Build Trust, Ask Permission & Have Some Fun; M&S Talks Mobile Marketing Strategy

sienne veitWe are entering into a new and critical phase of development in the mobile marketing industry. The discussion no longer centers on whether mobile fits in then marketing mix. Today we are debating where mobile fits best in the customer journey and whether marketers should craft mobile campaigns that focus on customer acquisition or retention.

According to M&S (Marks & Spencer), a leading U.K. retailer, the answer is all of the above.

Specifically, mobile has earned a place in every part of the sales cycle. From text alerts to customers on products and offers they are likely to appreciate (delivered only after customers have opted-in to receive them) to website functionality that allows them to buy what they want where they want, M&S has put mobile at the center of all they do.

What can other brands learn from M&S? Just before Mobile World Congress kicked off I caught up with Sienne Veit, Business Development Manager, New Technologies, M&S Direct.

Sienne and her team have been instrumental in developing a comprehensive and effective mobile strategy that has seen the department store chain earn worldwide recognition as a pioneer in mobile retail. By way of background, M&S unveiled a path-breaking mobile commerce site in 2010 that allows users to search, browse and buy from any web-enabled device. As of September 2010 the M&S mobile commerce site counts 1.2 million unique visitors, over 10 million page views and more than13,000 orders from site.

Mobile impacts customer behavior

Sienne reports that harnessing the mobile channel — and a well-chosen variety of advertising formats including text messages and a mobile-optimized website instead of mobile phone apps — has paid dividends.

“There’s really only one number that I can share: in the month of December [2010] we doubled our revenue from the month before…. So, I think for any retailers wanting to get into mobile, that statistic alone is great.”

Another number Sienne shares is the size of the retailer’s opt-in database. “One of the first things we did in mobile was to set up SMS broadcasts. We now have over 700,000 people subscribed or opted-in to receive messages.”

The text messages drive customers into the store. In fact, customers even contact M&S if they don’t receive the text messages and offers they think they should. “They contact us immediately and say I didn’t receive my dine-in text, please make sure that I’m on the database.  So, we’ve seen the absolute power of mobile to change people’s behavior.”

Opt-out options to consider

m&s logoTo date less than one percent have opted-out of M&S campaigns. But this low number is also due to how M&S poses the question. “It’s very easy to opt-out and we’ve stated the opt-out on every single message that we send you.  We have both specific opt-outs, so you can opt-out from just receiving food messages or a specific campaign, but not all of M&S. Or you can opt-out from absolutely everything, and we make that particularly easy.”

What is the benefit of giving the customer a choice and letting them opt out of specific campaigns? “It gives the consumer control and I think that they realize that this is a valuable service. We’re not spamming them; we’re giving them useful information. As long as we keep on doing that, we’ll keep our opt-out rate low.”

In addition, M&S merges the opt-ins back into its main CRM database to assist with customer segmentation and to ensure that the retailer exposes customers to the messages/offers they are most likely to appreciate.

Finally, M&S uses other media (print, direct mailing and 2-D barcode schemes) to amplify the call to action — and the request for customers to opt-in to receive alters.

Mobile in the mix

Is mobile a stand-alone? If you are ask the question, then you have a lot to learn. M&S started out treating mobile as an add-on, but it’s come to understand that mobile “has a place in every single part of the sales cycle from acquisition through to retention.”

Mobile is “still small compared to our other marketing media,” Sienne admits. But now the emphasis is on how to best integrate mobile into every campaign the retailer runs. “As you mature and become more familiar with it [mobile] and as your marketers learn more, you will see it becoming more integrated into your campaigns.”

Knickers and mobile phones

M&S underwearSienne also elaborates on her excellent presentation during a recent MMA Forum in London. In it she drew a powerful analogy between M&S’s reputation for providing customers durable,  reliable white cotton underwear and the retailer’s conscious decision to introduce mobile to customers (and continue that interaction) in a responsible way.

Clearly, M&S also offers styles of underwear — thongs and lacy panties that are a far cry from the plain white knickers that customers know and trust. Likewise, marketers can also experiment and offer their customers something a little more exciting — provided they never lose site of the end-game.

It’s all about trust.

“We know that we have to offer trust as a core objective….We should never do anything bad with your data, or charge you or misuse your data. Once we’ve built up that trust –and when you as a customer are ready to move onto another device, something like mobile data — we will be there because you trust us with something a bit more exciting and inspirational, whether that be the mobile Web, mobile campaign sites or MMS.

The must-follow check list

I wrap up my interview with Sienne by asking her for her top mobile marketing do’s and don’ts.

Repeating the list here isn’t enough — so I urge you to listen to the podcast. However, here are three do’s to get you started.

1) Build trust by staying legal.

2) Be useful.

3) Have fun (!)

My take:

Of the dozens of brands and marketers I connect with on a regular basis for my work and research Sienne is one on my favorites. Check out my recent review of M&S strategy here. Her do’s and don’ts are to the point and emphasize what we should have top of mind: we are human. Introducing technology for technology’s sake is not an approach that will guarantee the interaction (or the level engagement) that brands seek to achieve. In the case of M&S, the commerce website is focused on allowing people to do what they want (search, browse, buy) regardless of their device. Put simply, people came first, not technology. In addition, text messaging (alerts delivered only after people opt in) supports other activities around the sale (such as customer acquisition, retention and customer care). As brands wake up to the tremendous opportunities around cross-media campaigns with mobile in the center, they will surely find that Sienne’s strategy offers them a valuable blueprint to follow.

Listen to the podcast here. [14:53]


Editor’s note: Thanks again for your positive feedback on this series and all the RTs. You can also follow Optism for their pick of permission-based marketing in the news (@Optism).


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