The following guest post is by Lars Albright, Cofounder and CEO of SessionM.
Is it possible that the everyday storefronts of America – coffee shops, restaurants, even farmstands – have something deep in common with the fast-changing mobile app economy? What can a high-tech mobile app learn from a low-tech brick & mortar storefront on a local street corner?
The answer is quite simply – everything.
I grew up on a New England-style farm just outside of Boston and did all sorts of summer odd jobs as a kid. The farmstand at Allandale Farm is still there, with a family feel that has kept customers coming year in and year out.
When I first started working at the farm, I thought people came simply because we were the only place you could get truly fresh, locally grown produce so close to Boston. But then I realized there were other options to get the same produce, but people always came to us. That’s when I learned that our farmstand, like so many successful small businesses, really succeeded by building a true connection with our customers.
The secret is turning the first-time shopper into a loyal advocate of the business. The simple greeting at the door, the piece of candy for the kids or the extra free apple put into the bag with a smile — all of this works to build an environment that makes customers want to visit again. And again.
Whether you’re running a farmstand, a store on Main Street or a new mobile app, what drives activity and long-term success is consumer loyalty. Without loyalty there is no engaged user, no clicks on content, no clicks on ads, no referrals to friends, no daily check-ins – in short, no business.
Why Loyalty Matters
“Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.” – Chip Bell
SessionM is a loyalty program that helps mobile apps reward their users for staying engaged with their content and brand advertising. It grew, in part, out of conversations I had with mobile publishers during my years at Apple — and hearing them say again and again that they had a great app but couldn’t turn a profit, couldn’t keep their users, and didn’t know why.
What those mobile publishers lacked was the ability to build our farmstand’s sense of community — to slip that extra apple into the bag of their users, if you will. That’s why studies still show that 70% of people who download an app never return after the first visit.
Loyalty always starts with a great product, like the ripe fruits and vegetables we sold at Allandale. But equally important is the customer service you provide around that experience. With every email we send to users of our program, every Tweet, every post on Facebook, we think about how we’re meeting our customers “across the counter,” neighbor to neighbor. That’s something we take incredibly seriously, and it’s something any company can do.
Another way to foster loyalty is by working constantly to better understand your audience and what matters to them – the way your local restaurant knows your favorite table or go-to item on the menu. In Boston we have our own mythic example of this: Cheers, the bar “where everybody knows your name.” Cheers may be fictional, but that friendly relationship with regulars is the lifeblood of most businesses.
As with any good relationship, you have to listen and be open-minded to change based on what matters to your customer. ‘Big data’ is the buzzword now, but data is only helpful if you’re measuring the right things. We’ve seen plenty of brands and mobile publishers measure the wrong ones and head off on the wrong track, like being laser-focused on ad impressions or new app downloads at the expense of better metrics like brand engagement and app retention.
One example of listening: We learned from a study we ran that 92% of mobile users want to choose the kind of rewards they receive. That’s one big reason why our app partners can give their users “mPOINTS” as a reward for completing specific activities in their apps. mPOINTS mean choice: They can be redeemed in any app that uses our loyalty platform for charitable donations, gift cards, or items like DVDs, games, etc.
In truth, the best way to earn loyalty is to give loyalty wherever you can. Loyalty programs that reward mobile app users help those people feel like the regulars at Allandale Farm – and this gives publishers and advertisers a terrific way to identify and nurture their brand advocates. Loyalty moves people to act. By focusing on what drives repeat mobile behaviors, and then creating a fun and rewarding experience around those actions, you also drive relationships. That leads to deeper daily engagement and then on to the bottom line we’re all here for: revenue and performance.
Think Relationships, Not Moments
Lately there’s been talk about winning the “new moments that matter.” From being the first app consumers engage with every morning to becoming the second screen during television events, marketers and publishers are fighting harder and harder to “win” each of these moments.
But what if there was a different path? What if we were to treat these moments, not as siloed opportunities, but as a string of events that can be linked together – the way Norm and Cliff gladly came back to Cheers every day? Can today’s mobile publishers and marketers not just win these moments, but start to string them together?
Yes, they can. And it starts with loyalty. Loyalty unlocks opportunities by helping brands and publishers get closer to their customers. It makes it more rewarding for users to choose the activities that drive great results for everyone.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Where to start? Shift your focus from grabbing impressions to harnessing the power of sustained relationships.
Savvy marketers and publishers want to win not single moments but the sequence of moments that add up to a warm, powerful relationship: today, tomorrow, next month, next year.
The next time you pick up your smart phone, think about what it means to be a ‘regular’ at a coffee shop or a farmstand: to be valued, appreciated, important in that place. Building a relationship with an app or brand can be just as rewarding as that familiar face calling your name.