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World Cup Showcase for International Business

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World Cup has again captured international attention this year, and featured one of the worst losses in World Cup history (and quite unexpected). Germany appears to be an unstoppable powerhouse in their record eighth World Cup appearance, but Argentina isn’t expected to go down without a fight – despite their scoreless match in full time against the Netherlands. But while many reporters and news stations are speaking on the various soccer statistics, we’re more concerned with another set of metrics there – their business climate. And the countries on the opposite sides of the field are nearly polar opposites in terms of economy.

Ich liebe Deutschland!

World Cup Showcase for International Business

I had the privilege of living in Germany during 2006 (not far from one of the cities hosting the preliminary rounds), and saw the first patriotic surge of the German flag since World War 2 at their World Cup performance. I can testify firsthand after living in Germany, they are well-known for two things – drinking beer and playing soccer. However, I can also testify to their thriving business environment.

Germany Financials

As the leading financial powerhouse of the EU, Germany alone carries over 20% of the EU’s total budget, fully 5% higher (5% of a hundred billion euro budget, no less) than the next country, France. In addition, Germany is ranked in the top 93% of the world for transparency, and has consistently maintained below a 3% inflation rate. They are also ranked in the top 20 (#18) of Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. Finally, Germany has the 4th largest economy in the world, behind US, China, and Japan – in that order.

Day to Day in Germany

The German culture is a very open and honest one that has established aquasi-capitalist system with a socialist undertone, called Social Market Capitalism. This enables more small businesses in a very different way than free market capitalists – by ensuring the social welfare of all citizens, thus enabling them to spend more in small bakeries, eateries, and butchers (yes, real butchers). Trade unions and associations abound, ensuring more than substantial wages. One of the greatest benefits of German culture, however, is the work schedule –10 paid national holidays, and a minimum of 4 weeks of paid leave per year. Unlike many Americans, it’s rare for Germans to work on a holiday, and they actually use their vacation time.

Argentina, the Fiercely Independent!

World Cup Showcase for International Business

Argentina stands as a stark contrast to Germany, while alternatively being very similar. Argentina is the most European among South American countries, and is a very relationship-oriented nation. Unlike Germany’s strong middle class, Argentina’s wealth is less evenly distributed. As recently as a few weeks ago, Argentina has officiallyentered a recession.

While it’s certainly possible they could emerge none worse for the wear, Argentina is presentlyembattled in a legal case concerning debt defaults in2005 and2010. The government has fiercely “protected” many sectors, which has seriously inhibited growth. While tariffs remain high, opening a business is even more cost-inhibitive. The Heritage Foundation has ranked them 166th in the world, out of a total of 178. Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Laos, and Vietnam were all ranked as“freer” in the economic sense of the word.

Economy Aside…

Greater Buenos Aires hosts roughly a third of Argentina’s total population in a thriving, vibrant city. Although the European influence is readily apparent, this nation is steeply rooted in its Latin-American and Indigenous culture. Argentina is also a major exporter of agriculture – especially beef and citrus fruits – and mild weather year round lengthens the growing season considerably.

Culturally, Argentinians have a reputation of being warm and friendly, and the notion of respect dominates much of this country’s behavior. However, corruption has increased significantly in an already corrupt nation. It’s not the citizens – the protests in 2012 were driven by political mishaps and inflation. While the people clearly want change to a true democracy, the politicians and government positions aren’t cooperating.

So…. Who’s Gonna Win?

When it comes to soccer, it’s hard to say who has the edge, though Germany is the heavy favorite. But when it comes to the economy and business culture, Germany is the clear winner for future investment. Their financial strength is one of the highest in Europe, their economic freedom is one of the highest in the world, and the many unions and trade association guarantee a strong middle class. Argentina, on the other hand, struggles with corruption and inflation, and while the people are collectively trying to impose reforms, those in power aren’t listening.

If I were an investor, my money would be on Germany.

 

From the Office to Your Pocket: Phone Call Forwarding Knows No Bounds

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Call centers have advanced substantially since their inception. Leaders have taken a very systematic and strategic approach to refining and making nearly every area increasingly more efficient. Even seemingly insignificant factors like call duration, queue management, peak hours, and the number of keystrokes required to complete a transaction are factored in, and leadership maintains a keen eye on these types of metrics. Collectively, a number of small, key areas dominate the performance of productivity.

