The increasing number of people consuming mobile and video content has accelerated the growth rate of digital marketing.

PwC and IAB UK research has found that spend on mobile campaigns rose by just over 50% in Britain in 2016 to reach £3.9 billion. Mobile accounted for 38% of all digital ad spend and spend on mobile video ads doubled to £693 million. Mobile is now widely accepted as the best route to customers and there are many ways of interacting with customers via mobile devices. The challenge is how to monetise these interactions without coming across as pushy or alienating consumers with irrelevant offers. This is vitally important as businesses face the challenge of finding new revenue streams.

As mobile marketing drives a massive surge in unstructured data, artificial intelligence and machine learning is becoming key to transforming all that data into valuable marketing information. Until recently, there was not enough marketing data to feed the AI machine – it was like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Now that the flow of marketing data is increasing exponentially, AI has an important role to play.

Push notifications, SMS messages and in-app purchases or advertisements have been around for some time, all with varying degrees of success and customer acceptance. But businesses could be making better use of the additional rich layer of geo-location data coming from the mobile platform to provide a service direct to consumers without intruding on their user experience. This is a massive opportunity – and not just for marketers seeking to connect with the customer at the right time and in the right place. It is also a good chance to gather data about individuals that will inform the business’ broader marketing strategy and allow it to personalise all future marketing communications more effectively.

Bad Robot

In the rush to mobile engagement, not everyone has got it right. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was reported to have received multiple complaints from people who received unwanted messages promoting gambling websites. The ICO said these spam texts highlighted ‘particular problems around affiliate marketing’ in the gambling sector.

It wrote to 400 companies suspected of misusing personal data asking them to state how they use consumer data, with potential fines of up to £500,000 for failure to comply. Marketers who get mobile engagement marketing wrong from next May run more than the risk of alienating customers. New GDPR legislation tightens up data privacy legislation and the penalties for transgression are potentially massive – fines of up to €10 million or 2% of global annual turnover, whichever is greater.

Despite this, brands – especially those at the forefront of retail – are acutely aware that everyone now carries at least one device that provides them with a direct route to engagement. The key to using this route to market effectively and within the law is to prioritise making sure that everyone within the business is aware of GDPR and its implications. GDPR introduces explicit differences between the responsibilities of data processors and data controllers. It is important to gain a clear understanding of where your marketing activity fits.

It is also critical to ensure that customers have consented to be targeted by marketing messages. It makes sense to review consent mechanisms for push marketing. On the plus side, investment in strengthening consent mechanisms can open the door to significantly more powerful and effective marketing.

Mobile marketing – how it can work for you

Just about all kinds of businesses should be considering affiliate marketing to mobile devices. Mobile marketing is no longer just about using time and location data to drive conversion rates. It can now take into consideration multiple online touch points such as social media sentiment analysis or web browser history to understand potential to purchase and to drive more relevant and accurate targeting.

There is no doubt that the powerful combination of social media and mobile can capture more impulse purchases. A commuter on the way to work may read her favourite lifestyle blog, extolling the virtues of a new beauty product. During her lunch break, she may click through from that blog to her social media. As she travels home, she will see a targeted ad for that product on her Facebook timeline, based on her browsing history. There and then, she can click through on that ad and make the purchase. Typically, impulse purchases on mobile devices lend themselves well to low-value purchases – average revenue per visit to e-commerce sites is $0.87 for mobile users, compared with $4.11 for desktops.

Publishers such as Vouchercloud are increasingly using geo-targeting to reach customers in particular locations. A commuter at a bus stop may see adverts pop up on his mobile offering him the chance to order groceries for home delivery that evening. Campaigns have also targeted people at train stations who have missed their last train with the offer of an Uber voucher. The marketing Holy Grail is to solve a real-life consumer issue at the point of need – and there is no doubt that mobile marketing achieves this.

Personalisation – the key to consumer acceptance

All this sounds perfect from a retailer or brand marketing perspective – but what about the consumers? Is being targeted via mobile a step too far? While some people will accept adverts as the price for consuming content, others will perceive poorly targeted advertising as spam. Brands must address the risk of being too intrusive through personalisation and the relevance of the content targeting consumers.

This is where AI and machine learning comes in, gathering millions of data sources and making sense of the data for us so that we can make intelligent use of these insights. This includes data sources across different devices and operating platforms. As we shift to a mobile-first world, AI will play a greater role in mobile marketing, helping brands tailor content to each individual user.

Best practices for mobile marketing

There are a number of best practices when it comes to rolling out affiliate marketing to mobile:

  • Always ensure mobile messaging is personalised, based on the data and behavioural insights you have, otherwise you risk losing customers.
  • Design your consent mechanism to help get customer buy-in to your business or product. It is key to consider the ‘what’s in for me?” question for customers when thinking of the best way to persuade customers to opt into mobile marketing.
  • Ensure all mobile targeting is tracked – mobile marketing efforts will be wasted if activity sits outside of affiliate-tracked conversations.
  • Don’t just switch on mobile marketing and let it run. It is vital to test and learn constantly. Listen to your audience before engaging via mobile. Run small tests.  Listen to customer feedback – whether that’s in direct response to a message, or interaction behaviour – in order to optimise your approach continuously. If customers are unsubscribing from your email or deleting your app after you’ve sent a mobile-targeted message, it’s probably time to review your approach.
  • Work with publishers who can prove that they have an engaged, mobile audience and have sophisticated ways of targeting based on behavioural data. This is where the combination of social media and marketing becomes particularly powerful as it offers a natural forum for two-way interaction and allows for multiple different types of content. This is not all about pushing out discount coupons. Instead, marketers should be using a variety of approaches to engage people, using different media, videos or questionnaires.

Mobile and AI – a marketing marriage made in heaven

Mobile marketing should not be an afterthought, yet too often it is not properly budgeted for. At the same time, businesses need to define carefully what they expect to get out of mobile marketing and set realistic KPIs. Even if a business does not have a product range that lends itself well to impulse purchases on mobile, with the support of AI, mobile marketers can access a whole new level of actionable data insights. Mobile marketing brings benefits for every business.

Mobile marketing is still very much an emerging discipline. There is a lot to learn about how artificial intelligence can contribute. Marketers must make mobile marketing personal and relevant to individuals, without crossing the creepy line and making people feel Big Brother is watching them. That does not mean that brands should wait for rivals to tackle this first and get a head start. AI-powered mobile marketing is an opportunity that needs to be taken here and now.