In July 2013, The Guardian revealed that 90% of global handset sales were ‘smart’. However, many brands are reluctant to embrace this global phenomenon; 45% of businesses still lack mobile site or application, and within the other 55% there is often some way to go (Adobe: 2013). The issue lies in seeing the mobile as a tool for traditional advertising, or a means to an end. A five-inch screen obviously has its drawbacks in terms of banner ads and videos, and knowing when to target users is tough. The smartphone is a continuous experience that must always anticipate how someone would like to use it at any given moment in time. Smart brands should ask; ‘How can we better this experience?’
71% of time on smartphones is spent calling, texting, emailing and social networking – all communicative functions(Source: CNN 2013). Consequently, for brands to effectively interact with consumers, they must do so on a personal, rather than a demographically filtered level. A GlobalWebIndex survey revealed that four out of the top ten used apps are for private messaging – where better to communicate personally?
Starbucks’ “Refresha” drink campaign used WeChat to create an interactive jukebox where a live band would respond to consumer emoticons with appropriate songs. Creativity aside, the real focus must be on customer relationships as an ongoing experience. By opening up conversations with consumers, brands can interact on a human level and achieve emotional loyalty. The ability to cultivate exclusive customer clusters – luxury brands take note! – can only magnify this. Still not convinced? WeChat is set to open its first department stores, starting with Shenzhen-based chain Rainbow, highlighting the potential of this platform.
Brand communication isn’t the only thing that must be ongoing and personal; smartphone usage is revolutionizing the way we shop. With the consumer journey traversing online and offline platforms, Continuous Commerce™ is becoming increasingly prevalent. Products can be scanned, photographed, shared, discussed, and price-compared, all before purchase. Judging from predictions made of m.Commerce on the back of 118% Chinese growth this year, the smartphone is more than simply a catalyst for this process (iResearch Global Inc. 2013).
The consumer is constantly deciding ‘when’; when to browse, when to share information, when to buy. Brands must anticipate these decisions and ensure that each step is seamless. Never has the phrase ‘the consumer is now in charge’ rung so true. Cathay Pacific’s CX App is a good example of a brand recognizing the importance of the consumer journey, both commercially and literally. Alongside standard features like online check-in, the app looks beyond flights, and offers detailed tourist information across over 50 global cities. At each stage, it asks; ‘What might the customer want at this moment? How can I anticipate this?’ There is no charge for any of this – only the emotional loyalty that comes with a stressful experience made easy, and the subsequent likelihood of future purchases.
An alternative smartphone journey is Levi’s recent collaboration with photo editor VSCO. As part of their ‘Commuter Collection’ campaign, they created a stylized VSCO pack for mobile download, and encouraged cyclists to document their commute and post to Twitter and Facebook. Tailored towards entertainment and artistic expression, the campaign focuses on experience over purchase, bringing together interests in cycling and photography to create something worth getting involved in, and using the mobile platform to get the wheel spinning.
The shopping experience has undergone many revolutionary changes in the last century, from supermarkets and shopping malls to self-checkouts and loyalty cards. It is safe to predict that whatever comes next will be defined by the smartphone; behind that small screen is a world of constantly evolving innovation, and the brands to flourish will be those that channel this towards a lasting, personal experience.
Chris Yeung, management fellow in Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong, also contributed to this article.