Like call forwarding.

Phone Call Forwarding

Image courtesy of Flickr.com

What is Call Forwarding?

Every call center employee utilizes call forwarding, and yet some of the best features go unused. Call forwarding is responsible for the queue, as well as a host of other forwarding features. But it does a lot more than that, especially for managers and owners.

When a customer dials into the main number, it usually is directed to a menu. The menus usually begin along the lines of “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.” After being directed to a language, it may prompt “Press 1 for sales, 2 for customer service. “ After several menus and sub-menus, the call is forwarded to the queue where it belongs.

How do I use it?

Call Forwarding also applies to those who are out of the office, travelling, or otherwise not at their desk. Setting up a find me/follow me is a great solution for effective communication, and be easily enabled or disabled. Find me/follow me options allow forwarding to a specific number, such as a cell phone or home phone. It can be programmed to run in a pre-determined sequence. Moreover, this can ring to more than one person; it can ring to a specific department, and if the call goes unanswered, it transfers to another department after a predetermined amount of rings defined by the user.

Simultaneous ring also provides a value benefit, as it allows multiple phones to ring simultaneously. This is especially helpful for workers who remain on the go and are frequently in and out of the office. Setting up simultaneous ring or find me/follow me requires a user portal, and is very intuitive – it usually only takes a few minutes.

One of the greatest benefits of all, however, is the scalability. Don’t have an entire contact center? No problem – the same software you use for your business now will grow as you grow, and will evolve as your company evolves. This flexibility, in conjunction with the scalability, makes for a lasting business solution that doesn’t require new equipment with incremental growth. The same support you receive with one or two lines is the same you’d expect from a multi-location distribution hub, or a large contact center.

Phone Call Forwarding

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Conclusion

Call forwarding is a topic that isn’t often discussed in business growth, but should be integrated into every unified communications solution – or, for that matter, every business model. Call forwarding is an essential function of a business’s vitality. Often, the ability to reach decision makers, leadership, and sales reps can mean the difference in selling a unit or a customer calling a competitor.

What has been your favorite feature of call forwarding? Comment below with tips for how you’ve successfully grown your business.

 

What Premium Features Does Your Virtual Phone Line Need?

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In today’s world of infinite technology, there are more options for a virtual phone than one can fathom. Advanced call routing, a number of VoIP protocols and even Instant Message Integration are all features possible with certain types of virtual service. But, realistically, how many features does a contact center really need?

The Essentials

What Premium Features Does Your Virtual Phone Line Need?For starters, virtual phone numbers have the capability to receive an international call forwarded number. This means that you can have a number local to China (or Brazil, India, Germany, UK, or anywhere else) and when locals call that number, it transfers to wherever you’re actually located. While your customers think they are calling a Beijing number, your headquarters rings on a local number – whether it’s rural Indiana or London. This enables several international numbers to ring to the same centralized office.

Local Number Portability is crucial to most businesses. While “physical” or POTS lines cannot transfer your number outside of a fairly small geographic region, virtual numbers can be moved anywhere in the world. Many businesses value their phone number almost as much as the company name, as it’s sometimes the only method of contact for a past customer.

Most of the remaining basic features are very straightforward, depending on the size of the business. Things like standard call forwarding, basic voicemail, call waitingcall blocking and caller ID come standard and require little or nothing extra.

The Upgrades

Virtual Phone Line

Along with the aforementioned, there are also some very unique features that virtual phones offer. Whether or not they’re beneficial for a business is completely dependent upon the business needs, and some are more universally accepted than others.

Trunk groups are especially common in SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), but are also very common in VoIP. Trunk groups allow a business with many lines an efficient means to call path routing. This is especially important for call/contact centers, but can be beneficial for any company with more than 2 lines.

Selective forwarding is another widely used feature in the business world, and is especially convenient for a growing business. This allows the end-user or business to create conditional forwarding services, such as busy or no answer. It can be configured to automatically reroute a busy call to another line so that the caller won’t hear a busy signal. This can be forwarded to a cell phone, backup/rollover number, or a different facility entirely.

