Our increasing expectation that mobile can deliver personal and relevant information, assistance and advice every step of the daily journey paves the way for exciting and innovative approaches that combine content and marketing to suit individual context, preference and ‘need-state’. Eager to take advantage of new opportunities at the intersection of content and commerce, Purch, which operates Web sites such as Top Ten Reviews and Tom’s Guide, is pursuing a bold strategy to make complex buying decisions easy and actionable for ‘mobile-first’ consumers.
The acquisition of ShopSavvy, one of the largest mobile shopping apps (available on iOS and Android) with more than one million active monthly users and 30 million downloads to date, is the latest move in Purch’s wider push to equip consumers with information as they seek to research, find and buy the products that are best for them. Peggy Anne Salz — mobile analyst, nine-time author and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove — catches up with Phil Barrett, senior VP at Purch, to discuss how publishers can tap mobile to make the most of their assets, grow their audience and — ultimately — bridge the digital realm and the physical world.
Purch focuses on what it calls ‘service-oriented publishing’, first buying titles and websites for the content, and now acquiring ActiveJunky, Consumr and most recently ShopSavvy for the mobile capabilities and apps to deliver content and price comparisons in the ‘mobile moment’. Based on your experience how should publishers use content to drive commerce effectively — and why does it seem that so many publishers have got it so wrong?
A lot of publishers got it wrong because they started out just looking for ways to do the same thing, but on a smaller screen. They have failed on mobile because they have tried to provide a smaller, bite-size version of what people can already get on other screens — PCs, TV and online. People move around in the real world and in the funnel, and this changes the context of where and how consumers want to get to information. At Purch we’re about helping people as they make complex buying decisions, so we have focused our efforts on building high-utility, single-purpose mobile apps that assist consumers in key activities at key points in the journey. Our customers want to find out something, or they validate what someone just told them or shared with them. Further on in the journey they also want to be sure they are getting the best price when they are standing in the shop and before they make the decision to buy.
Our apps and the experience they offer users fit together to map this journey. There are apps like Consumr, now PurchX, that enable an ‘upper funnel’ type of experience, allowing users to explore products and get information, without an emphasis on commerce. In this app it’s all about user reviews. We’re not pushing a sale; we are basically pushing value by enabling people to connect with each other and get what they need. Our ShopSavvy app, on the other hand, is about commerce. We say it’s ‘pocket to price in 10 seconds’ or ‘all the sales in one place.’ So the consumer journey starts with knowing what you want and getting that information, once that has been validated through reviews and other information, it moves on to making sure you are getting the best price — and that could be a local price, a retail price, or an online price and can include coupons, discount codes or special offers. Some publishers with mobile apps have made the decision to build mega-apps that will be all things to all people, but that is not useful or valuable in a mobile context. The best apps do one thing really well.
But success in mobile is not just about being able to build and map apps to the user journey. It’s about encouraging users to use the app — and frequently. How do you achieve this?
I think it’s a really good point — and brings me to something else that we haven’t really seen in the publishing space: the idea of emphasizing lifetime value versus RPV. Publishers I talk to are focused on questions like ‘what is my page yield?’ and ‘what is my RPV or RPU?’ At Purch we frame this differently. In our view, if we can offer value at all points of the customer journey, then they’re far more likely to sign up for our membership program, which is the first step to encouraging and deepening customer engagement to build loyalty.
It starts with the consumer giving me an email address via the app, or it could also be a Facebook login on the website — and what we are able to build is a loyalty platform that both recognizes and rewards our best users. The idea is to recognize users for their engagement — and that could be because they’re active in our Tom’s Hardware forums or rating reviews on PurchX. We’re also incorporating the cashback engine that we acquired from ActiveJunky last year to offer it back to our users so they will be incentivized to come back to us.
It goes back to providing the value I talked about. We are helping users make buying decisions, and we are supporting them throughout the funnel. And now, since we can surface best price or best deal by not only searching for who has the best deal but then offering cashback on top of that, we have a really strong value proposition, a reward program and a reason for consumers to come back to our app often.
