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Hola from the Mobile World Congress! I’ve lost track of the number of MWC I’ve attended. The first one was back in 1999 – I think! – and with one or two exceptions I’ve been to everyone since. Whilst the name has changed many time, many things stay constant.

In case you missed it, here’s a version of the advertorial I wrote for the MWC show daily, where I explore the constants of MWC, and make some predictions.

Mobile Commerce In The Quest to Monetize Customer Engagement: 2012 is the year of…

Every year at Mobile World Congress, there emerges a trend, service or product that either captures the imagination of attendees or there is theme that seems to be everywhere you go on the show floor. Some themes appear briefly, whilst others such as LBS (location based services) and Mobile NFC have become hardy perennials.

In 2012 we are going to see an ever-increasing number of technologies and services to help in the on-going quest to monetize customer engagement. Closely linked to this challenge, is the question “Who owns the customer”. This question has never been more poignant than in the mobile world, where operators, device manufacturers, the application, service providers, merchants and brands all want to be able to claim that ownership.

How will this direct relationship with consumers be created and then monitized? One of the key ways will be through Mobile Commerce. Today we are seeing an ever-widening range of companies launching mobile commerce services, all with the ambition of gaining that direct relationship with consumers, and thus claiming ‘customer ownership’.

Customer Engagement
Given that one of the main inspirations for the creation of SMS was to enable direct, timely communications with the Operator’s customers, it is not surprising mobile messaging has a long history for interacting with consumers of services. However it has historically been limited to one-way interactions that have been difficult to demonstrate measurable results.

Long gone are the conventional days where bricks and mortar stores are the high-touch point in a sales-cycle in building consumer loyalty. You only have to look at shift in Book retailing, as consumers have moved from the large anonymous retailers to stores that ‘know’ their customer – it is only the small special stores and the likes of Amazon continue to thrive. Consumers today have greater expectations for a personalised, enhanced shopping experience through multiple channels and value-added services. They not only require, but demand real-time, customised rewards at various stages of the sales lifecycle. This in turn creates an opportunity to directly engage with customers and build brand loyalty through mobile marketing.

The next generation of consumers increasingly live their life socially. Socially networks, not email are their main means of communication. As this use of social media grows and becomes more pervasive, your customers will see social media as a gateway, a virtual marketplace where the next generation wants to conduct all of its activities. Given the more personal nature of social media, it will enable businesses to build a community and connect with consumers in a more direct way.

The challenge of social media is two-fold. Firstly, whether you have a strategy or not, your customers are already talking about you on whatever social media service they prefer. Secondly how do you integrate with your business activities, such as customer care.

Loyalty & Couponing
Consumers are always connected, always reachable via their mobiles devices. For Retailers in particular have an immense opportunity to become drivers of mCRM and mobile marketing usage and adaption through couponing. The consumers’ mobile phone has emerged as a channel growth opportunity for engagement while increasing revenue options for retailers.

Mobile couponing creates value for both customers and retailers through its ease of use and management. Currently in the US, mobile couponing is a nascent business driver but it’s less popular in Europe. High Street retailers need to understand that location-based marketing and couponing is another mechanism in the marketing mix. There are many benefits but, none more strategic than the opportunity to deliver actionable offers and have the closed loop analytics to be able to measure behavior and success.

Mobile NFC
It was at this event lat year, where I heard the best description of the status of Mobile NFC, “NFC: 2011 will be the year of… transition”. Which is a very accurate description, as Mobile NFC finally broke free of the labs, transitioning from small-scale trials and moved on to Main Street USA with Google Wallet.

Even with the Google Wallet coming to the UK this year, just in time for the Summer Olympics, NFC remains tantalizingly close, but still years away from mainstream. Cross-operator initiatives such as Isis in the U.S. and the UK’s Project Oscar will do much to move NFC mobile payments closer to the potential of a mainstream service.

What is becoming clearer is that the real potential of Mobile NFC is how it can integrate coupons, loyalty and payment in a near frictionless manner.

Gamification
Gamification is the rather unwieldy term to describe using game mechanics to build loyalty and drive consumer behaviour. Or to be succinct, make an activity into a game, where consumers are rewarded with points and prizes, and compete against themselves, friends or the wider community. These incentives are used to drive behaviour.

Consider retail banking; traditionally your banking behaviour has been driven by punishments such as overdraft charges and late payment penalty fees. With gamification you are encouraged and rewarded for positive behaviour, such as making regular savings, or making a purchase from a partner retailer.

Location Based Services
Location Based Services has long been a solution looking for a problem to solve. Despite LBS services being offered since the late ‘90s, they never managed to achieve significant momentum. In retrospect, the problem with LBS was clear – price, permission and purpose.

The advent of Smartphones with A-GPS solved all these challenges in one fell swoop. Users pushed their location, which both changed the charging model – but also solved the permission issues, as users could choose service-by-service which they gave their location to. Finally the huge range of external services, such as Facebook Check-ins, Google Latitude and Foursquare finally gave a rationale to sharing your location, as LBS became integral to social networks, loyalty and information services. The challenge, and opportunity, is to now integrated LBS in to your mobile commerce services.

The Challenge
In 2012 we will see companies accelerating activities and experimenting with mobile in order to engage their customers. Whether anyone can completely own a customer is yet to be seen, but there is an opportunity to fully own a customer at a moment in time – for a specific transaction. Mobile Commerce, be it through couponing, loyalty, engagement or payment will be the catalyst for growth in helping the consumer make choices, while offering value in the form of saving money or improving convenience.

This opportunity brings a major challenge when identifying solutions and implementing mobile commerce services. If you look at mobile commerce 5 years ago mobile banking was offered by banks, mobile payments by operators. Today we have banks starting to offer mobile payment services, and Operators running mobile wallets with Bill Pay capability. These clear lines of demarcation have become increasingly arbitrary, and this will only continue in 2012 and beyond.

It is no longer possible to think of these services one dimensionally. What is a banking service today, will include payments tomorrow. And that payment service will include remittances or banking in the future. But beyond that, any comprehensive mobile commerce solution will need to extend to be a combination of mobile financial services and mobile CRM services.

Mobile commerce solutions will grow in complexity, as they will be formed of lead services such as payments or coupons, and enablers such as gamification, LBS and NFC. So for those launching mobile commerce services in 2012, they need to ensure the solutions that they create and deploy are built to stand the test of time. This means building a solution that supports not just your initial (potentially modest) requirements – but also one that has the capability to support rich mobile commerce services of the future.

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