Time of day forwarding is perhaps the most effective for managing a queue. Most businesses have a peak usage between 11-1 and another from 4-7. Being able to effectively manage where calls are routed based on these times can help managers and owners plan ideal solutions for high volume of calls.

Finally, find me/follow me is a pre-determined sequence of rings, where an incoming call is transferred to a chain of phone numbers (including cell) until the recipient picks up or the final number either terminates or goes to voicemail. This is especially helpful for decision makers and others who have time-sensitive needs, and call also be paired with simultaneous ring.

What’s Right for You?

When it comes to virtual calling, there are a plethora of options that every business needs to carefully weigh the cost and return on investment. Even a basic service offers a slew of benefits, so while it’s easy to get confused by the number of options, often it’s best to stick with the basics until a need arises. Choose the ones that are right for your business, and avoid those that can quickly increase your telecommunications spending.

Comment below: which features help your business to operate at maximum efficiency?

 

Separate Your Personal Life from the Office & Get a Business Phone Number

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Work/Life Balance

Business Phone Number

The work/life balance has become an incredibly important discussion as it’s integral to a person’s livelihood as well as their overall happiness. Studies have shown that separating oneself from work and restricting work hours are some effective ways of enforcing a proper balance between work and personal life. Other reports claim that establishing priorities, both at work and at home, is the best means to maintain this balance.

This is a subject that has gradually risen over the last few decades as technology and communications have steadily increased. Emails, cell phones, and smartphones have slowly changed the landscape of what’s “personal,” and what’s “business.” While long hours are necessary for certain types of businesses, it’s never an ideal long-term strategy for a business, and has some very simple – but easy to implement – solutions.

Causes Are Subtle

The separation of work and home can sometimes be easier said than done, especially for small businesses and startups. Workers in the infant and young stages value every client as vital to their success (and with good reason). Especially in a home-based business, the lines between business and home can become blurred.

Frequently, personal cell phones and home numbers become an extension of company business, and hence, company time. This builds stress, as the “off” switch to business mindset virtually disappears. Especially for a person with a family, this can cause a serious problem in one’s relationship with their spouse, kids or both. A common complaint among spouses is that even when this worker is present, “they’re not actually there.”

Priorities cannot always be listed in a particular order of importance. A son’s baseball game or daughter’s softball game is important. Deadlines at work are important. Closing a sale or shipping a complex order out on time is a priority. All of these must be examined within their proper frame of reference, and weighed with objective intentions.

How to Fix It!

Business Phone NumberHours are not a commodity, and hence should be valued at their appropriate net worth. This applies at work and at home – time spent at home should be centered around activities at home, while workers should focus on business tasks at work. Although sometimes difficult, when this is mastered, it enables a very full and satisfying career and family life.

Restricting business hours can seem counterproductive – as unfinished work can make personal time mentally evasive. Often, owners or professionals who work long hours have difficulty leaving the office, but it’s necessary. Sleep and personal time are both critical to working effectively, and cutting back on either can actually decrease performance. So while there may be less hours of actual working, the productivity for those hours can increase drastically from a professional.

The separation is quite difficult, but another very effective way to counteract the blurred lines is to simply turn off the phone, whether cell or home. However, many small businesses don’t distinguish between a personal or work phone. Hence, obtaining a separate business line with the sole purpose of business can give you something to walk away from (as well as a potential write-off, in some cases). There are many ways to combat the work/life balance, and each scenario is different. What may work for a single working mother may not fit for a family man, and a great solution for a single man with no kids may fail miserably for a married, working mother. Thus, the best way to strike a balance is something only you can decide.

Comment below and let us know what’s worked for you!  

3 Strategies That Will Help Make Sense of Social Media Listening

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Everyone has heard of social media marketing, but have you heard of social media listening? It’s one of the trendsshaping the social media marketplace in 2014. Social media listening is about knowing what is being said about your brand, product, and industry in the social media sphere.

It can seem daunting to imagine keeping up with what’s being said on one social media platform, much less multiple ones. However, there are tools and strategies available to help you stay on top of your brand’s reputation online. Here are three that will help you make sense of social media listening.

