Macy’s and Best Buy: A tale of two holiday mobile marketing campaigns

The start of the annual holiday-shopping feeding frenzy is just hours away, and mobile devices are sure to play a larger role than ever. The digital marketing firm IgnitionOne recently estimated that 19 percent of consumers will use their tablets to make purchases over the Thanksgiving weekend and 18 percent will do the same on their smartphones, up from 15 percent and 14 percent respectively last year. And the growing trend of showrooming is sure to get a boost this holiday season as consumers turn to their gadgets to find the best price or negotiate a better price.

Despite all that traction, though, far too many companies continue to make mistakes as they try to cater to those users: They put QR codes in areas they can’t be scanned, they fail to maintain websites that are optimized for mobile or they fail to drive traffic to apps in which they’ve invested heavily. But two major U.S. chains are demonstrating the power of mobile this season by employing two very different strategies.

Macy’s embraces high tech

Perhaps no major U.S. retailer is pursuing mobile initiatives as aggressively as Macy’s is this holiday season. The department store chain is encouraging customers to post photos or videos of themselves mailing letters to Santa from inside its stores, marking those images with a specific hashtag. Customers who do so have a chance to be included in a Macy’s television commercial, giving users an incentive to come through the door and virally market the campaign. And Macy’s uses QR codes to direct leaders to a special microsite where they can access holiday-themed marketing content.

Macy’s also is the first retailer to use Apple’s new iBeacon, as my colleague Kevin Fitchard reported last week, deploying the technology at one store in New York and another in San Francisco. The chain has partnered with Shopkick, a developer of mobile retail apps that recently launched a service that uses iBeacon to enable retailers to track customers and engage with them on their smartphones as they traipse through the store. I discussed a few weeks ago how iBeacon (and some other brands) are starting to use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to welcome customers as they walk through the doors and present location-specific offers and promotions as they shop. BLE may never become the default technology for mobile payments that some are already predicting it will be, but Macy’s is doing an impressive job of experimenting with it.

Best Buy goes old school with SMS

While Macy’s tinkers with what may be the next big mobile marketing technology, Best Buy is wisely turning to SMS to keep customers engaged as the season ramps up. Customers who opt in to the campaign with a holiday-specific keyword are sent a daily message through the end of the year linking to an offer. The company hopes to entice those customers to remain in its mobile database to receive other marketing missives once the holiday season has passed.

Cutting-edge tools like augmented reality, NFC and BLE often get more hype in the tech-obsessed world of mobile marketing, but SMS is still a powerful weapon. It enables marketers to address a far broader audience than campaigns directed only at smartphones, and to do so cheaply and easily. It also can establish an ongoing dialogue between marketers and consumers, giving advertisers another way to learn what their customers what and to tweak their campaigns accordingly. Advertisers must always be careful to approach only users who have opted to receive their come-ons, and they should never bombard their users with constant messages or unwanted promotions. But when it’s used wisely, SMS can be just as effective as any post-modern mobile marketing strategy.