001: Simon Property Group | It's Time for a Mobile-first Mindset
Stephanie Cox: I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today, I'm joined by Patrick Flanagan at Simon Property Group. Patrick is the SVP of Digital Marketing, Strategy and Omnichannel Commerce at Simon. He has more than 20 years of digital marketing and technology experience. In this episode, Patrick and I talk a lot about the importance of a mobile-first mindset, how SMS is an overlooked communication channel, and why marketers in general just need to start doing a better job. And make sure you stick around until the very end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think differently about mobile but implementing effectively.
I'd love to get started and really just find out when you think about your overall mobile strategy at Simon... what really is encompassing that?
Patrick Flanagan: Simon as the retail real estate leader across the globe, we think of it really wide. Because we have shopping centers across nearly every single geography, in both the States and globally. As well as every single kind of different type of shopping environment, whether it's a regional mall, probably what you most traditionally view the company as. Or whether it's an outlet center. You know. So we used to operate those other brands called Simon Premium Outlets. Or whether it's a hybrid concept that's around the country called Simon Mills, which really combines a regional mall, full-price items as well as the off-price for discounted items that the Premium Outlets makes up. So it's the best of both worlds. So having such a wide set of geographies, a wide set of property types. And then, of course, the corresponding wide variety of brands in stores that fill up those malls, as well as the extremely diverse set of users that, shoppers I should say who visit our properties. Mobile is a wide-angle topic. So, at the most simplistic level, mobile falls into a few buckets or channels, [we try not to think too much in this way. But at least for some level of simplicity, I'll start there. First and biggest and most impactful is mobile web. It's the vast majority of any type of mobile interaction that we have often comes through one of our whole wide varieties of websites we run on a mobile device. Those are fully responsive, rich HTML5-based experiences. Secondly, that's a number of native mobile apps, both for iOS and Android in both smartphone and tablet sizes. Some of our even more deeper relationships with some of the shoppers, they've chosen to connect with us utilizing the native app method. Another area of mobile connectivity we have with our shoppers is our SMS and MMS programs. So this is our mobile texting campaigns that shoppers entrust us with their mobile phone numbers and, as a result, we send them up to five messages per month that contain all sorts of information around new store openings, fashion news, insider tips, and insights around their favorite shopping centers. Additionally, mobile also is now taking the form of over-the-top messaging and, for us, that, for the most part, it falls into Facebook Messenger so we run concurrently over 220 Facebook Messenger chatbots.This is a mix of both full, automated AI bots running all the time and that's augmented. And at really any point in time by the human touch, we have some phenomenal in-center marketing teams that can instantly jump in and seamlessly add and direct the conversation, if the bot gets stuck or the bot doesn't know the answer that that particular shopper is looking for. So that's another area. Wi-Fi and in-center connectivity. So, we run nearly at every one of our shopping centers really rich, vibrant, in-property Wi-Fi networks. And it's more than just connectivity, where we're able to give them better access to some of the offers and deals. And certainly able to give them a guaranteed high level and quality and connection while they're in our center. Because sometimes your cellular coverage, whether you have a data plan you're worried about or you're sharing minutes or data with a family plan or frankly, maybe you're an international tourist and you don't have any roaming cell plan whatsoever. There's a whole bunch of scenarios still that Wi-Fi has a lot of value for such a shopper. So, at a very broad brushstroke, that's the top line of mobile but mobile, of course, intersects everything we do, whether it's how we think of our social content for social media. Social is first and foremost mobile-first created content because we know most of it's going to be consumed within the Facebook mobile apps. Same thing for on down the list of Twitter and for mobile, it's also the same thing for location services and directories. Soriano yes Mobile is a lot more than just, hey we have a mobile app. It's making sure our content ends up in other people's mobile apps, and that could be the Apple Maps app. So, indoor maps are fully enriched and accurate and offer real-time navigation guides. It could be when you pull up and, whether it's an app-powered by Foursquare in the background to make sure that the location information when you made pinning something in Pinterest, or adding a location to your tweets or swiping right in Tinder. If you're using the location filter, all of those are driven by Foursquare and making sure for example, like our Foursquare location data because all those are mobile interactions. That oftentimes, which is our business is really driven by the physical world first and foremost and how to be able to find to know where a mall is and where how to easily get there. The basic information of hours, phone numbers, directions. Mobile plays a big role there. So, it's as broad as you could dream it. Mobile has really intersected nearly every aspect of a consumer's life. But around the main ones, it's mobile web, mobile app, texting, messaging, and Wi-Fi. But, again, has huge extensibility across really everything we do.