Social Media ListeningUse the Right Tools

Every marketer needs a variety of tools to help them get a job done, and social media listening is no exception. There not enough staff hours in the day to read everything on every site, and the rightsocial media monitoring tools will help you focus on what’s most important.

Tools like Hootsuite allow you to set up feeds that show you what is being said about certain terms and hashtags. This can allow you to filter out the noise and see only what you need to. In addition, since Hootsuite allows multiple feeds side by side, you can track multiple terms related to your company and industry all in one place. Best of all, Hootsuite is free.

Social Mention is another great asset in your social media campaign. Another free program, Social Mention collects data across multiple platforms and uses basic analytics to help you understand the tone of what is being said. You can also see what sources are most active and what sites mention you most often. This can help you target your social media marketing efforts most effectively.

Set Goals

As with any initiative, your company needs to know what it is trying to accomplish through social media listening. There will be a lot of information and interesting tidbits out there, and it’s easy to lose sight of the forest because of the trees.

With all goal setting, it’s important to make sure thegoals are SMART – Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. What exactly are you trying to do? How will you measure it? Is it achievable? How relevant is the goal to you corporate mission and objectives? How long will you have to achieve your goal?

With these specific goals in place, you will be able to tailor your social media listening program, staff it effectively, and know what results you are getting for your investment.

Build Relationships

Social media listening isn’t just about damage control. Knowing what others are saying about your brand, industry, and product helps you engage with them. By knowing what social media platforms your customers are using and what sites are most active for your industry, you can craft campaigns to reach out and spread your message in a more targeted way.

Listening is the beginning of all relationships, because it shows the other person that you care what they have to say. When you show customers your care and interest, you open a door that allows you to follow up with your expertise and solutions in a much more positive way.

Social Media Listening

Social media listening is an important part of every company’s social media campaign. Although the amount of data on social media sites is overwhelming, the right tools can help you find just the relevant information you need. Setting goals for your listening campaign will help direct your efforts and keep you from getting lost in minutiae. Finally, be sure to remember that listening is about relationships, not just damage control. With these three strategies, social media listening will help you understand your customers and craft effective outreach for the future.

 

How to Creatively Leverage the Power of Pinterest for Social Success

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Pinterest is a site whose usage is growing in leaps and bounds. At the end of 2011, Pinterest had auser base of 3.3 million, and by July of 2013 that number had grown to70 million. 72% of Pinterest users make between $30,000 and $75,000 per year. Pinterest users spend an average of 98 minutes per month on the site, and 80% of the users are women.

All of this means that a lot of eyes are on the site, and the demographics are fairly specific. This makes Pinterest a hot target for companies and individuals looking to be noticed, especially if they can serve the female middle-class market.

PinterestGetting Noticed on Pinterest as an Individual

Pinterest is a social media site, so forming relationships is key. However, before you can form a relationship, you need to know your own voice on the site. What is your focus? How do you want to present yourself to the world? What’s your message?

Once you know what you want to say, the key is to say it in a friendly way. Users love having their pins re-pinned by others, and finding users who seem receptive to your message and following them can bring your name and your pins to their attention. Many marketers suggest the 70/30 rule – 70% of your pins should be re-pinned from other users, and 30% can be your own content.

The next step is to find content that speaks your message in a very visual way. Pinterest is based on eye-catching images, and finding a way to present yourself in great imagery is essential to being noticed. If you are a photographer, showcase your best work in various arenas – perhaps have one board dedicated to nature images, and another to portraits. If you are promoting crafts, try pictures of completed projects or brief how-to infographics. However you present your message, find a way to make it beautiful and you will be much more likely to find your images shared and re-pinned across Pinterest.

Getting Noticed on Pinterest as a Company

Businesses often have a harder time understanding and engaging with Pinterest. The site doesn’t lend itself to direct, interruptive messaging, which is what most companies think of when they think of the term “marketing”. However, today’s marketing environment has changed, and a company who can rethink their strategy can thrive on Pinterest.

A company will also need to clearly define the voice and message they want to project, and that is best done by setting clear goals as to what should be established from your Pinterest initiative. Do you want to increase site visits by a certain percentage? Gain a certain number of followers? Promote a particular new product? A clear goal will make it easier to know how to present your company on Pinterest.