Of course, your user experience and rewards will need to be in sync with your audience segments…
Yes. Different audiences respond to different things. For example, our Tech Enthusiast audience is actually motivated more by recognition than rewards, so we are making sure we have the right badging system and the right leader board system. Treating them as our MVPs will encourage them to become advocates for our brand, our service and the value that we offer. As a company we are focusing a lot of our energy on acquiring more members, and that is going to drive our strategy and activities over the next 15 months.
Your family of apps maps to the user journey, but it also attempts to connect the physical and digital worlds to enable real-life commerce. What is the lesson here for publishers seeking to bridge this gap?
Our approach has been to offer valuable content so that consumers sign up for more as part of our program. This allows me to connect with you and say: ‘Hey Peggy, it’s great that you signed up for the program. Did you know that your user ID and password also works on the following apps?’ But it’s not just about encouraging you to use the other apps; it’s also about being able to recognize where you started your journey and surface content, sales deals or whatever based on your profile. Knowing that you came in through Tom’s Hardware means I can make sure your experience — and your context — can be enhanced and extended across the different platforms.
It’s all about solving one of the biggest problems publishers have today: visitor stitching. Giving the consumer value that motivates them to register and then use their same ID across our ecosystem, provides us insights into how user behavior changes from device to device or channel to channel — and that allows us to get a lot smarter about how we interact with users or shape what we offer them as a service. Today most publishers struggle with this because a user that starts on a desktop and then moves to a mobile device will look to them like two different users.
What steps should publishers take to deliver an ideal mobile experience — and what should they avoid?
Publishers have to deliver an experience that is low friction and high value. Adapting this for the mobile channel and context means you can’t have a slow loading mobile website or a complex app that takes forever to figure out. Everything has to be intuitive because the context on mobile is different from desktop. It’s critical to focus on delivering the best experience possible, that means putting the user first and demonstrating that you have unique content or unique service your audience can’t get elsewhere.
Demonstrating that value also demands companies communicate effectively and appropriately with consumers. In an age where one-to-many marketing is old-school and conversational content and marketing dictates that communications via the mobile channel should resemble a dialog, not a hard-sell, which channels and approaches do you recommend to publishers — and which have worked best for you?
All touch points are important. But it’s not just about making sure your audience can read the article or review on their smartphone and tablet. It’s also important to have a robust email program and one that isn’t ‘spray and pray’. Publishers have the opportunity to fine-tune the messaging and really personalize the message. This is really low-hanging fruit since email is also one of the cheapest and most effective forms of remarketing. I would advise publishers to make sure their email program is robust and then I would recommend they look to partner with other platforms to extend the reach of their content.
Another important channel for publishers, and where we are also focused, is mobile notifications because they enable companies to deliver a just-in-time message at the right moment and in the right context. For us that means we can send a message that says ‘Hey, the price of that product you were reading about or searching for just dropped’. It’s communication that can get people engaged and further validate the value of your service.
Finally, publishers should make sure all of their touch points are connected and aligned to the same strategy, as opposed to having a separate email team or a separate mobile notification team. Instead, they should make sure capabilities are aligned to give the consumer the choice and the opportunity to select frequency and channels.
On the topic of channels and formats, are there any that have done better than you had expected?
I have been blown away by the success of our QR code scanning app. It was a surprise because QR codes had a pretty bad reputation because marketers kind of ruined it in the very early days with campaigns that just took people to a mobile website or a mobile version of the ad. Being a marketer myself and being one of the early marketers trying to leverage QR codes in the early 2000s I also wrote them off as being dead in North America, but we are seeing huge interest among consumers — and we’re counting 5,000 plus downloads a day, just on the QR code reader. And that is just iOS since we don’t yet have an Android version.
You have created a platform that spans channels and cultivated an app ecosystem that serves partner brands. What are your plans and do you envision opening this up to other publishers?
We are focused on offering this to our core brands first, and will begin rolling it out to them this summer. We have had publishers express some interest, saying it would be amazing since they don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or the resources to build their own app ecosystem, or their own loyalty program, or their own virtual product database. In our own product database we have about 100 million products with 5 years of pricing history which is very unique in the industry. So, our strategy is to offer this to premier partners first and then potentially we could offering this as a platform that other publishers and companies can licence or tap into down the road.
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.