Mobile marketing with morals

Mobile marketing with morals

Grant Fraser, chief executive and co-founder of mobile marketing agency Digitonic, explains how the company is using its intellectual property to acquire and retain customers for its clients – but without compromising on its morals

Mention the phrase “mobile marketing” to the average consumer and you’ll be greeted by a barrage of profanities about spam emails and text messages, about everything from reclaiming payment protection insurance (PPI) to ambulance chasers. But Grant Fraser likes to do things differently.

“I genuinely could have retired on the amount of money we’ve turned down from companies that deal with PPI claims,” explains the chief executive of mobile marketing agency Digitonic. “We’ve never undertaken any marketing campaigns that have related to PPI, pay-day loans, accident claims or anything else you would deem to be spam.

We knew that the brands that we wanted to work with wouldn’t want to be associated with an agency that had undertaken that kind of work, so we’ve turned it away.”

Those clients now include a blue-chip names, running from car companies like Audi and Renault and retailers such as Bensons for Beds through to National Lottery operator Camelot along the way. The work Digitonic undertakes for its clients falls into two streams – either helping to acquire new customers or helping to retain existing customers via smart mobile marketing using pioneering technology that the company has built at its Glasgow head office.

Fraser developed the idea for the company during 2010 and launched the business the following year with his co-founder, Iain Wilcox, who serves as director of marketing.

“I realised the future of marketing would be on mobile devices,” Fraser remembers. “Although there were companies in the UK that claimed to specialise in mobile marketing, when you stripped it away there was actually no mobile marketing expertise.”

Specialising in marketing for devices like mobile phones and tablets has the company has grown from its initial two staff to a team of 12, with revenues rising from £100,000 in its first year to £2m in each of the past three years.

As well as its base in Glasgow, the business has an office at Harpenden on the edge of London. “Around 90% of our business comes from companies headquartered in London, so it was important to open a base there,” Fraser explains.

Some of the company’s technology was developed out of Fraser’s own personal experience. “What I hated was when I was on holiday in America with my wife and children and I would get text messages from the brands that I was a customer of back at home in the UK,” he remembers.

Digitronic“Very few people turn their phones off on holiday so when those texts came in at three o’clock in the morning they would wake you up. So, we built a tool that allows our clients to validate mobile numbers and determine if they’re overseas or not – if they are then it automatically removes them from the marketing pot so they don’t get woken up.

“The big driving force over the past four years has come from the text message,” he adds. “Brands were sending just basic text messages, they weren’t even personalising them, which was just crazy.

“They were using shortened website addresses through services like bit.ly that were linking to landing pages that didn’t even work on mobile devices. We created a way of providing rich content, including bespoke optimised landing pages before anyone else was offering them – we could embed content such as television adverts.

Digitonic now expects turnover to at least double thanks to a range of new products and services that the company has created. Those new platforms include Entr and mDoc.

“When you go into a hotel or a restaurant and you want to connect to its wifi service, you normally have to fill in a form, giving some of your marketing details, like a phone number and email address,” says Fraser. “The system that we’ve built can then recognise your phone the next time you return, logging onto the wifi network in the background, so the brand can learn more about how long you spend in its location.

“So, for example, if you go to the same pub every Friday evening after work and you leave at the same time then our system can predict when you’re likely to leave. A few minutes before it expects you to leave, it can send you a text message with a special offer for, say, a meal for two that will encourage you to stay longer or come back again.”

Entr can also be used to help people who are addicted to gambling. “At the moment, if someone wants to self-exclude themselves from gambling then they need to go into a bookmakers’ shop and fill in a long paper form at the counter, while everyone around them is placing bets,” says Fraser.

“Staff in the shop are expected to recognise customers when they come in and refuse to serve them if they have filed the self-exclusion form.

“If a bookmakers’ shop is offering wifi to its customers and a self-excluded person comes into the shop who’s registered on the system then the manager and staff can automatically be sent a text message telling them not to serve the customer.

“At the same time, the customer will be sent a text message reminding them that they can’t be served and directing them to sources of help for their gambling addiction.

Digitonic’s other new product, mDoc, allows companies to produce rich content for their marketing text messages, including animations and videos with sound. “Companies weren’t using multi-media messages) because they were relatively expensive,” Fraser explains.

“So, we developed mDoc to allow them to embed rich content into standard text messages. That’s really helped us to grow our business – we’re the only ones who can do it, which makes it quite exciting.

“Our unique selling point (USP) is the technology that we’ve built,” Fraser adds. “That’s why we scored so highly in the IP100 league table.

“We didn’t fully appreciate how much intellectual property (IP) we had generated since launch because it’s technology that we initially built for our own use to make our campaigns successful. We’re delighted that large brands have adopted our technology and are reaping the rewards. Our other USP is our approach to marketing compliance.”

Digitonic’s morals don’t simply extend to picking and choosing its clients carefully and looking for socially-responsible uses of its technology. The company has also subjected itself to outside scrutiny to make sure it measures up.

“We were the first company to have our techniques audited by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) within its new membership audit, as we went to it and asked to be,” says Fraser. “We wanted independent verification that none of our work could be misconstrued as intrusive or as spam.

“We work closely with the DMA and are fully transparent with it. We spend a lot of time and effort and money ensuring that we remain at the forefront of lawful and compliant marketing, including attending events like the recent E-Privacy Directive Review at the European Parliament in Brussels.”

“The market is becoming much for sophisticated and, with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) kicking in next year, being at the forefront of compliance – like Digitonic is – will help the company grow and achieve our ambitious expansion plans.

“I am really looking forward to 2017 – the pioneering technology and the experience that we’ve gained over the past six years has built fantastic foundations. We’re pulling together a dream-team advisory board to help us to capitalise on the opportunity that our IP is giving us.”