Ask The CMO: Jack Philbin On A World Where Mobile Becomes The ‘Omni’ Of Omnichannel

The message for marketers this year is: go mobile or go home. As marketing continues to go through a period of significant transformation, one of the key catalysts of change has been the growing need to cater to the exponential growth of consumers who now use smartphones and/or tablets as their first – and many times – only device. In today’s environment, it is no longer a question of whether mobile marketing is important – it’s now the case of understanding how consumers behave on mobile devices, and how to leverage mobile as a vital engagement channel within the marketing suite.

For my most recent piece, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jack Philbin, CEO and Co-Founder of Vibes, a mobile marketing engagement company, and Chair Emeritus of the Mobile Marketing Association. We discussed a wide range of topics across the mobile marketing landscape. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee Howard: Based on your deep expertise in the mobile space, can you give a general comment on the changing face of marketing and where mobile fits in?

Jack Philbin: Well, marketing is changing quickly, but I come at this from a different angle than most. I started Vibes in 1998, so I’ve actually been in the mobile space for 20 years. Literally, the original thesis for Vibes was wireless, which we now call mobile, and how it was going to intersect with marketing. A lot of CMOs think: “Oh I’m doing mobile because I have a mobile ad campaign and I’ve built an app.” While I’m the first to say that most marketers absolutely need to have an app, there’s a huge number of people who are just not downloading your app. I think many marketers are finding that out, and it’s a little bit of a rude awakening because they’ve put years into the app, and it’s often their only foray into mobile.

Today’s marketers are looking at this revolution in mobile, and I think they’re a little bit myopically focused on ads and apps. Mobile engagement involves all these other channels such as messaging, push notifications, mobile wallet, as well as conversational commerce via chatbots inside messaging apps. The CMO now owns not just media and advertising, but customer engagement as well. Plus, marketing technology is becoming an essential system for brands that enables them to deliver a digital and personalized customer experience. As a result, CMOs have a lot more influence on technology and technology purchasing. The CMO and CIO must be in lockstep together as marketing organizations are influencing and making a lot of technology buying decisions.

Howard: What are some best practices CMOs should consider here, particularly through the lens of mobile?

Philbin: To succeed today, mobile must cut across every channel, and must ultimately be bigger than them. Today, it is a lot tougher to reach your consumer because you have to be in all these micro segments. CMOs, and all marketers, should treat mobile as the core interface that customers engage with for everything: email, shopping, finding the nearest restaurant. Think of your consumers as a big pond and there used to be three big lily pads where you could cover most of that pond, and now there are potentially dozens of lily pads in the pond. Marketers need to ensure that they are at every outlet. You can’t pick and choose anymore – if you ignore segments entirely, it will be to your own detriment.

Howard: It sounds like when brands decided they needed to make content and thought the content itself wasn’t as important as a presence on certain channels. What are the few key things marketers must absolutely get right when it comes to mobile as obviously a one size fits all approach won’t work?

Philbin: Absolutely. Strategy must change for different marketers because if your goals are foot traffic vs. e-commerce conversion, the execution will be different. Marketers need to harness mobile to help achieve specific business objectives. I do tend to think that less is more- in other words: Do a few things really well. For example, how are marketers approaching opportunities in messaging? I talk a lot about the renaissance of messaging that is happening right now – WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Viber, Facebook Messenger – at their core these are simply apps enabling two-way messaging like that of traditional SMS. More than 10 years after American Idol made texting popular, some brands are realizing that the thoroughbred racehorse of the mobile industry has been in front of them for years – text messaging. Everyone still does it. It’s not going to go away any time soon.

At the end of the day, that’s really the strategy behind Facebook buying WhatsApp. Facebook wanted to gain a global dominant position in messaging. If you look to WeChat in China as the example, consumers might simply leave the Facebook app and in favor of using WhatsApp. Facebook had its Messenger app, but knew [WhatsApp] was the No. 1 player globally. They had to have a dominant position in what is increasingly occupying most consumers’ time spent on phones.

Howard: What are the top emerging trends related to mobile that CMOs must try to get ahead of?

Philbin: CMOs need to take note of the considerable investments being made by Apple and Google on their wallet products. The mobile phone itself is being used in more transactions at point of sale. Whether scanning coupons stored in the phone or paying via NFC this is an area where we’re anticipating exponential growth. Another area is personalization and driving engagement with mobile at the heart. A lot of marketers think “mobile first” means having a responsive website when it’s so much more. It’s really about asking; how do I create personalized and individualized experiences based on consumer preferences? So, it’s not enough to make personalization a trendy word your brand is using. There’s just an incredible amount of data that can be used to better target and better create personalized mobile experiences at scale. The key is giving consumers choice and empowering them. Mobile is no longer just a vital part of an omnichannel strategy, it must be viewed as THE “omni” in customer engagement.

Howard: How is mobile contributing to the experience economy?

Philbin: Mobile provides an experiential edge in the experience economy. When brands engage with consumers on a channel they are already using, like mobile messaging, it offers quick engagement and ease of use for both brand and consumer. This engagement usually translates to a higher likelihood of transaction and conversion with that consumer. Think about the benefit of storing a digital version of a personalized coupon in your mobile wallet as compared with ineffective paper coupons that create clutter. According to our 2018 Mobile Consumer Report, 87% of consumers would save mobile wallet content if it was personalized and felt unique. Interest from younger generations, including millennials and generation Z, will keep driving mobile messaging and therefore the experience economy. They are more comfortable with new technologies, so they are likely to adopt emerging technologies at a faster pace. Chatbots are also the next chapter in the mobile and experience economy. A few brands, such as Domino’s, have proven that chatbots can simplify the buying process, build brand loyalty and make an impact on the experience economy.

Howard: If you could give advice to a marketer who is reading this column and wants advice on what foundation pieces they need to put in place today to heed your call to action, what would you tell them?

Philbin: Giving the customers what they want while also listening to their preferences is so important. Contacting customers when they want to be contacted, with the information they are looking for and via their preferred method of communication, is what will keep your customers coming back. Plus, in the era of data protections and regulations, it’s important to gain and maintain your customers’ trust. It’s all about a mobile-first marketing strategy and having the analytics and insights to back the strategy up. Without insights and the data to validate performance, it’s as if you are blindly marketing just hoping that your strategy sticks. As with all other aspects of business, a data-driven approach is what will ultimately lead to strong ROI.


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