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Are brands listening to what their customers really want from mobile?

Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at LBi

Are brands using the smartphone to listen, as well as talk? Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at LBi and judge at this year’s Marketing on Mobile Awards (MOMAs), explains why listening is key.

Sometimes, you know exactly what kind of conversation you want to have with a brand. Often, it’s when you’re having another one entirely.

Stranded in another country, for instance, your airline tells you via email that your flight has been cancelled – an email that you have to pinch and zoom to read properly; where the phone number they ask you to call is a UK-based 0845 number that doesn’t work overseas. There is a reason this example has the ring of truth about it.

Here’s the conversation I would have preferred to have had: one that started with an email apologising for the cancellation and asking if I would like to be booked on the next available flight, yes or no; this could link to a website, mobile-friendly of course, which would then guide me through my options.

I wanted helpful, efficient mobile communication, showing that they understood my problem and wanted to help – a sequence of simple, easy questions that got to the heart of the issue. Instead, I got an unsatisfying, one-sided conversation in which they let me down every time I tried to prise information from them. “I am afraid we can’t book you on a flight tonight. It will take too long to process and we have to get home” was one comment I heard. Oh, the irony.

All of which got me thinking. It’s one thing talking about conversations between brands and their customers, but how often do these conversations actually resemble ones you might have with a real person, in real life? Those little, frequent exchanges, over a long period of time, that allow the people you know to piece together what you’re like and the things that motivate you. Why don’t brands have conversations like that? Why don’t they use mobile like that?

Imagine brands in the mobile space as actual people, coming towards you with a particular look on their face and a certain conversational gambit on their tongue.

One of them approaches you with an interesting, maybe amusing story that lasts 30 seconds, and then walks away and doesn’t talk to you again. It might be diverting, it might be appealing, but that’s as far as it goes. That’s called an ad, by the way, by an advertiser who sees mobile more or less as another one-way marketing channel.

And then a similar thing happens, with a different brand, who notices something about you, asks if you want some help, listens to what you say, and remembers it the next time you meet. Now, which feels like the more satisfactory encounter?

Mobile’s ability to allow brands to talk and listen to their customers on a regular basis seems too good an opportunity to miss. It creates an opportunity for brands to put down pushy, attention-seeking tactics and create longevity, with something much more akin to real-life conversations.

Brands don’t have to have all the answers ready before they get this right. I have profound issues with one of my mobile providers, but I still recommend them, because every time I talk to them or send them a grumbling tweet, they answer me. And they get the tone right, too, because the advantage of an ongoing, direct relationship with me is that they know pretty much where I’m coming from.

Look at the recent Twitter spat between Verizon and blogger and RSS pioneer Dave Winer, for example. There’s no point giving angry, jaundiced customers cutesy charm, when what you should be doing is sorting out their problem. We talk about brand relationships, but let’s face it, if you wanted an endearing chat, you probably wouldn’t be tweeting Verizon.

There is a time and a place for brands to talk back to you, and they need to judge when that time is. Waiting until I’ve reached the point of frustration and then trying to have a chat isn’t the way to my heart. Demonstrating that you know me, and that you want to resolve my issues elegantly and efficiently – now that’s more like it.

So, for brands who still see mobile as a channel for blasting messages at customers, or who simply haven’t taken the trouble to realise just how efficient a means of communication mobile can be when they do it right: consider the little-and-often approach, based on small, frequent snapshots that create a deeper picture over time. It is not an easy one to pull off, but if you want a real conversation, that’s what one looks like.

This piece was first published as part of The Drum's Mobile supplement

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