Commerce Spotlight: Mobile’s ‘Now,’ but What’s Next?

Mobile has already more than proven itself as an effective marketing outreach tool that companies can use to connect and engage with smartphone-toting consumers. With 93.1 percent of U.S. millennials using smartphones — followed by 85.1 percent of GenXers and 64.4 percent of Baby Boomers — the marketer that hasn’t incorporated some form of mobile outreach into its marketing plan is missing the boat in a big way.

The numbers don’t lie, and they’re adding up quickly. According to Marketing Land, mobile data traffic is expected to increase by 700 percent between 2016 and 2021, and advertisers shelled out $24 billion on programmatic mobile ads last year (an increase from $18 billion in 2016). Geotargeting and location-based ads are making waves right now, for example, as marketers come up with interesting new ways to leverage mobile without being overly intrusive with their target customer bases. 

“Location data is primarily used in advertising to provide real-time context. This geotargeting of ads can be effective, but ultimately, the biggest value in location data may be in creating audiences and consumer path maps,” eMarketer’s Yory Wurmser told Marketing Land. “For instance, someone who visits a ski resort is likely to be a skier even if they don’t need skis at that moment.”

This year, Wurmser expects more advertisers to start collecting data for segmentation purposes, but that will have to be handled in a way that gives users a way to opt-in. “That means a lot of the big platforms that collect this data to provide services will continue to have an advantage in mobile marketing,” he added.

UCHealth used a Facebook Canvas ad to impart tips
about avoiding altitude sickness as a driver of awareness
and traffic for its lung and respiratory services landing page.

Mobile to Surpass TV Spending 

With mobile ad spending expected to surpass TV spending this year, and with nearly half of U.S. paid media ad spending being allocated to digital channels, eMarketer expects mobile to claim 47.9 percent of total U.S. ad spend by 2022 (up from an expected 33.8 percent this year). “Advertisers are pouring dollars into mobile due to growing mobile commerce activity,” according to the research firm’s U.S. Ad Spending: Facebook and Google to Capture Over One-Quarter of the Market report. “Conversions from mobile display ad placements have already surpassed those of desktop.”

Those higher conversion rates are getting the attention of even more marketers that want to grab their respective pieces of the mobile pie — a trend that eMarketer says will push mobile to grow more than three times faster than total media in 2018 (23.5 percent vs. 6.6 percent from last year). And as that interest in mobile continues to grow, the law of supply and demand is pushing up the associated costs. “Transitioning competition from traditional to mobile formats is leading to escalating ad prices as brands vie for mobile placements,” eMarketer notes.  

The Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon played the
role of social influencer in a recent campaign for UCHealth’s
Steadman Hawkins Clinic, where he is a patient. The campaign
included a 15-second cutdown for use on the mobile-centric
Instagram platform.

Maximizing a “Mobile-First” Strategy 

As vice president of digital and customer innovation for Safelite AutoGlass in Columbus, Ohio, Bruce Millard has seen mobile become an increasingly critical part of his firm’s go-to-market strategy. A self-proclaimed “mobile-first shop,” the automotive glass and claims management company is now riding the “higher conversion” wave that’s helping it and other companies turn customer outreach efforts into actual sales. 

Thinking back to a time when most consumers were hesitant to shop from the palms of their hands — or via a tablet computer — Millard says that as their comfort level with mobile shopping has increased, the number of customer engagement and selling opportunities have increased exponentially. In other words, the same consumer who wouldn’t blink at the thought of ordering a new robotic vacuum via her Amazon mobile app now applies that same line of thinking to book a windshield repair appointment. 

“As a result, the conversion rates for mobile — and I am sure it’s not just our business — have gone up dramatically,” says Millard. “To the point where it’s almost getting to where it is with desktops.” 

Because Safelite lacks a customer engagement model that a retailer or restaurant might rely on — after all, no one buys a windshield because they want one, but because they have a problem with their existing product — it faces unique challenges in the marketplace. Mobile literally meets customers at their point of need, and as such, has proven to be an extremely viable advertising medium for the firm.  

With this in mind, Millard says all of Safelite’s advertising efforts are designed for mobile-first. “We don’t look at the desktop view of any of our websites; it’s all about whether it works for mobile,” says Millard, who adds that the firm’s reason for doing this is clear. Of all of the users that come to Safelite’s website on a monthly basis, a full two-thirds of them are doing it from a mobile device. “Mobile really has gone from being the also-ran or the rounding error just five or six years ago,” says Millard, “to being the dominant player.”

Getting the Experience Right 

As companies cease experimenting with mobile strategies and fold legitimate “mobile-first” tactics into their advertising portfolios, more of them are seeing benefits that range from improved cost efficiencies to closer connections with their customers and more accurate data points. Using mobile, advertisers can also more effectively address their target audiences at the point of need, create more personalized ads, and be freed up of the barriers of time and location.   

