Mobile has long been championed by retailers uniting on and offline customer journeys, and now other sectors are gaining ground. Jessica Davies explores how mobile is bridging the gap between channels.With mobile device penetration at an all-time high, marketers must be quick to grasp how to capitalise on an audience that is permanently connected and ready to interact at the drop of a hat. The number of smartphone and tablet users globally continues to soar with 64 per cent of mobile users owning smartphones in the UK last December and nearly a third of all UK online page views coming from mobile devices during the same month, according to ComScore, a figure that will no doubt continue to climb throughout this year, aided by the rise of 4G.This rapid adoption of internet-enabled devices and the inevitable fragmentation it incurs presents as many opportunities as it does challenges. The ability to measure behaviour across multiple devices in a way that is comparable with other marketing metrics remains a massive challenge, as does defining how best to advertise on smartphones and tablets, which demand strict privacy measures and ad frequency capping. Understanding when a consumer wants to be engaged with on their mobile device and when they don’t is a delicate balance, and if marketers get it wrong the results can be disastrous. Some experts believe the explosion of devices, from smartphones to tablets and phablets, could prompt an over-zealous reaction from marketers keen to capitalise on the resultant opportunities, which could in turn alienate consumers entirely. Microsoft’s VP of Europe, Andy Hart, vehemently believes this attitude is a major threat to the marketing world. He previously told The Drum the sector was in danger of “eating itself to death” if it fails to take responsibility and avoid bombarding consumers with commercial messages across all devices because they are less rigidly regulated than traditional mediums such as TV. However, as long as this balance is addressed there’s no doubt mobile devices can offer deeper, more personally relevant brand experience, and that’s too good an opportunity for marketers to miss. Before the mobile ad experience can be cracked, marketers must nail their mobile customer journeys and although more are adopting mobile-optimised sites, over a third of brands are yet to do so. But this is changing. FMCG brands have traditionally been among the slower categories to embrace digital, but are quickly gaining ground. Kellogg’s is pushing its mobile agenda and is planning to overhaul its existing digital properties to be mobile-ready, according to head of digital, EMEA, Matt Pritchard. The FMCG giant, which has mobile-ready sites for 30 per cent of properties, is aiming to push that to 100 per cent in the next 18 months – an undertaking Pritchard admits is a major challenge and investment due to the number of legacy sites it has to adapt. Yet it is a vital part of the marketing mix and one which will help Kellogg’s achieve its goal of “getting into people’s pockets”, he says.Bridging the virtual and physical worlds is where the true potential of mobile devices lies, according to Pritchard. “You’ll start to see more tying together of the second screen to the overall above the line message in the next year or so. Bridging the real–virtual world via interactive experiences is a real priority for us and tying together the physical customer shopping trip with the online one,” he says. Pritchard also believes mobile will play a vital role in future e-customer relationship management (eCRM) strategies and Kellogg’s plans to develop this in future. Tying in social data will only refine and personalise those communications further. “The smartphone is going to be the base for a hub of communication on a consumer’s terms – so if they want to engage with a brand via their phone, they’ll authorise that and then that becomes a key channel for ongoing communications,” he adds. Retail is by far the most advanced sector when it comes to successfully tying together the on and offline customer journey. John Lewis, Burberry and Debenhams are just a few of the brands making waves in the mobile space and stitching together innovative in-store/online experiences via mobile – no doubt spurred on further by the rising consumer trend of showrooming. But there are interesting opportunities arising in the travel and leisure industry too. Intercontinental Hotel Group is now turning over as much as $40m in mobile revenues and is eyeing ways to use mobile technology to connect more with its guests throughout their journey. This includes developing mobile check-in services, allowing customers to skip the physical check-in desk. Lastminute.com is another travel and leisure brand keen to push this line of thinking by creating what it calls “in-trip” experiences via mobile. It is in discussions with select hotel and airline partners over what opportunities can be created here, according to head of mobile David Slowcombe. “We’re looking at how we can unlock deeper relationships with what we call our ‘magenta circle’ of suppliers and the kinds of customer experiences they can create for mobile,” he says. Lastminute.com has developed a “tablet-first” strategy, according to Slowcombe. “We approach everything now as touch-first design because we’re looking at future interfaces and things like one-handed navigation. We don’t see a future in travel with desktop-bound PCs but with tablets and smartphones and the hybrids in between, like phablets,” he says.It’s clear the vision for savvy marketers is defining how to create meaningful, useful experiences for customers in a way that’s simple to use and in keeping with the brand’s messaging and tone. TUI UK marketing director Jeremy Ellis believes the on and offline shopping journey will ultimately merge to become a consistent and seamless experience. “We see ourselves in the future being omnichannel in terms of the service that is available in-store and online. Effectively, we want to take the convenience of online in-store and the service pool and experience of the store into online so that you get that service wherever you are, wherever you want to access it.“We see more digital experiences being made available in-store, and likewise we want to have more personal interaction online for those who want it so that you can still benefit from our proposition whether you’re at home or travelling around,” he says. Finding new ways to engage with consumers who are continuously connected should be front and centre of any marketer’s strategy. The potential to use mobile devices as not only an eCRM tool, but a window into a person’s movements and behaviours is a dazzling opportunity, albeit one that should be approached with caution. Yet today’s changing consumer behaviours will seem like nothing compared to those of future generations, whose expectations, having grown up in a screen-agnostic world, are likely to be far more demanding.