How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 3: Push Data


For marketers, one of the most attractive aspects of mobile devices is that people tend to carry them with them everywhere. No other medium for communicating with potential or existing customers is so omnipresent in a person’s life than their mobile device. Being able to reach out and communicate with someone on demand vs. queuing up an email or waiting for them to see an advertisement should be revolutionizing how, when and why businesses engage their customers.

In this third article in my series on leveraging mobile for customer engagement, I’ll cover a technology that many consider “new” to mobile but those of that have been developing and working on BlackBerry devices know that it is as old as BlackBerries have been around and has been a core differentiator on that platform for many years. Note: while SMS is actually also a form of push data, I am removing it from this discussion due to its technical limitations as a transport layer as well as it’s limitations in the way it’s implemented on mobile devices — and I will probably cover SMS in a separate future article all on its own anyway.

Push Data is, essentially, the ability for a remote entity (generally a server) to send information to a mobile device at any time — without the device having to specifically ask for it. Typically, data is delivered to a mobile device after the device ask for it. For example, devices ask servers questions (or requests) such as “Is there any new email?”, “Please send me webpage X” or “Has anything changed since I last checked in?”. These examples all require the mobile device to determine if or when it should be asking for information. This polling for data introduces an artificial delay in the timeliness of the data retrieved. The most obvious example for this would be if your mobile mail client asks your mail server every 15 minutes if there’s any new mail. If a new message arrives 5 seconds after your mobile device asks, it will take 15 minutes for the message to actually show up on your mobile device.

Polling has been used for a long time (and still has valid applications) and you can mitigate the time sensitivity of the requests by polling more often. However network traffic, even small amounts like a poll, is a huge battery drain on mobile devices. More frequent polling equates to lower battery life. This is why, historically, BlackBerries have had amazing battery life compared to their competition — the use of push data throughout the BlackBerry ecosystem reduces the network traffic which saves battery life (and makes the carriers happy as less traffic on their network lightens the load on their wireless infrastructure).

By leveraging push data, you can effectively determine when a user (or more accurately a device) will receive a notification that there is new information on the server to retrieve. While some push data services actually send the data to the device in a push, the more common technical implementation is that the server sends a message to an app on the device telling it to ask for data — effectively remotely triggering a poll, but only when there is new data so the number of polls executed is the minimum number required to download data in a timely manner rather than a pre-set scheduling of polls.

From a marketing perspective, being able to control when specific information is sent out to a mobile device is a huge advantage over traditional marketing communications options. Let’s look at a few traditional ways in which marketers reach consumers (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

  • TV – people spend a range of time watching TV for which there’s about 16 minutes per hour of commercial time. Traditionally, most people watching TV are not in a buying frame of mind for most of the products advertised, and with PVRs (DVRs for my American readers) becoming commonplace, many people just skip right through them anyway. Aside from dealing with this like I’ve described previously, traditional TV advertising is passive and not timely for most people.
  • Radio – since a LOT of radio is consumed by a mobile audience (i.e. in cars), there’s a higher chance of hitting someone in a buying mode with a radio commercial but I think people tune out to radio a lot as well.
  • Web Advertising – since consumers can take action directly from a web ad, and people do a lot of product research and buying on the web, this is a good way to reach a large number of people when they may want to engage in a purchase. It’s a bit of a shotgun approach but that’s changing as more personal metrics are used to target ads better.
  • E-Mail – while spam email may be finally decreasing (for the first time in… maybe ever?), people still are wary of email advertising due to fraud risk and over saturation. Effective email campaigns are still possible and since mobile email is becoming more pervasive, consumers can make use of information in email while in stores or when they want to purchase something, but it’s still a passive outreach after the initial view of the email (the consumer has to manually go back to the email and read it again).
  • Mail – traditional mail is still widely used for distribution of coupons and flyers. It’s an effective way to geographically target people as you can limit distribution to physical areas, but it’s not effective in being sure you are reaching a consumer that’s interested in your products — and it has high variable costs for printing and distribution. Most people throw their non-urgent mail into a pile and might not re-visit it until it gets thrown in the recycling — not a very effective way of being sure you’re reaching people.

Let’s compare this to sending a push message to a customer. With push data you can:

  • Control the exact time (within a small margin) that the message is received by the mobile device. Obviously if the device is off or out of coverage your message will not be received when you want it to but let’s work under the assumption that when people are willing to be engaged by their mobile device, they have it on. Is time control always important? Well, no, not for every marketing activity but if you’re sending out a coupon for food, wouldn’t you rather I get that when I’m hungry right before lunch rather than in my mail in the evening when I already have dinner in the oven? Or, combining with LBS, when I’m near your store out shopping rather than in the morning before heading off to work?
  • Send a different message to every mobile device. Unlike the mass advertising of TV, Radio or Mail, the message content (and time) can be controlled on a per-user basis. By leveraging analytics on open rates and times, you can optimize the time you send a message and its content on a device-by-device basis to maximise the potential for a customer to respond to your marketing.

Those are two huge advantages to push data. Temporal relevance and personalization — hitting the customer at the exact right time with the exact right message — are massive variables that have a major effect on the response rate from your customers.

Combined with the other topics covered previously (and in the future) in this series of articles, Push Data is a massive opportunity to make a big impact on your marketing and potentially replace some of your most costly traditional marketing activities.

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One Response to How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 3: Push Data

  1. Pingback: How to Leverage Mobile for Customer Engagement: Part 4: Personalization | Bacon on the Go

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