Stephanie Cox: Well and I think that's such an interesting point. A lot of times when I talk to marketers they think of mobile, really as web and apps and messaging and they don't think about...it's really everything that's consumed on a mobile device. Like you were mentioning all these other areas it intersects. So that's a really good point. So, I know you mentioned mobile-first as how you think about your social content. At what point did you guys switch a mobile-first mentality across everything that you do and was that hard to do?
Patrick Flanagan: It was hard to do. It was about two years ago when we reached on web traffic the proverbial 50/50 tipping point, where at that moment in time we were now having more mobile device users consistently make up the majority of page visits, views you know whatever metric you want to throw at it. It's not even a one talk, like hey we're going to have a meeting and think mobile-first. [t's an ongoing grind to rewire your team's brain or your enterprise's DNA. This is hard. So, especially as a business user who I'm guessing a lot of the listeners, sit in front of a laptop or a desktop machine. So a lot of our daily lives are first and foremost driven from a desktop type experience. When I'm doing work at my desk, an office, I'm on a desktop browser experience. So a lot of times it's so easy when someone sends you a link say hey, we want your feedback on this to literally not look at it first. And it's so easy. Just to click the link in your email client opens up on my huge 26-inch monitor here, to go, you know what I'm not going to click it there. I'm going to pull out my phone, I'm going to go multi-device here for a few seconds and I'm going to look at it first and foremost on my device. I want to shrink my browser down for some reason if you want to look at some different screen size and look at breakpoints and support my towel from my backpack. Does it come out a whole lot but I keep it there to make sure I'm looking at it. I had that kind of easy access to it because it is all too easy for us to fall into a trap to send me a quick mockup. Well, it's the easiest try for the designer who works in the last 10 years of their life, prior to this thing trying to rewire themselves to think mobile-first, that they might have knocked out their first incarnation of the idea as a desktop mockup. It might be so easy for the executive reviewing it to just quickly review it on the computer that they got the link on which, most of the time is a desktop computer so it's hard. It's constant. There are no easy answers to it. It's just being relentless about setting some basic rules, like for our design team, for example, do not send a mockup unless it has at least two break points for a full mobile and a full desktop. I don't want to if you haven't thought through both. That means it's not done, it's not ready to review.
Stephanie Cox: No, they definitely do. When you were talking about if it's not ready for desktop and mobile, don't send it. That's so important because I feel like it's like the last 15 years, we've really focused on let's do desktop first. You approved desktop and then I'll do mobile. And now we really need to think about both of them together, versus desktop than mobile.
Patrick Flanagan: Our designers have really leaned into and have done some amazing work by doing it simultaneously, by really thinking through these five breakpoints. So, we have a high degree of responsiveness and we're already thinking maybe there's even more to add. Some of the newer device standards. And by doing it in the heart of the creative process, the results have been so much better. It's not like oh, just hide the button and it's mobile and we ran out of room. It's no, you can't just hide content or take away features, just because you ran out of screen rows so you didn't know what to do with it, that's an early problem that we need to just chew on more. That's the art and science of being mobile-first. It is harder.
Stephanie Cox: No, that's a really good point. So, when you think about mobile and all the different things that you've mentioned that you're thinking about and focusing on, how do you measure effectiveness? Like how do you know what's working and what's not working, especially as mobile changes so much and consumer behavior is constantly changing?
