Jed Alpert

Starting the Conversation

How to make mobile a part of your overall marketing strategy

by Kate Pavao, March 2012

Marketers should be using mobile to reach customers — but CIOs need to be smart about their supporting strategy, says Jed Alpert, founder and CEO of mobile technology company Mobile Commons. “You want to be able to engage your customers in an ongoing conversation that’s useful to them, not just blast out coupons,” he tells Profit.

Here, Alpert, the author of The Mobile Marketing Revolution: How Your Brand Can Have a One-to-One Conversation with Everyone (April 2012/ McGraw-Hill), offers insight into how mobile marketing is evolving and advice for using it to build strong, lasting relationship with customers.

Profit: What do executives need to understand about mobile marketing?

Alpert: The benefit of mobile is that it is the most highly permissioned form of communication. If you can engage someone to speak to you on mobile, you’re talking to them in the most uncluttered environment. And it is simultaneously the best way to reach a rich person and a poor person.

What is very interesting about mobile is the integration of text, voice and mobile web on the device. You can use a text message to direct a phone call to the right customer support area or send someone a link that’s connected to a content management system — that way when they open that link, it’s auto-populated with anything from credit card information to health care information.

But mobile is no longer a separate silo. It’s just part of an overall company or organization’s communication strategy. The people in charge of mobile, or social media, or other kinds of marketing, need to be working in concert, because all of these messages and communications work together.

Profit: How do you manage a one-to-one conversation with every customer?

Alpert: You engage them by using CRM tools to learn about your customers as you’re having conversations with them. And you automate as much of it as possible. At Mobile Commons, we just launched a program with the Metropolitan Transit Authority in the New York tri-state area where someone can text in a bus stop number, street address — even just a corner — and a text will immediately come back with how close the nearest bus is by using GPS data. In San Francisco we worked SFpark to help customers use mobiles to find parking spaces. These are terrific one-to-one conversations that are completely automated.

Profit: What are some innovative ways companies are using texting to generate data about their customers?

Alpert: Because of the volume that people text, it’s a terrific data collection form. You can segment your customers by asking them to text in any kind of preference, their blood pressure at a particular time, how they feel about a particular thing, or their zip code so they can be directed to the nearest store with an appropriate coupon. Collecting data is useful particularly if there is use for the data. And people are more willing to provide data if they understand that it’s going to be useful for them to be better served as customers.

It can be very simple like, “Now text us back your email address.” When someone permissions you to their mobile phone and then sends you their email, the open rates on those emails go up markedly, because people aren’t just permissioning you to their mobile phones, they are permissioning you because they want that function.

Profit: What mistakes are companies still making with their mobile marketing strategies?

Alpert: The primary mistake is that the call to action is not clear enough in the organization’s available media channels. You shouldn’t just send customers updates on their mobile phones. If there is a clearly articulated reason why customers would engage you, people are very eager to do that.

Profit: What do you want executives to do or think about after reading your book?

Alpert: First, look at all the preexisting ways your brand touches customers. Think about how you can make these touches actionable. Every point of contact is a potential call to action, whether you’re connecting with customers on mobile or something else — and every contact is a potential conversation starter.

Once you commit to that, you’ll find customers and constituents are eager to engage and learn more. As you begin to segment your customers and understand who is saying what, you will have many opportunities to better serve them. This takes any point of contact with a customer — even a piece of media — from being an impression to being the beginning of an ongoing conversation that can have value for years.