As with individuals, companies should expect to spend time following other pinners and building relationships. Some companies look to jump-start relationships with customers by runningpinning contests. However, if this type of interaction isn’t followed up on with a long-term strategy, you can quickly lose the new attention you’ve gained. Be sure you know exactly what you aim to accomplish before you invest time and money in any marketing strategy, including contests.

Both businesses and individuals should be careful not to over-promote themselves. While the actual guidelines of Pinterestno longer say that self-promotion is against the rules, the spirit of Pinterest is one of sharing, not blaring. You will be much more likely to gain the positive attention you seek if you develop a clear voice, build relationships, and balance your re-pinning with your original content.

 

Receptionists Don’t Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your Business

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Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessSmall businesses and start-ups face many challenges, especially as they grow. It can be difficult to prioritize which areas of your business to spend money, and in which areas to focus on savings. Large organizations have the luxury of hiring new personnel on a whim, but smaller companies must be more strategic.

There comes a time in the life cycle of a small business where inbound call traffic becomes too overwhelming for the existing staff to handle. Employees want to focus on their jobs, they don’t necessarily want to be tasked with answering and transferring telephone calls.  But hiring a receptionist to manage this traffic isn’t always in the budget. In larger organizations, receptionists often have enough front-desk work to justify the full-time position. At smaller organizations; however, there may not be enough for a receptionist to do other than answer the phone; an expense that can’t always be justified.

So what is a growing business to do? How can you manage inbound call traffic without spending the money for a new, full-time employee?

What is Virtual Phone Answering?

Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessSmall businesses have several options when it comes to virtual phone answering. But one of the most cost-effective ways to manage inbound calls is through a virtual phone system. These systems use the power of the internet to deliver telephone calls and advanced calling features to customers, without the need for bulky and expensive hardware.

One of those advanced features is an automated attendant. When customers dial your number, the call is answered immediately. You can record a cheerful greeting, and then direct callers to take the next step required to connect their call to an employee. This can be done through touch tone inputs or even voice commands. Callers who know their party’s extension can bypass the menu and connect their call immediately. Others are given a list of options or extensions to choose from. They choose the best option, and their call is sent directly to the appropriate desktop phone.

Virtual Phone Answering – Your Internal Traffic Cop

Receptionists Don't Grow on Trees: What a Virtual Phone Answering Service Can Do for Your BusinessWhile some customers may just push “0” to default to the main line, virtual phone answering systems help ease the congestion that comes with a general phone free-for-all. Each employee can be assigned an extension. As customer and vendors become more familiar with your new answering system, they will bypass it and dial the precise extension they need when they call. This eases the stress on the main telephone line, and helps eliminate the all-hands-on-deck approach to answering and transferring calls.

Other Benefits of Virtual Phone Answering Systems

Virtual phone systems provide other features and benefits outside of acting as a virtual receptionist. Internet telephony is extremely flexible, and companies can customize their services so that their communications systems meets their unique needs.

  • Call Forwarding – Employees can route calls to mobile phones on the go

  • Voice-to-text – Individuals can have their voicemail sent to their email inbox as a recording or as a text-based communication.

  • Fax-to-email – Faxes can be delivered over internet telephone lines to email inboxes, eliminating the need for a physical fax machine.

  • Web Conferencing – Employees in separate locations can collaborate online via web conference.

  • Call tracking and reporting– Critical data regarding inbound and outbound calls can be collected and analyzed to assist in strategic planning.

At a certain point in the lifecycle of a small business it may be necessary to recruit and hire a receptionist to help manage inbound calls. For businesses attempting to scale, there may not be enough money in the budget to justify that expense. Companies looking to manage their call traffic and remain lean will benefit from the flexibility, scalability, and overall cost savings that comes with adopting a virtual phone answering service.

 

What Makes a Mobile Marketing Campaign Effective? What We Can Learn from These 4 Brands

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Mobile marketing isn’t easy. Plenty of brands have tried it with little success. But mobile marketing can be extremely effective when done correctly. Smartphones and tablets are slowly but surely replacing desktop computers as the primary way people consume the internet.  So what makes a mobile marketing campaign effective? Let’s take a look at how four big brands conquered the challenge.