Patrick Flanagan: Well there's that the crappiest answer today, the big classic, "it depends". So each channel has inherently its own metrics. A few universals to try to be a little more generic. Right. So engagement is one of the top ones. Right today. Whatever it is, do people read it or click it or like it or share it? Whatever the interaction you're trying to get them to engage with it. And time, right? Do they take two seconds on and bail or did they take a reasonable amount of time and truly work through the whole experience. Read through it, fill the form, do the potential multiple steps. So, time spent within. And then, the highest compliment is someone comes back. They liked it enough to do it again or had enough value. Even if they didn't like it, it still had value to them that they returned. So what's your repeat or return visits. So, very high generic level, but there's so many nuances. For the app world, we were talking before. If you were calling around app downloads, that's one way for a top-line measure. But how about your active monthly users? How many people still have the app installed, know where it is on their phone so it's which folder it may be buried in. Cared enough to keep it there and know where it is and bothered to open it up and actually use it. You'll of course probably guess and see if you are tracking the number, that there's a big drop off. You may have had hundreds of downloads, thousands or millions, but you quickly see that many have deleted the app, put it in a folder hell to never come out of folder hell, to suffer its rest of his life in purgatory of never being used, but never being uninstalled. Or if it is in there, how often does it actually breakthrough? I mean, again, if you're trying to measure effectiveness and it's something as basic as people care enough to use it. Use it again, use it for a bit of time as a pretty good start. They can get really sophisticated feature usage and content consumption, resharing, attribution. We do all of that and a whole bunch more but oftentimes, at least, to give us a litmus test of is it working are some of the top-line ones. Yeah, a good chunk of people came by and they spent a decent amount of time and we're seeing a modest but thriving population of people to use again and again and again. Or something there so let's keep working. And then we start to dig into where we're seeing abandonment, where you're not seeing engagement that you like.
Stephanie Cox: So, I know you mentioned you're doing SMS and MMS. Talk to me a little bit about the program you have there and what you're seeing with it?
Patrick Flanagan: Text is amazing. It's super overlooked. It's like perceived as old and boring. Yeah, it's a traditional mature technology. No doubt! But here's the magic thing, right? Think of all the digital stuff on your phone. All the magic things it can do. And I've put forth that, regardless of how many emails are in your inbox and how the little circle says you have 36 unread emails and I'd say all the push notifications, out of all the different apps you have permission to send the push. And the little notification trays is probably piling up all day long. The thing that without a doubt that goes to the front line, gets your attention, gets an immediate read if not response is a text or through your messaging app. Right, that's the cutter coop. That's the best way to cut the clutter, with a very challenging environment of attention deficit that we have as markers. So with that simple, but I believe, super profound learning that text has the highest read rate, the fastest rate, the highest deliverability rate, unlike email. There's no spam filters, there's no being put in the promotion folder. There's no being marked for email fraud as your DKIM or SPF record was a little wonky in the email marked you. There's no turning on images, all of the crap with the email. Don't get me wrong, email is a huge powerhouse, but text is immediately delivered, almost immediately read, if it was a click action embedded in it. Assuming the consumer wants to take action, it's immediate., there's no. And carriers to their credit do a phenomenal job of making sure messages are delivered, right? How many texts have you not ever had disappear and not get delivered because it was in someone's spam? It doesn't happen. And carriers are really good about if you send a message, have you have permission to send a message to a mobile phone number, it gets delivered. You turn your phone off, go four time zones away, fly through a plane. Guess what? When you land, you flip your phone on, like everyone, there's your six text messages. You can do it across the world. Go to multiple countries, different carriers, roaming zones. Messages still go through. It's remarkably good. So, we love text for our ability to have direct connectivity. The second reason why we love text is, it's a two-way street. And, there's some good mobile marketing programs, I would say Chipotle and Redbox are two that I get a lot of personal value out of. You get free coupons to the Redbox and you get an occasional burrito discount or a coupon at Chipotle. It's two-way, but most murderers think it is one way. I want to send coupons and videos and sweepstakes and then that's fine. But for us, it's a two-way dialogue as well where you can put a little keywords all across. Whether it's your online advertising, whether it's a billboard, whether it's a sign in your physical venue, for us that's a mall. For example, for us, it's hey text mall 33 to 74666, tap it to spell Simon, that's our official shortcode. You're going to get instantly texted back a link to an interactive 3D mall map. So as you're looking at the physical printed directory. And maybe you found a store or stores of interest that you will like to visit while on our property for the day. You may not be familiar with it like they are the first ones on the second floor by the Gap, okay and second third ones are nearby Aeropostale. Fourth one. It gets hard, right? So, you can take this interactive piece of content with you. We literally see people are taking pictures of signs because they want to reference back to it as a guide. Well, this is a classic example of you can retrieve information by texting in. We've all sorts of fun ways of getting deals or events or maps. Plus we had fun at holiday doing jokes and trivia when our Santa photo experience line gets rather long on the peak Saturdays. While you're standing there in line so classically, just looking for something to do. We want to make your holiday a little bit better, by texting into play interactive trivia via text. It has so many interesting applications, if you get beyond, oh it's just the boring text.
