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TTG Roundtable on mobile marketing

December 20, 2013

(Published in TTG – 16.10.13)

What are the perceptions of mobile marketing, m-commerce and the impact of smartphones and tablets on travel distribution? These topics were tackled at the latest TTG Roundtable, held in association with Weve. By Matthew Parsons

 Weve roundtable

There is no doubt over how far mobile devices have permeated into both our daily lives and the corporate world. There has been “massive erosion” of the desktop and laptop market, against an increase in the value of tablets, said John Finlayson, brand and partnerships manager atWeve, which is a joint venture by EE, O2 and Vodafone, with access to 20 million opted-in users in the UK.

Yet it seems travel, participants at the TTG Roundtable agreed, had yet to fully appreciate its importance. To begin with, the panel noted marketing was one area where there was still work to be done. Delegates at the roundtable, held at the end of last month at TTG’s offices in Blackfriars, London, heard people glance at their smartphones 150 times per day, on average. And Dean Harvey, digital development director at Designate, added that despite the infiltration of mobile technology, marketing spend by travel companies was not reflecting its importance.

Nishma Robb, chief client and marketing officer at digital agency iProspect, agreed: “In terms of marketing, most people look at their mobile devices – not posters. There’s an opportunity there.”

Neil Robert, head of digital at Eurostar, added that he believed his company was “missing a huge opportunity” when it came to targeting users on mobile. “We only communicate once with our customers post-purchase, normally to offer an upgrade,” he said. “And the average time between purchase and journey date is 40 days.”

Dealchecker’s managing director, Mark Atwell, joked that often it was a case of marketing bosses saying: “We’ve got a bit of cash left, let’s throw that at mobile.”

Understanding the cycle

Yet far from being an afterthought, mobile should be taken more seriously, argued Weve’s Finlayson.

One of the reasons behind the creation of Weve was to help companies find the right consumers in the right location and at the right time. As a result, Finlayson said that, within the travel industry, it had pinpointed various stages at which potential customers used their mobile phones: researching; booking; downloading documentation; in transit; during the holiday itself; and post-holiday.

Purchasing big-ticket items on tablets, such as holidays, was on the rise, as the larger screens meant buyers were “more confident” about what they were doing. When it came to downloading crucial documentation for the holiday, iProspect’s Robb praised the new MyThomson app, which also lets users book excursions and share comments and photos on social media. “What’s interesting is that Thomson is investing in the whole journey, not just an app to help sell holidays.”

Finlayson agreed the app was impressive, noting it wasn’t “what you’d expect from a traditional operator”. However, Designate’s Harvey said he was amazed Thomson had launched the app before launching a mobile version of its website. Yet the panel agreed apps were not always the best route. Finlayson said most people had just three or four “core” apps on their devices – “the rest we throw away”. As a result, the panel believed “responsive design” was the way forward, websites that provide an optimal viewing experience, across
a range of devices.

Finlayson added functionality was key. A recent US survey, he said, found “ease of use” influenced customers most to make a purchase on a mobile site (59%), followed by price (48%) and then brand: “With mobile, it’s not just about building the brand, or price, as previously thought.”

Claire Riches, director of marketing consultancy Making Waves, meanwhile said companies needed to embrace free internet. “This idea of paying for Wi-Fi on a cruise ship, for example, is wrong,” she said.

Harvey said airports were increasingly offering free Wi-Fi on their property. “It’s a must,” he said. “It helps retailers target users – for example, an email saying ‘pop to WHSmith to get your two-for-one deal on books’.”

Robert said Eurostar would have onboard Wi-Fi connectivity for all seats in two years – and this was following a decision he said was made four years ago. “In rail, the lead times are incredibly long. But Wi-Fi is an enabler.”

Finlayson added that while on holiday, fewer people were taking cameras with them – reinforcing the fact that mobile marketing had a purpose for all cycles of the holiday.

Tipping point

Despite a resistance in travel to developing mobile as a channel, the barriers – including organisational infrastructures – were not insurmountable. Robb said many of the larger players, with legacy systems, had a lack of direction. “There’s apathy there. They’ve been caught on the hop,” she said. “This is long game – you need to convince people mobile is the way forward. You need stats.”

Harvey agreed: “Pure online travel companies are beating traditional companies; organisational structures need to change, companies need chief digital officers now.”
However, Atwell called on the industry not to forget these devices are still phones, and companies can still generate calls.

Gamification may also prove successful. Robb cited iProspect’s recent Stella Artois app as a successful sales driver. “It allowed users to simply buy a friend a pint. You just showed your phone to the bar staff to get it.”

Yet the panel members said reaching critical mass may be one crucial step before travel truly grasps the power of mobile, and begins recognising the need for it to form part of an integrated marketing mix. “Next year will be really interesting,” Robb said. “Perhaps this Christmas, people will be flocking to buy £120 tablets from the supermarkets.”

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