Got a mobile strategy? Connect with customers' smartphones

By Mary Brandel, Computerworld |  Mobile & Wireless, BlackBerry, iPhone

This was certainly unexpected: When Alex Betancur, general manager of Publisher's Clearing House (PCH) Online Network, looked at the sweepstakes giant's Web site logs in late 2008, he was surprised by an upsurge in visitors using mobile browsers.

What caught Betancur's eye was that the users were entering extensive information -- first and last names, addresses, ZIP codes -- on tiny screens. "I said to my staff, 'If this many people are going through this process on a tiny screen, this might be an avenue that needs to be addressed.' "

So Betancur asked the IT group to create a mobile-browser-friendly site, first for the iPhone and next for the BlackBerry. Port Washington, N.Y.-based PCH Online also worked with a contractor to create two game applications -- a slots game and a trivia game -- to be distributed via the iTunes Store.

The strategy, Betancur says, is two-pronged: Support current users who embrace the mobile Web, while also reaching out to younger smartphone users through entertainment-oriented applications. A future goal is to support "geotargeting," or delivering content tailored to specific mobile users based on their locations.

Like many companies, PCH Online is making its first foray into interacting with customers via their mobile phones. So far, it has avoided the missteps of early adopters by basing its strategy on known customer behaviors and sticking to its core competency: providing the experience of winning sweepstakes. "Our challenge is to translate the excitement of winning to the mobile phone," Betancur says.

We're still in the early days of mobile customer strategies, says Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., noting that companies spend less than 1% of their interactive marketing budgets on the mobile channel. But only the foolhardy will fail to establish a mobile presence by this year or next, Ask says, given the explosive increase in consumers adopting mobile devices and using them for data services. ABI Research predicts that mobile marketing expenditures will grow from $1.8 billion in 2008 to $24 billion in 2013.

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