You have to be thoughtful as a character counts, yes it is black and white. There's no rich media element to it, but you know what? Other than maybe your driver's license number, your social security number, you think about the trust that a shopper gives you a mobile phone number and says yeah, I want you to text me. And it's a very high degree of connection, it's an immediate form of connection. That's one we take very, very seriously. We have our very highest degree of content filtering and appropriateness and quality is on tax records. We don't want to mess that relationship up. Our teams work so hard to gain it. It's not just a banner ad, it's not just a paid search. You're interrupting someone's dinner potentially. And they're going to read it, unlike all the other crap. You get spam all day long, by brands that you signed up for once upon a time. You don't look at those during dinner. Texts come through? Wow. You're going to at least look at it and dismiss it. So, it has a higher bar to do well and to keep growing and engaging that audience. But super, super bullish. It's kind of the long-forgotten tool because it creates some openness for those who are willing to listen and pay attention, honestly. That they're still, not every marketer has a program going. Unlike what marker doesn't have an email program going, right? Your inbox, as a result, is a cluttered wreck of carnage. It's really hard to get reads and interactions in your inbox, just because as much as I love Macy's, I don't really want to hear from you four times a day some days. Like that's ridiculous.
Stephanie Cox: I know what you mean. I was just talking to someone about that earlier this week. I'm like Williams-Sonoma, I love you but I just bought something from you yesterday. I don't even have it. Why are you sending me coupons twice today?
Patrick Flanagan: Yes! Let the dust settle. How about you sent me a product recipe or something I could use in maybe a week or two into it? Maybe a survey or ask for a review of the product in a month when I had a chance to form a thought. But that's two interactions in just over four weeks. That's not two interactions within one day and the product isn't even at my door, yet. There's a great news article today that Google location-based push alerts are being shuttered by the first part of December. So, just a month and a half away. And the main reason? Marketers, marketers, marketers, marketers. We were given this amazingly powerful tool with beacons and trigger locations or where push notifications, within the Google ecosystem. And what did we do as a collective unit? We burnt the bloody hell out of it. And there was such venomous anger from the Android user community, taking to forums, taking it to any way they could, saying you were just spamming us. This is garbage, right? The sensitivity wasn't there to what was actually happening. And Google was like, it's great tactic work. Our users have clearly voted. Marketers are not sending things of value and we're shuttering the whole thing because essentially the marketers of the world couldn't be trusted to use it appropriately. So, it's a great learning tale across all channels, but I'd really put forth text that is very similar, if not even closer to that same nerve. So, do it, but do it well, do it sparingly, do it with the right content and filtering on it. It's not just another push notification, it's not just another email.
Stephanie Cox: And that's why I think the whole process for getting a shortcut is really difficult and frustrating sometimes to do that. And especially if you are global and you have to do it in multiple countries.
Patrick Flanagan: It can be, yeah!
Stephanie Cox: But, part of it is that almost layer of protection that prevents marketers to have to some extent for making poor decisions, like we have with email. And I think what's also really fascinating about it, too, is when you think about the value of someone's mobile number. If I, as a customer, give you my mobile number, the trust I have in your brand is so much higher than if I give you an email address. Because I have like four personal email addresses, right, and everyone does that and some of them I just use to get coupons too. Not that I'm saying you should, but I may or may not do that. And I think it's just important for us to value them differently.
So, I know you're definitely bullish on SMS. How do you think with iOS 12 and some of the changes they're making to push, allowing notifications to be unsubscribed from that home screen? Allowing you to turn off the times at which you get them. I mean do you think that's going to have marketers rethinking their communication strategies and maybe going back to things like SMS?