McDonald’s: The UK Night Owls

What Makes a Mobile Marketing Campaign Effective? What We Can Learn from These 4 Brands

In 2013, McDonald’s restaurants in the United Kingdom began experimenting with 24 hour stores. Not every store would remain open all night, so they were left wondering how to communicate to customers which stores were open in the wee hours.  This presented a challenge, but they quickly discovered that mobile was their solution.

They assumed that most (but not all) night owls were either traveling to work, from work, or were out and about having fun with friends. They also assumed these people were probably highly connected through their smartphones.  They launched a restaurant finder app that allowed people to find the closest open McDonald’s restaurant, no matter what time of day or night they searched. They promoted the app through traditional channels, but real communication with their target audience occurred within the app.

UK stores saw a significant increase in overnight sales as a result of the mobile app launch.

Audi: Gaming the A8

What Makes a Mobile Marketing Campaign Effective? What We Can Learn from These 4 Brands

In 2013, Audi launched a unique mobile campaign for the A8 luxury sedan. Tablet users were tasked with catching a picture of the car as it sped by the screen. They had three tries to capture a photo. It was a simple concept with a game-like feel. Users already knew how to snap a photo with their iPad so there was no learning curve. After the third attempt, users were directed to visit their photo stream to see if they were able to capture the car. The first two attempts included phrases that said things like, “Try again,” or, “You need more practice.” But the third photo was a perfect shot of the car that was saved in the photo gallery.

Chipotle: The Scarecrow

What Makes a Mobile Marketing Campaign Effective? What We Can Learn from These 4 Brands

Chipotle made big waves with a campaign that incorporated both YouTube and a mobile game. Part of their “Food with Integrity” campaign, Chipotle produced a stunning, animated video that had a feature-film feel. At the end of the video, users were directed to download the mobile game. They released The Scarecrow on YouTube and snagged 6.5 million views in two weeks. And within four days, the mobile app had been downloaded 250,000 times.

The game was very strategic as the entire concept supports their brand positioning. Players are tasked with delivering wholesome food to people in a platform that is engaging to players of all ages.

Starbucks: Mobile Payment App

What Makes a Mobile Marketing Campaign Effective? What We Can Learn from These 4 Brands

Mobile campaigns are often novelties that burn out quickly when their shiny newness wears off. But Starbucks thought outside the box when the launched their mobile payment app. They launched the program on iPhone and Blackberry for the Starbucks Card app. By January 2014 it was the most used mobile payment app in America. But mobile payments are nothing new.

The success of the campaign was in the gamification of their rewards program.  A grande coffee gets you a star. Five stars earns you “green level” status which allows free refills and exclusive coupons. When you earn 30 stars you are now able to earn a free drink for every 12 you purchase, and you get even more special offers.

What Did These Brands Get Right about Mobile Marketing?

So what can we learn from these mobile marketing campaigns? Quite a bit, actually, and each one can teach us something a little bit different.

McDonald’s UK – McDonald’s knew they would have to target a very small segment of their customer base in order to make 24 hour restaurants work. They knew that night owls were probably very plugged in to their smartphones. So they built an app that wouldn’t disrupt what they were doing, but acted as a guide to direct users to stores. And anyone can use the app, not just night owls, so it benefits all UK stores in the long run.

Audi – Audi created a very simple, and very intriguing game. There were no real bells and whistles, users simply had to take a picture. And when it was done, an image of an Audi was saved on their phone so that whenever users scroll through their photo stream, they’d be reminded of the brand.

Chipotle – Chipotle incorporated video marketing into their mobile campaign, which could stand on its own but more importantly, drove downloads of the app. The game itself was challenging, yet fun for people of all ages. And any time they play the game, users are reminded that Chipotle provides fresh, quality food.

Starbucks – Starbucks capitalized on mobile payments to make getting in and out of their stores more convenient for their customers, while at the same time gamifying their rewards program and strengthening the loyalty of their customers.

The biggest lesson to take away from these successful mobile marketing campaigns is to know yourself and know your audience. When you understand what makes your brand unique, and you understand the ways in which your target customer uses their mobile devices, you can create a more effective mobile marketing campaign.