You are probably familiar with marketing automation, but do you know what it means to add mobile to the equation, and why some of us – myself included – think it’s such a big deal? With “mobile” I mean of course smartphones and tablets, those precious devices that our customers – always connected consumers – can no longer live without. With mobile as a communication channel, we are able to send context-aware messages at the right place and time.

Marketing automation recap

Before we dive into the mobile aspect, let’s do a very brief recap of what marketing automation means. Generally speaking, marketing automation consists of two major components: the “data gathering” component and the “outreach” component. The data gathering component includes everything we marketers do to capture new customers, e.g. through our website and in e-mailings. When people fill out a form, we capture an email address. When a website visitor looks at various product webpages, we can use that to track user interest in a specific product. The outreach component includes everything we do to reach out to people, typically sending out emails, or personalizing content on our website. It goes without saying that all data that we gather, can be used to personalize the message that we send.

Adding Mobile to the Marketing Automation equation

Both websites and email are great communication channels, but they both have a limitation: our window of opportunity is more or less limited to the time a user spends on her PC at home. It’s hard to pro-actively reach out at the right place and time.

You’ve guessed it by now: mobile solves that limitation. When we add mobile as a communication channel, it means that we add your mobile app as a new additional data gathering component to discover new customers. Same as before, the data that we gather in the mobile app is captured by our marketing automation platform.

Let’s take for example a car brand: the mobile app of a car brand assists customers in choosing their new car, compare various car models and to select desired options. When a user spends a lot of time looking at car model X and Y, we can feed that data into our marketing automation platform, and this data can then be used to personalize further messaging towards that individual app user.

Reaching out in daily lives, at the right place and time

Here comes the key element: the mobile app is not only used to gather data, the app itself is also a valuable communication channel towards each customer. Once installed, the app allows the app publisher (e.g. the car brand) to send push notifications to the app user, even when she is no longer using the app. A push notification can be personalized based on data that we captured. But there’s more! By using location targeting (with so called “geofences”) it is possible to link our promotional messages to physical locations such as car dealerships.

Your marketing automation platform will combine all the captured data and the actual location of the user, to find the best place and time to send a relevant message. The result is that we can reach out to customers in their daily lives, when it matters most. We are no longer limited to the user’s “PC time”. Instead, e.g. as a car brand, we can invite people for a test drive of car model X (their new favorite car, remember) when they are close to a dealership, during opening hours.

You need a mobile app

This is the point where I get a lot of “OK, all great, but we need a mobile app first, and we don’t have that”. True, you need a mobile app first, and a good one too. An app that provides value to your customers and that people will want to download in the first place.

If your company already published one or more mobile apps, you can include them in your marketing automation efforts. But if you don’t have a mobile app in the app stores, you don’t have to wait for the overall corporate app to be developed.

You can publish a “niche” app instead, for example an event app to support your corporate events. Event apps can easily be created using a platform such as TapCrowd, you don’t need to be a developer. Or you could opt for what I like to call a “campaign app”, an app that supports a running campaign or product offering. Think about e.g. an app to calculate your optimal car insurance; the app could support an above-the-line marketing campaign on car insurances.

Tying it all together

Once your mobile app is published in the app stores and enabled with your marketing automation platform, you can start segmenting your app users and define mobile interactions linked to specific places, context, time of day and user interests.

The app will capture relevant data in the background, and the app is used to send mobile interactive push notifications. These notifications can directly link to content inside you app. For example you can send a push notification “Discover our new promotions”. When the user taps the push notification on her smartphone, the app will be opened and the user can view your promotions instantly inside the mobile app.

The cherry on the cake is that you can now build “omni-channel” campaigns that combine your website, email and push notifications to reach each individual at the right place and time with a personalized message. Mission accomplished !

This suggests that surfing the web and emailing is limited to PC/home time and cannot be done on mobile, which isn’t true.