Patrick Flanagan: I think it will. I don't know if it will cause a channel shift. I think it will force some much-needed adult heart to heart conversations in putting themselves in the shoppers-first mindset. Of how many times are we pushing them? Do we have time limits set on our push notifications? Like a lot of the modern tools both for SMS and for push allow blackout periods that are localized by the user's time zone. If you're not using that stuff already today, shame on you! It's great that Apple is stepping in to protect what they think of this first most. You are their user before any app or any other service, you're first and foremost an Apple iOS user and they're out to protect you from bad marketers, essentially, and their crappy marketing tactics. So I'm excited for it, I think we're going to see more of it than less. You're going to see more controls and more of these filters and more empowerment for the shopper for all versions of their data and connectivity and messaging.
We learned years ago, we used to do a bunch of geo-based push notifications. So, the second you got anywhere close to a shopping center of ours. If you had our native app and permission to push notifications and use that location, we would do geo-based push notifications and we quickly realized that shoppers hated it. As much as we loved it, as marketers. In our minds, they have that app in their pocket and remind them to go look for the deals. And try to elongate their stay for all the things we wanted. They're annoyed, they just pulled in the parking lot or are still messing to find a parking space, trying to find the bag in the back seat or receipt for the return maybe. They're pulling their phone out of like the charging dock and they hold it dear, and there is just like a lot going on. Next thing you know is we're barking at them about how they can save money and time. You're like ugh. So I think smart marketers have listened, they didn't wait till Apple was forcing the hand. They long ago learned that relevance, timeliness, and frequency and these good, basic principles matter. They've built sophisticated business rules and journeys and pass and drips. And all these different things to make sure that they are really smart about what and when they say it.
Stephanie Cox: I agree. So when you think about everything that touches mobile, what is the one area that you think marketers are not paying enough attention to?
Patrick Flanagan: Direct messaging and not text. A number of these newer, enriched messaging opportunities that are a two way, they can have bots injected at times, full time, none of the time. They can have proximity. Some of them have a rich-media of video and cards and carousels that can do really wonderful UI presentations of complex information. I think there is a ton of opportunity still and it's still early days. But I think the text will end up moving to these. And I think increasingly the behavior of, I'd rather not talk to a human, as sad as that is. But I fall prey to it, and I know many folks who would rather click a link, they'd rather message, they'd rather make the reservation by using OpenTable, than just calling the restaurant like in the old days. And they'd rather buy tickets on Ticketmaster.com versus calling a live agent, all this manifests itself so many ways. Asking for help in a store or retail or any kind of other physical environment.
So, instead of waiting in line to talk to the guest services or the concierge or whatever that version is or help with your return or going on the website or to do they call a call center. You probably may be using the chat function on the Web site. The little chat window that popped up that can potentially is a really amazing functionality. You're opening a messaging app or rerouting your box from your home to your office for delivery or you're popping open Facebook messenger and you are managing a whole return and exchange process through that channel, versus having to do it via an email string. And maybe in more of a traditional way of going back and forth to a customer service agent. So, I think messaging is going to be a much bigger, more integrated part. And, Apple will continue to erode the quickness, the simplicity, the lightweights, and mobility of progressive web apps will certainly be another big huge trend we're going to see. Voice. Now if you are making predictions on mobile make it more and more of the searchers more and more of the transcription load more and more of just interactions, in general. Alexa right now is a very home-based device. So, she's not very mobile at all. I think we will be talking, once we get trained to talk to that big grey stick in our kitchen that mainly plays music today and news. We're going to be talking to our devices for everything, so I think voice will be critical in all things mobile and our actionwise, it comes as well.
Stephanie Cox: What a great conversation with Patrick. I could talk to him for hours about mobile. He brought up some really great points about how hard it is for organizations to transition to a mobile-first mindset and it really can't be solved in just one meeting. It's really an ongoing grind which I think is such an interesting way to look at it. Now let's get to my favorite part of the show where we’ll take the education and apply it to your business. There are so many great insights from my conversation with Patrick that can really transform how you think about mobile marketing. What's dive into my top three takeaways.
