Two recent mobile case studies illustrate how marketers that make thoughtful investments in the mobile user experience and take mobile advertising seriously are reaping early rewards vs. their competitors. The two cases I discuss below involve Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Time Warner Cable.
It’s already well documented that mobile ads are today driving higher conversions at a lower customer acquisition cost than ads on the PC. This is equally true in paid search.
It remains the case, however, that most marketers are “not valuing mobile correctly, not bidding correctly,” according to Google’s Surojit Chatterjee, head of mobile search advertising at the company. Chatterjee also points out that search marketers who separate their mobile campaigns see, on average, an 11.5% increase in click-throughs compared to campaigns that are simply ported over from the PC.
“We’re seeing progress but not enough,” added Chatterjee
Most Marketers Still Not Serious About Mobile
Indeed. Five years after the introduction of the iPhone and Android devices, there are simply too many mobile ads that send people to landing pages not optimized for mobile. Marketers are either being lazy or simply not considering the experience when a mobile user hits a PC landing page from a smartphone. Abandonment will almost certainly be the reaction.
Here’s just one such example from Fidelity Investments, an otherwise sophisticated company. What we see in the screenshots below are a display banner without a call to action followed by a trip to the PC site. This is a completely wasted impression and wasted opportunity. Blame the agency but also blame the company for not paying attention and demanding a better campaign.
Starwood Drives Mobile Conversions With Calls
In contrast to Fidelity, Starwood Hotels, which owns such brands as Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels, has become very sophisticated about mobile and where it figures in the company’s overall digital strategy. Starwood has been doing mobile advertising since late 2009. Among other approaches, Starwood uses Google click-to-call (CTC) ads and location extensions with expandable maps to capture last-minute and same day bookings.
One of Starwood’s primary mobile ad objectives is to grab customers from direct competitors and online travel agencies (OTAs), such as Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity. Even though the OTAs deliver room nights to Starwood they also negatively impact its margins. The company would also rather directly own the customer.
As an interesting aside, Starwood also uses mobile paid search for awareness in some of its markets and for some of its newer brands. Mostly, however, mobile paid search is used as a direct response tool to drive real-time reservations. Accordingly, the company has seen a 20X increase in mobile paid search ROI and mobile booking growth of 20 percent, month over month.
Starwood is driving many of these consumers to call-centers. One of the things the company has discovered is that sending mobile search users to a live agent improves conversions dramatically. It sees lower conversions through its mobile websites, though they’re also optimized for mobile. Phone vs. mobile site conversion rates vary by Starwood hotel brand.
Driving Calls — And Online Conversions
The second case study involves Time Warner Cable. Unlike Starwood, Time Warner Cable initiated mobile advertising relatively recently but through an experienced agency: Leapfrog Online. The company took a holistic and thoughtful approach to mobile, which has quickly paid off — literally.
According to data provided by Google, mobile conversions grew to generate 10 percent of all digital sales in only three months. This is especially interesting if you consider that mobile represents just 3 percent of the company’s internet traffic. Google also reported that Time Warner experienced a 30 percent reduction in per-customer acquisition costs and saw a 3X conversion rate over PC search results.
Roughly half of Time Warner Cable’s mobile conversions came over the phone, while the other half, remarkably, were online conversions. Most people don’t convert over mobile devices because of the painful process of completing forms. That’s one of the potential lessons of the Starwood case study.
However by being very focused on the mobile conversion path and user experience, Time Warner Cable was able to generate a stunning 50 percent of its mobile conversions online. The images immediately above illustrate that the company is optimizing both for calls and online ordering.
Time Warner Cable runs a CTC campaign on Google but also prominently features a click to call button on its mobile site. For those who don’t want to call Time Warner Cable offers a simplified mobile ordering process: “Order in 3 clicks . . . Expedited set up.”
Signing up for cable is not what most people think of when they consider mobile use cases. But increasingly smartphones are playing a role throughout the consumer research process, even for high-consideration items. As indicated, mobile search is also being used for brand awareness at the “top of the funnel.”
All the empirical evidence now says that optimizing for calls is critical for mobile direct marketers — Google’s Chatterjee told me that CTC is now generating 15 million calls a month, up from 10 million less than six months ago — however the Time Warner Cable case also indicates that with the right approach impressive “online” conversion rates are also possible.