about shoppers in stores can learn which aisles and products are most popular, purchase history, and other metrics that can be combined to provide a better experience. Alerts can be sent to shop staff about customers who linger in a certain section and might want to ask a question about a product, and also send offers and promotions.

According to a study by Zebra, 51 percent of shoppers are interested in receiving location-based coupons depending on where they are in the store; 41 percent would use location-based assistance based on where they are in the store; and 31 percent would even be happy to receive texts from staff about product information and availability while in store.

With the release of Apple Pay, Cupertino has made its mobile payment a major focus. Together with Google Wallet, Kim Stuart, COO of mobile wallet marketing company Atlas Rewards, said Apple Pay is going to be a whole new marketing channel direct to consumers, and even users who don't use it will still have Apple Wallet on any new iOS device -- a new method of advertising, marketing, managing loyalty programs, event tickets, and promotions.

No doubt future advances provide even more ways to connect to users and potential customers.

The mobile phone and tablet is the Swiss Army knife to connect us all to more services and information than the PC ever did, and no matter what your organisation's size, it offers more opportunities to find and win customers than you've ever had before.