First, SMS may feel like an antiquated messaging channel sometimes, but it is actually way underutilized by marketers and it's probably the closest thing we have to a magic silver bullet. Think about it for a second. Do you know of any other channel where deliverability is almost 100% and 98% of messages are read within 2 minutes? I don't, but SMS is just one mobile messaging option. The average consumer has three messaging apps on their phone already today and they're sending an average of three app messages per hour. That's why it's so important to think about how messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Y and others should come into play, especially since 66% of consumers want to talk to you via messaging and not in person. That's why I encourage you to rethink your overall mobile messaging strategy. You need to think about what makes the most sense for your brand. Take a look at Simon. Patrick mentioned that they're using SMS and Facebook Messenger as a way to communicate. That may not be what works best for you. You're going to want to look at your overall demographic. So think about SMS, it's a likely winner for most brands because 47 percent of consumers want to talk to you via SMS and the demographics of your audience may make it make sense for the second channel to be WhatsApp or Snapchat if a majority of your audience already has an app on their phone today. So regardless of which messaging channels you choose don't forget to make it two-way. Most brands just do one-way communication and 85% percent of consumers want two way via mobile. That means you can't just send out a promotional calendar of text messages about special offers, new products. You've got to think about creating these interactive conversations with your audience so they feel connected to your brand rather than just the recipient of another marketing message. One simple way. I've seen companies do that is with appointment confirmations. Think about it for a second. I receive a text message about my upcoming doctor's appointment or haircut. They asked me to text back with a “c” to confirm or an “r” to schedule. Appointment confirmation messages probably don't work for everyone's business but you should be able to use that concept and think of a way to start a two-way conversation with your customers, that could be something as simple as one question survey about a recent product purchase.
Next repeat after me: mobile metrics are more than just app downloads. This is worth repeating you guys, mobile metrics are more than mobile app downloads. As marketers, we sometimes are so focused on our native mobile app downloads that we tend to forget about all of the other mobile metrics we need to be paying attention to. When we’re thinking about native mobile apps we need to be thinking about repeat engagement. How many times are people coming back to my app? How long are they spending in it? These metrics are the ones that tell us whether or not your mobile app is delivering value to your customers. It's not about downloads and don't forget mobile is more than apps. It's any content that can be consumed on a mobile device. So you've got to pay attention to your email open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates on mobile to see how effective your emails are at driving consumer behavior on a mobile device. I also recommend comparing these stats to what you're seeing for email on desktop, but don't stop there...take a look at how your social content ads perform on mobile. What's happening with your website on mobile, especially in terms of repeat engagement? All these metrics need to be considered and play a major role in how you measure the effectiveness of your overall mobile strategy.
Finally, let's make a promise today, all of us together, that we're going to stop abusing new technology as marketers. We get so excited when new technology comes out that allows us to better communicate, or market to our customers that we just kind of go crazy a little bit. Take push notifications as an example. I know I became quickly enamored with a concept of push notifications when they came out when I started my career mobile. I remember having a detailed calendar that highly the promotional push notifications I was going to send along with a customer journey that show all the automated notifications my users would receive and then location-based push came out and immediately marketers, myself included, start sending out all kinds of location notifications. Patrick even mentioned some of the misguided ones that they were sending out when mall shoppers pulled in the parking lot for the first time and got a location-based notification. This is why it's so important for us as marketers to make sure we're not abusing new technology and we're always providing value to our audience with every single message we send otherwise we see tech leaders like Google continued support next month for Android nearby notifications. And Apple, they enabled easier management to turn push notifications off on iOS 12. That's directly from the lock screen you guys. Basically Apple just made it easier for users to do away with push notifications and they did that because we've made bad choices. As marketers we've got to start thinking about what we do for our audiences' perspective just because we might love it from a marketing perspective doesn't mean our customers will. Let's all agree to start using technology the right way in providing relevant and helpful content to our audience so the big tech players don't have to come in again and add more restrictions on what we can do. So here’s my mobile marketing challenge to you for the week. The next time you're sending a digital asset to review whether that's a landing page, email, doesn't matter, resist the urge to open it on your desktop first. I know you're sitting in front of your desktop, but don't. Instead, grab your phone, open it on your mobile device for the first time and experience it as a majority of your audience will see it. This small change will help you start to transition to a mobile-first mindset and start making a part of your marketing DNA.
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