Target’s Rocky Mobile Start

Josh GordonI think a lot of folks in the direct digital marketing business - especially within the mobile concentration - were excited to see a big box retailer like Target announce a foray into mobile marketing. A great deal of opportunity exists in the marketplace as adoption continues to increase from a consumer perspective. More, carrier plans are finally beginning align behind the consumer’s growing demand for digital communication in the palms of their collective hands. The major carriers now offer "all-you-can-eat" plans where a consumer gets unlimited data, text and voice for a flat rate. As Sprint’s offer is the most price competitive, the market will no doubt react - to the consumer’s considerable benefit.

As adoption increases, the time is obviously right for Target to become more aggressive about marketing through the mobile channel, specifically with the most widely adopted use of a mobile device (behind voice) – text messaging.

Like the store’s approach to a grand opening – where a soft open is preferable to ensure systems and processes are fully operational by the time the grand opening occurs – the entry into the world of mobile marketing with SMS messages should have been softer.

After reading the press blitz from the industry publications last Friday I was fairly geeked up about what promised to be a really great, consumer-friendly mobile marketing approach.

Boy, have I been disappointed so far.

I realize Target intends on sending five messages per month (as the post opt-in text reported). I also realize that it is unfair to render a total judgment on the quality of Target’s SMS marketing approach so early in the game… with four messages still undelivered for the month. However, there are a couple of key indicators I have picked up on that hopefully Target will address in the near future. If they remain unaddressed, I think Target’s SMS marketing will miss the mark.

The first message confirming the opt-in is the standard boiler plate the MMA demands. It reads:

Welcome to Target Mobile Coupons! Up to 5 msgs/mo. Send STOP 2 end, HELP 4 info. Msg&data rates may apply

While most of it is fairly standard, Target is setting an important expectation here – I am signed up for mobile coupons. Therefore, when I receive a message, I expect a mobile coupon.

So, when the first message was delivered, I was surprised by the following:

TARGET: New Mobile Coupon. Save up to $6.50 on Kraft, Planters, M&M’s and more. Visit Msg&data rates may apply

There are several missed opportunities here with this message, and I hope that it is not an omen of what to expect.

First, I was not sent a mobile coupon. I was sent a link to get a mobile coupon. More, the link was dead – it was not a hyperlink I can click on to visit from the text. I was expected to be SO compelled at the generic thought of saving random dollars and cents on products I may or may not purchase on a regular basis that I would memorize the link, then type it into my mobile Web browser. I have a touch screen phone, Web-enabled phone (Samsung Omnia), and it should have been easy to browse from coupon to the Web.

Second, the offer is problematic, too. There is no personalization, and clearly no segmentation. I do not buy those brand name items at Target. I purchase them at my grocery store. Also, I do not live anywhere CLOSE to a Target Supercenter, so the assumption that the first offer I would receive should be for food is a complete miss. I realize that the character limits are difficult in a mobile message, but $6.50 worth of savings are not compelling since I do not customarily buy those products, let alone buy them from Target. Better segmentation prevents this issue. Some kind of geo-location – even something simple like asking for a zip code at the opt-in – should have put me in a segment outside of Target Supercenter range, so I did not receive a food offer.

SMS marketing does not have to be hard. The right strategic thinking is focused in on the value exchange for the customer. As a consumer I am agreeing to give them the address to my most personal device. Therefore I have expectations about the types of messages I get. Target missed an opportunity to engage me. Now I perceive Target as slightly differently.

With a brand name like “Target” the consumer inherently expects a certain level of relevance and personalization in the messages they receive. Any kind of mobile interaction requires those traits. Certainly the ship has not sailed on the possibilities contained with Target’s SMS marketing. But there are opportunities to make dramatic improvements – and Target should act fast.

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  1. Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I am a LOYAL SuperTarget customer. I love to do my grocery shopping there.

    I am a dedicated mobilisto.

    I was thrilled to join their mobile coupon program.

    As you succinctly stated in your post, the 1st message arrives directing me to a link. I didn’t even try going to the (broken) link. I am a Berry user so I want to navigate as few steps as possible on my device. Not everyone in the world uses a iPhone. ( In fact, all of us know that Berry overwhelming has the largest share of the smartphone market globally, BTW. )

    As you stated, doesn’t sending me to a link defeat the whole purpose of the convenience of a mobile coupon in the 1st place?

    I eagerly await an improved re-launch of the STarget coupon program. I hope it is half as successful as the store’s tremendous high quality gourmet house brand, Archer Farms label. That would be something, now!

    • Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the comment. I think the most value for mobile as far as consumers are concerned is convenience, and Target missed the mark on that (so far). It is an awkward experience that lacks engagement right now. Good point on the iPhone, too. RIM still owns 50%+ of the market, and any brand that introduces mobile to its customers must have programs that reflect that.

      Of course, some proper segmentation on the back end sure cuts down on a lost of consumer headaches, too.

  2. Posted March 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post. I have been meaning to opt in to that program on both a Feature phone and Smartphone to see what Target’s solution was going to be for both types of devices. Target is such a reputable brand in the Marketing world so it is almost shocking to hear they announced the program in the press and then follow up so poorly. Would love to hear a follow up in a few weeks to see if Target improves the program and what action they may take to fix any damage that might already be done.

    • Posted March 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Hi John, thanks for the comment. I will circle back after receiving each message and update everyone. I was similarly surprised. My expectations were high, that’s why I was a little disappointed.

      Still, some of those are probably easily addressed in the existing software. If not, perhaps the mobile software provider needs to offer more than just a low CPM. Perhaps the backend data environment needs to be better with greater segmentation.

  3. Posted April 1, 2010 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Great article Josh. I personally haven’t gone through the experience, but always interesting to see the opportunities missed. They happen everywhere. Best practice seems to easy to achieve for those of us in industry. In 5 years a mobile program that covers all expectations will be the norm.

    I’ll be in Columbus Ohio on Tuesday, perhaps we should catchup. Would be interesting to share views.


    • Posted April 1, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Patrick. Let me know if you make it over to Akron!

      P.S. Hopefully it won’t take 5 years.

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