Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is the Time Right to Go Mobile?

Photo by Stanković Vlada
JiWire’s latest quarterly trend report shows mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) outrank laptops in wi-fi use. Around TRG, we’ve been talking about that report as well as circulating a Target Marketing article that predicts mobile search will surpass desktop search by the end of 2013.

Reports like these tend to ramp up the technology angst among time- and budget-stressed arts practitioners.  It’s no wonder that we’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about mobile apps and websites and their ugly stepchild, the QR code.

While many organizations have already embraced mobile sites, apps and QR codes in campaigns, others are dead-set against pursuing this or any other technology “fad.”  Then there are those who just want to know: How and where do I fit this type of technology into everything else I have to fund and do?

At TRG, we measure the usefulness of mobile technology as we do any strategic tactic -- on its ability to deliver results. That provides a very specific perspective on when and how best to go mobile.   

Start with the end in mind.
What’s your end goal? For most, it’s selling tickets. As mobile usage continues to grow by leaps and bounds, it will become critical to give patrons a way to buy through mobile. In fact, trends indicate that consumers will soon expect to make any online purchases with their mobile devices.

Major ticketing systems are beginning to go there, but most do not have ready-to-go mobile accessibility. There are basically three ways to implement mobile ticketing:
  •       apps run by the ticketing system where ticket buyers search for the organization’s events.
  •       organization-specific webpages created by the ticketing system that the organization can link to.
  •       organization-specific apps that hook up to an organization’s ticket system. (These are created by third-party companies like InstantEncore and Cloudtix.)
Ask your ticketing system provider about which of these options is available to you. Mobile ticketing is a bandwagon worth getting on.  Making it easy for people to buy tickets on their mobile devices is not only savvy marketing, it’s good customer service. As an industry, that’s where we need to go.

Getting there from where you are.
Once you know where you are going, consider where any mobile endeavor (app, website, QR code usage, ticketing, etc.) fits into your overall resource and operational realities. Keep these things in mind:
  • “Mobile” by itself is not a strategy. This is not Batman swooping in to save the day.  Mobile is a tool and YOU make the strategy around it. A tool may help you make contact but by itself won’t carry a campaign or deliver organizational objectives.
  • Wake-up call: Mobile cannot be ignored.  Mobile is everywhere already and arts practitioners need to stay up-to-date and informed enough to consider whether and how to use mobile tactics.
  • Caution:  Mobile must not become a distraction.  Mobile is fun to talk about, full of creative possibility. But diving into this or any new technology can be like painting the trim when your basement’s flooded.  It’s not worth investing inordinate time or money if it can’t contribute to revenue goals.
  • Remember:  Mobile may be ubiquitous but still is not universally understood. Many consumers still don’t know what a QR code is or the difference between apps and websites. Bad implementation doesn’t help.
Cracking the QR Code
At last year’s NAMP conference keynote, Scott Stratten echoed what we've been counseling clients counsel with an excellent set of common sense considerations for QR codes. He summed it up rather colorfully: “Every time you use a QR code for something and don’t think it through, a kitten dies.”


Metaphors aside, TRG agrees. QR codes, strategically planned and deployed, can be an effective addition to your campaign toolbox, keeping in mind these basics:
Scanning a QR Code. Photo by Mathieu Plourde

1. Determine what you want patrons to do. There should be an action associated with each QR code.  Watch a video, buy tickets, share with a friend, or get exclusive information. And, that action should relate to a message you want to convey or an outcome you want to motivate.

2. Ensure the action you request can be taken from the user’s phone. The whole point of a QR code is instant connection to specific content from the phone your patrons hold in their hands.  What if the code is placed where a user can’t scan it?  No instant connection? No result, just wasted effort.

3. Linking the QR code to a mobile-friendly site is a must.  If the user can navigate the site easily from a mobile screen, you’ve got a winner. If the user has to “pinch and pull”, it’s not mobile friendly, and you’re as likely to lose their interest as get them to connect.

If your org’s website is not mobile-friendly: Link users to a site that is known for accessibility --YouTube, Google Places, Twitter, or Facebook (especially if you have a Facebook event you are trying to promote).

What about apps?
Using QR codes without killing kittens relates back to strategic use of mobile apps and websites, the relative merits of which are the subject of debate. Arts management and tech guru Marc Van Bree recently argued that mobile apps aren’t a good investment for arts organizations. He lays down some good points in this article, especially in his comparison of mobile websites vs. responsive design, where the website adapts to the device on which it’s being viewed. Overall,we s ee strategic value in apps. Here’s our take:

1. Adopt apps that return your investment.  Van Bree points out, “Only a handful of large performing arts organizations will have a large enough following to keep a sustained audience for their app.”  You may be able to count on your most loyal patrons to add your app to their mobiles and use it regularly.  But the general public?   It’s not likely.  Is using mobile to develop your narrow but very important loyalists worth your time and money?  Will it take time away from other cultivation activities?  Those are questions every organization must address for itself.

2. Use apps to make mobile a direct marketing channel. Apps can give you the ability to communicate one-to-one with patrons via push notifications that alert users to new content. When done right and well, this can become a powerful tool to contact those most-engaged patrons. A mobile website is a passive presence, while an app is a communication channel.

3. Sell tickets. Lastly, as mentioned above, apps may be the only way you can sell tickets on a mobile device with your ticketing system. That in and of itself may make an app worth the investment.

How is your organization adapting to mobile technology?  Share your story below. 

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