By utilizing tools like responsive web design (RWD) right out of the gate, for example, rather than viewing the mobile user as an afterthought (like many companies were doing just five or six years ago), companies can more effectively engage their audiences and turn those users into paying customers. This is a strategy that companies like Safelite have adopted and honed over time, all in the name of “getting the mobile experience right,” says Millard, “and going beyond just doing mobile for the user experience, but rather doing it for advertising.” 

With his finger on the digital pulse, Millard doesn’t mind hypothesizing about what could be coming around the next corner for mobile. As he looks ahead and considers the medium’s role in lead generation and conversion, Millard expects things to become more “voice-driven” at the point of the mobile phone. Much like they’re already using Alexa and Siri, consumers will simply tell their phones what they want, and then receive mobile ads that align with those requests, keywords, and commands.

Millard, who heads up an innovation lab at his company, says other interesting developments that are coming down the pike include the use of augmented reality (AR) to help customers understand their windshield-related problems and then receive solutions and suggestions to those issues. 

“When you can leverage AR in a mobile app, and help the customer understand the extent of his or her problem (i.e., the size of the damage and whether the windshield needs to be replaced, or if it can be repaired),” says Millard, “and then overlay that with a phone’s natural ability, the opportunities start to get really interesting for us.”

UCHealth’s mobile app has gained a bevy of new
capabilities in recent months — a sign of things to come
from the healthcare marketer on the mobile landscape.

Harnessing the Beast 

This year, American adults will spend — on average — three hours and 23 minutes on non-voice mobile media; an average of 69 percent of their media time on smartphones; and 80 percent of their social media time on a mobile device. As these percentages continue to go up across the board — and year over year — organizations like UCHealth in Denver are finding new ways to leverage mobile and make it more than just a customer outreach tool. 

Martha Brown, digital and social media strategist for the not-for-profit health care system, runs its paid and organic social media strategies across all channels. This year, for example, Brown and her team are putting more time into Facebook advertising, and on “figuring out how to really use the medium in the way that it’s supposed to be used.” For example, one recent UCHealth Facebook Canvas ad was developed to both drive customer awareness of and traffic to its lung and respiratory landing page. 

A full-screen ad experience built for bringing brands and products to life on mobile, Canvas ads allow advertisers like UCHealth to “deliver fully immersive, interactive ads that are hosted completely on Facebook — thereby eliminating the need for users to click out of the app to engage with mobile content,” according to Facebook. 

“That ad worked really well,” says Brown. For the campaign, UCHealth created a link from Facebook that, when clicked, led customers to a “sort of mini-landing page” in the social media app, she says, which made the whole experience very engaging for the user.

“We were able to add video very quickly, so we gave people some quick tips on how to avoid altitude sickness, and then they could click or swipe as directed to learn more about our respiratory clinic,” says Brown, who views such campaigns as being much more effective and engaging than just putting an ad online and trying to drive users to a website. 

“It’s a much more interactive way to deliver some helpful advice and also raise awareness of what we’re doing here,” says Brown. “It’s really just about understanding and being familiar with how people actually use mobile and the experience that they’re looking for. Because most people aren’t really looking to go directly to visit a clinic’s page, right? They want something in return. They’re looking for value. So being able to deliver that gives us much more likelihood of actually getting their attention.”

The Mobile-Social Connection

With her eye on mobile’s next iteration, Brown says she’s also adapting UCHealth’s campaigns to have a “social-first” angle. Recently, for example, it produced a Steadman Hawkins Orthopedic Clinic spot that incorporated footage of the Colorado Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon working out, talking, and training.

“He’s a patient of ours, and he has a very large social media following,” Brown says, “so were able to deliver a fun message using Charlie as an influencer, and that’s been very effective for us.”

Going a step further, UCHealth cut that spot down to a svelte 15 seconds and then used it on platforms like Instagram — yet another mobile-centric approach to customer acquisition. Brown says using celebrities and influencers to deliver those messages tends to be more effective than featuring doctors and other medical experts in an era where customers want to be courted and engaged via their mobile devices. 

“When one of your favorite baseball players is delivering the message and addressing your problems or pain points,” says Brown, “the odds that you’ll pay attention and even respond will be higher.” 

To further enhance its mobile strategy, UCHealth also optimizes its creative and stays away from simply swapping out print ads into Facebook campaigns, or just tweaking dimensions in hope that they will fit the new format.

On the mobile front, UCHealth has also put time and effort into its app, making it more responsive and engaging for users who want to read a blog post, get advice, make an appointment, or look at their latest lab results. Brown sees more tweaking in the app’s future, and she also expects more changes to take place in the mobile arena as a whole. 

“People are only going to rely more and more on their mobile devices and they’re going to demand that marketers meet them there,” says Brown, who expects to see more brand-building taking place in the mobile world, which has matured to the point where it’s not enough to just send out random, disjointed messages and hope that someone responds. “You can’t just put your product up, run some ads, and hope for the best. Particularly with mobile and social, it’s about getting feedback from customers and then immediately turning around and using it to further engage them.”