Retailers aren't playing games, effective apps deliver more than coupons

If you're running banner ads or blocking connectivity in stores you're looking at mobile all wrong.

That was the message from mobile marketers at the Shopper Marketing Summit this week near Chicago.

"Nobody clicks on mobile banners, it's a terrible message medium," said Manuel Rosso, CEO, Food on the Table. The best apps in play today, are those getting the shopper to interact with a retailer or brand in ways that go well beyond claiming a discount or clipping a coupon.

"Digitizing coupons is a poor investment of marketing dollars. It reinforces a transactional relationship with the consumer, it trains them to discount," agreed Bryan Leach, founder and CEO of third party app ibotta. "The smartphone makes it possible to tell stories, it makes it possible to build games." Banner ads and pop-up interruptive advertising don't generate loyalty.

There are useful and logical ways to insert messaging into mobile apps. Food on the Table is a recipe app, recently sold to Scripps Networks Interactive and soon to be part of Food.com. Users can browse recipes and build shopping lists; prompting them to add a brand or product during the process can result in a sale.

Even better, agree marketers, is getting shoppers to earn rewards. Ibotta rewards those who watch a commercial with a discount. It incentivizes shoppers to share programs on social networks and write reviews, turning customers looking for a deal into brand advocates.

Mobile gamification is helping retailers and brands to engage shoppers in meaningful ways. Shopkick may be the most well-known, but apps such as Target's Cartwheel (NYSE: TGT) and even Starbucks' (NYSE: SBUX) app, let users earn rewards and interact in ways beyond price checking.

And while many retailers, including Target, are building proprietary apps, the appeal of a third party program such as ibotta's is its critical mass. "It's very hard to get on the front screen of a phone or tablet," said Leach. "All of the top retailers combined have a lower usage in a 30-day period than ibotta. You have to have a third party app to get scale."

For Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer, the app brings in features and functionality that drive engagement, "reinforcing engagement with the brand and driving loyalty," said Brian Pugh, customer engagement manager.

Related stories:
Shopkick extends reach with shopBeacon
American Eagle Outfitters launches 100 store shopBeacon trial 
Safeway, Giant Eagle beam up iBeacon to 150 stores
Sears and Kmart turn on shopper engagement with new mobile platform
Location-sensing helps retailers pinpoint 'power hours' for shopper activity 

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