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SXSW is where innovation meets art meets crazy. It’s more of a festival than a convention and more of a state of mind than anything else. And while the film and music festivals sure are entertaining, interactive is where it all happens.

One pleasant surprise in this year’s interactive extravaganza was the massive interest in mobile. This year’s focus on mobile seemed bigger than ever, in terms of both the number of participants and the content itself.

Within the mobile arena, mobile marketing and advertising took center stage, and marketing-related sessions were a big hit. Here are the key mobile marketing conclusions we’ve reached during this chaotic experience:

1. Reaching customers is no longer the challenge. Influencing them is. Mobile enables us to reach customers like never before; we all know that. Smart media buying will get you anywhere, but then what? The SXSW crowd learned to shift focus and start looking at users as human beings instead of bits of data. Mobile marketing done right should concentrate on forming relationships with users by getting a solid grasp of what they need in the physical world. One example was that of a hotel chain that wanted to offer customers a better experience through mobile. After conducting a short survey among guests, the hotel marketing team learned that customers were annoyed by the long check-in and checkout process. The hotel then allowed them to complete this process using their mobile device and even turned their wearables into room keys. Providing a smart solution to a real problem, and adding a magical component, created a strong influence and increased users’ loyalty. With Apple Pay, wearables and beacons taking over the industry, mobile is the biggest playground for marketers to start working on their very own mobile success story.

2. Too many brands are still hung up on CPI. When searching for a mobile marketing agency, brands often meet “experts” who enjoy the ambiguous atmosphere surrounding the field. Everyone knows they should seek success on mobile – they just aren’t sure what mobile success looks like. This makes it easy for so-called marketing professionals to fill clients’ heads with nonsense and sell attractive numbers that mean absolutely nothing. That is, in short, the story of CPI (cost per install). It was amazing to see that, even at SXSW, sophisticated brands that perform remarkably well anywhere else can sometimes be clueless when it comes to mobile marketing, and marketing agencies are quick to take advantage of that. The same problem arises in companies that build an in-house marketing team but fail to set the right benchmarks or efficiently measure performance. Investing a little extra and getting a whole lot more is what brands should be doing. In other words, when it comes to acquiring users, brands need to stop aiming for low cost and start aiming for high quality.

3. App store optimization gets lost in the crowd. The magic phrase in the mobile world is “organic traffic.” Everyone wants it, but few know how to get it. That is why it was so unfortunate for us to see that the essential process of ASO (app store optimization) was almost nowhere to be seen during mobile discussions on SXSW. App marketers and developers must realize that mobile marketing is not just about coming up with cool, creative ideas (although that is most definitely part of the job) and is more than often a technical procedure that takes place out of plain sight. We can expect ASO to become even more prominent with the rise of wearables, so get ready. Sure, it’s much more exciting to discuss crazy notions and location-based whatever – but first you must cover the basics, as most marketers fail to do.

4. Product, product, product. You can have the best product, but it won’t do you any good if your marketing efforts are miserable. And you can have the best marketing strategy, but it won’t do you any good if your product fails. Marketing must always, always lead back to the product itself. The problem with brands today is that they hire marketing pros with zero product knowledge, which can only get them halfway. Your marketing team should be very product oriented and vice versa, to create the perfect balance between those seeking conversion and those looking for data. The less you divide these departments, the better. We realized at SXSW just how scared brands are of the process of interfering with the actual product. However, refining your app based on changes made to the marketing strategy, and providing users with a better flow based on the data you have gathered, is not the future of mobile marketing, it’s the present.

SXSW proved that there’s still lots of ground to cover when it comes to brands’ mobile marketing efforts. However, knowing that what they lack in understanding, brands make up for in enthusiasm makes us mostly excited for this journey.

Gilad Bechar is the founder and CEO of Moburst, a global mobile marketing agency. Gilad serves as a mentor to rising startups at Microsoft Accelerator, The Technion, Tel-Aviv University, Unit 8200, and for strategic Moburst clients and is the Academic Director of the Mobile Marketing and New-Media course at Tel-Aviv University.

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