Conversation With… SmartReply’s Eric Holmen

(Note: This post is the first installment of Conversations With…, a series of interviews with mobile marketing experts.)

Eric Holmen is president of SmartReply, provider of voice messaging and mobile marketing services to retail and healthcare companies. SmartReply’s solutions–including SMS, email, WAP, and interactive voice–are meant to optimize response rates and enhance brand affinity. Mr. Holmen is a contributing author of Mobile Persuasion: Perspectives on the Future of Influence, published by Stanford University. He spoke with MMW about how mobile boosts branding and consumer interaction in ways not possible with other channels.

Q: You’ve said that brand recall with mobile marketing is as high as 51 percent, and that up to 96 percent of people remember the call-to-action from a mobile message. Why do you think this is?

A: My Impression is that brand recall is higher because consumers have opted in to receive their messages. There’s a feeling of a relationship between the consumer and the brand. So there’s some existing affinity. Also, because mobile is such a guarded channel, there isn’t any clutter.

Q: Is there a difference in how people react to messages on their mobile phones versus how they react with messages from another channel?

A: A lot of us go to the email inbox with the intention of, “What can I exclude?” The phone goes with you wherever you’re at, whereas with email you have to sit at your desk in an office or at home. With mobile, it’s used now for pulling information. There’s this holy grail for marketers, of pull versus push…

What’s really important is, mobile allows you to be impulsive, to make decisions “in the moment.” In fact the the behavior we see is very, very impulsive.

Q: Can you give some examples of this?

A: I can give you two.

Meijer is a grocery chain; they have gigantic superstores, and many stores have gas stations in front. These gas stations are used to drive conversion traffic–people stop for gas and then go into the store and buy other things. A couple of years ago we launched a campaign: At the pump or in the store, you could subscribe to get text messages right before gas prices were going to go up, like two hours before. We heard of people leaving work early to get gas before it went up in an hour or two… These people bought gas at Meijer when probably they wouldn’t have.

Giant Eagle is another supermarket chain. They put up a sign in their stores saying , “Text in for deli [messages].” Consumers surprisingly did this! Giant Eagle would gather hundreds of these text-in messages. Then at 3 p.m. [on a certain day] they would send a message out saying, “At 5 p.m. it’s buy one, get one free rotisserie chicken for one hour.” They had an 11 percent response rate. They ran out of chickens before the hour was up! These customers probably weren’t planning to get rotisserie chicken–maybe they were going to pick up some fast food for dinner. Instead, they went to Giant Eagle.

Q: With the global recession, some marketers might not want to spend money trying new strategies like mobile. What would you say to them?

A: I recently read a study saying that consumers are 68 percent more likely to use mobile coupons now than in the past. The recession is not a great thing on a grand scale, but as far as consumption of new media, it could [prompt consumers to increase consumption].

Q: What about mobile Internet?

A: Where we can, we interact with consumers using WAP… But the WAP experience, unless you have an iPhone or one of the smartphones from Samsung or LG, is still [in the early stages]. And with the economy, people might be downgrading their plans for mobile usage… So text and opt-in voice messaging are going to be more important.

Q: Voice?

A: We distribute campaigns to voice lines. When people answer the phone, they’ll hear a message that allows them to interact. Most of our retail customers, from Bloomingdale’s to Wal-Mart, use voice campaigns.

Text doesn’t have as wide of consumer adoption as voice; it still skews toward younger demographics. Most of our clients’ customers is a mom with one or two kids, who is 42 years old.

Q: I guess that’s why some people might be reluctant to use SMS or other mobile marketing campaigns.

A: A year ago, reasons for reluctance had to do with scale and demographics–they’d say, “I don’t want to reach teenagers.” But older people are increasing their use of text.

Q: Even that 42-year-old mom of two?

A: Yes.

Q: How can people make sure that their mobile campaigns are effective, especially if they’re wary?

A: Many months of testing. We insist on our clients having a 6-month testing period.