The CTO’s role in branding in a mobile world

In years past, the task of defining a brand’s message was the remit of its CMO. Traditional media outlets distributed nearly all brand messaging, and there was little need to consult with the chief technology officer or the information technology team.

Today’s world is more technologically driven. Marketing is no longer just about publicity, commercials, and events; increasingly, it is about a brand’s ability to leverage technology to provide desired experiences to consumers.

As a result, the CTO now plays a key role in brand identity: Competitive advantage is determined by the CTO’s ability to implement, iterate, and scale technology that powers customer experiences. And nowhere is the CTO’s new role in branding more apparent than in the field of mobile products.

The growth of connectivity

IT research firm Gartner predicts that mobile phone sales will reach 2.1 billion by 2019, and Cisco predicted in 2013 that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. The growth of consumer devices is phenomenal, but most brands aren’t keeping pace.

While 70 per cent of companies say mobile technology has driven them to transform the experiences they offer to consumers, just 27 per cent have invested in the necessary infrastructure and integrated back-end systems. For enterprise companies to remain viable in an increasingly mobile world, it’s clear that CTOs must invest in mobile products and a growing number of third-party technology solutions to engage and build relationships with customers.

Where have brands fallen short?

While many companies have successfully brought mobile products to market, few adequately evolve their apps beyond the initial offering.

According to Forrester Research, just 25 per cent of digital business professionals feel they update their apps frequently enough to keep pace with brand and customer expectations. More worryingly, only one in five enterprise apps is updated frequently enough to fix bugs and react to operating system updates.

Mobile apps aren’t like ad campaigns of the past. Stale — or worse, nonfunctional — apps leave users with an experience that is generic at best and infuriating at worst. And multidevice functionality is becoming increasingly important. By 2018, consumers in mature markets will use and own more than three personal devices, and manufacturers like Apple and Samsung will continue to evolve and differentiate to gain an edge.

A new approach to mobile

Only by frequently evolving mobile products can brands pivot to the mobile-first model that connected customers expect. Instagram and Twitter are market leaders in mobile strategy, and both make app investment a priority, updating their apps several times a month.

Of brands that do update apps regularly, too many skip back-end functionality in favor of flashy new features. This may generate public relations value, but brands do themselves no favors with gimmicky apps that customers will delete after a couple of uses.

Most important, brands must realise apps are not disposable one-time investments: They present an ongoing opportunity to build relationships with tech-savvy customers. This means starting with basic functions and adding nonessential features in future evolutions.

Embrace mobile’s uncertainty

The best mobile strategy embraces uncertainty. Any mobile project will encounter mistakes and missteps. These are part of the “learn as you go” nature of mobile.

Too many companies today plan in fiscal-year increments, but this approach is insufficient for the pace of mobile development. Instead, companies must be agile and increase the frequency of their planning and implementation cycles to quarters or months.

This uncertainty also means companies should avoid long-term contracts for unproven technologies. Mobile has just hit its stride in business, and many are already talking about the business potential of augmented reality devices. Because the tech landscape is shifting so rapidly, long-term agreements will likely prove to be lead weights, requiring costly penalties for early termination.

Engaging customers with mobile

All businesses can benefit from the right mobile apps. Two of the most innovative ones on the market today do not belong to Internet startups but to a pair of foodservice-industry giants: Starbucks and Domino’s. Speed and convenience are the core value propositions that each offers to users.

Coffee purchases are high-frequency and routine, and the Starbucks app delights users not with wizardry but by making it easy to repeat a previous order, allowing users to cut the queue and go straight to pickup. It is an elegant offering that eschews the flashy in favor of outstanding core business value.

Domino’s goes even further in embracing mobile. Its Easy Order feature allows users to save information on their favorite pizzas and then submit orders by texting or tweeting the pizza emoji to Domino’s.

Here are three tips to help your brand reap the rewards of a forward-thinking mobile strategy:

1. Maximise value through repeatability

Repeatability makes interactions last. When hungry consumers are faced with calling another pizza company, customising an order online, or simply texting Domino’s, which option do you think they’ll choose?

If customers can get the same result with even less effort, then they’re likely to repeat the action again and again. The benefits for the brand are obvious: Customers will convert more often, and they’re more likely to tell friends and family about the brand’s innovative methods.

2. Don’t just capture data — Use it

Consumers offer up a lot of information when interacting with digital and mobile experiences. Where are they using the app? What purchases did they make in-app? How often do they interact with the app? Most companies store this data, but few use the information meaningfully to create a richer and more contextual user experience.

Relationships between brands and consumers are just like relationships between humans: Over time, you get to know each other better. In each subsequent interaction, brands should demonstrate how they’ve learned about the customer. It could be as simple as recommending new products that match up well with customer preferences, or it could be as long-term as using that data to reengineer areas of the mobile product that customers don’t use.

3. Integrate with other technologies for greater functionality

The travel industry is leading the way here, and many airlines today have integrated their mobile applications with Passbook to serve up boarding passes before flights, anchor them in the locked screen, and sync flight details with calendars.

This approach makes consumers’ lives easier, and it is starting to spread. Fandango now integrates with Passbook, providing electronic tickets prior to a movie’s start time so a user doesn’t have to exchange a confirmation email for a physical ticket.

As marketers know, brands are defined by their customer experiences, particularly across digital and mobile devices. But marketers cannot deliver these brand-defining experiences alone; they must rely on deeply forged partnerships with the CTO and technology teams to shape brand perception through experiences driven by emerging innovative technologies.

Kevin Jennings, vice president of strategy, FuzzPro

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Lenka Horavova