Mobile World Congress: Brands Extol Virtues of Mobility

“The way peoples’ behavior is changing intrigues all marketers,” says Keith Weed, global chief marketing officer at Unilever, who attended Mobile World Congress in full force with his team this week. “To us, of course, this is a source of connection with people, but also a potential source of entertainment.”

Weed and lead marketing executives from KLM and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) outlined their evolving strategies in mobile here by highlighting some of the struggles and successes they’ve encountered on the road to mobility.

While many brands have embraced a 360-degree approach to marketing, wherein brands aim to surround the customer with content across every screen or medium available, Weed says he’s now pushing Unilever to foster something he calls 365. “Our approach much more now is about 365, every day, 24/7. How can we provide content that really engages people?” he says.

“Not only are we interested in leveraging opportunities in this area through media, but we’re also interested in investing in companies so we can scale in market,” adds Weed. “One of the things an advertiser has to do is break through the clutter.”

Because Unilever is an international conglomerate of many brands in vastly different cultures, Weed is driving his team to test new ideas that are more culturally and sociologically relevant to its target customers in each local market.

In India, for example, Unilever discovered that the act of making a call and hanging up before the receiver picks up is widespread because it helps people avoid charges but still reach out and connect with someone. So the company played off that cultural reality and developed a campaign where users could call a number displayed on the packaging for Omo, a laundry detergent, have the call immediately disconnect after one ring and then receive a callback with a pre-recorded message from a Bollywood start. The branded callback feature also offered customers varying amounts of free airtime depending on how many times they purchased the product and placed the initial call.

“I’m only interested in delivering good value for our dollars,” he says. If a campaign doesn’t deliver a worthwhile return on investment, Weed is likely to abandon the idea and move on. “I think the important thing is to setup expectations up front,” he continues. “Measurement is key because at the end of the day we want to make sure we’re spending good money.”

“You really have to define the measurement for the task,” he adds. “The ROI we’re getting on mobile is indeed very interesting, and it certainly justifies the money we’re putting into it.”

As for how much money Unilever is committing to mobile, Weed declined to provide specific numbers, but he shared some other anecdotes to help indicated how important the area is for the CPG company. “We don’t give out the percentage we spend on mobile, we don’t even give out the percentage we spend on digital,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, I fish where the fish are… All I can say is that it’s a number that is growing very fast.”

Michael Menis, vice president of web and interactive/mobile marketing at IHG, didn’t shy away from providing some numbers during his time on stage here but he chose to focus on mobile revenue growth instead of mobile marketing spend.

The hotel group booked $2 million in revenue from mobile devices in 2009, but now its mobile plays are generating an average of $40 million every month, Menis says. “Mobile still represents a very small percentage of our overall revenue. We’re anticipating in the next two-to-three years that mobile will overtake web revenue.”

IHG was far from a late arrival to mobile. It launched its first mobile app on a Palm device in 2000 and the company claims to have launched the hotel industry’s first apps for iPhone, Android, Windows 8 and Kindle as well. “We’re really interested in thinking through the role a smartphone can play in a guest’s journey,” says Menis, capturing everything from a guest’s travel to a destination, to check in, the stay and after the visit concludes.

Many of those travel journeys typically involve a flight on an airline like KLM or others. Maite Oonk, mobile commerce manager at KLM, admits that the company made many missteps along the way.

“Changing our 95-year-old airline into one that needs to become mobile was a challenge. It was a bumpy ride these last two-and-a-half years,” she says. Because about 70 percent of the airline’s online revenues were coming from email marketing, display ads and social media, it made the early mistake of taking the same approach to mobile. “We made classic errors such as bannering on one of the main news websites and redirecting them to a desktop, which is something you cannot afford to do,” says Oonk.

“Airlines are mobile by definition. We are a mobility company,” she says. And although it’s now seeing double-digit growth on mobile year-over-year, KLM still faces challenges as more travelers search and purchase travel plans on their mobile devices. “Our customer demands are changing and evolving so rapidly. We simply don’t manage to develop in the same pace our customers expect from us sometimes,” says Oonk.

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