The Complete Guide to Mobile Marketing

What is Mobile Marketing?

Mobile marketing is any strategy or tactical campaign that draws attention to your brand on a mobile device. This includes outbound channels that bring visitors to your property (mobile websites and apps) as well as onsite and in-app messaging once they get there. It also includes social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, which are increasingly seen as important channels for B2C brands.

The (Brief) History of Mobile Marketing

From humble beginnings, mobile marketing has grown to become a vital aspect of a brand’s engagement strategy. It plays a role throughout the sales process and over the entirety of the customer’s lifetime. Let’s look at the biggest changes over the past 15 years.

2005: SMS Marketing

Although SMS short codes were introduced in 2003, it was another couple of years before major B2C brands fully embraced this channel as a marketing opportunity. It is sometimes seen as old-fashioned, but SMS towers above other customer engagement channels when it comes to both open rates and time-to-engage.

2007: Smartphones

Were any of us really prepared for the arrival of the iPhone in 2007 (and the Android devices that soon followed)? They are now a ubiquitous feature of everyday life and a key channel for brands to engage with their customers.

2008: Mobile Apps

When the Apple App Store went live in 2008, the entire mobile marketing game was flipped on its head! Brands suddenly had a chance to embed themselves in the lives of their customers. 552 apps were released on the store’s first day, with approximately 10 million downloads over the course of the first week. That’s an impressive figure, but throughout 2018 there were 194 billion downloads!

2009: App Push Notifications

Technically, Blackberry introduced them in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2009 when Apple launched its own push notification system that they really took off. Apple made the technology available to all of the developers and suddenly our phones were buzzing with alerts! It was another year before Google enabled them on Android devices. We’ve previously written an in-depth guide to push notifications, so check that out for more information.

2011: QR Codes

Do you remember that brief period when we all thought that augmented reality was going to play a huge role in our day-to-day lives? Yeah, that didn’t last very long. QR (Quick Response) Codes were actually around long before they entered popular consciousness, appearing in the Japanese automotive industry in 1994.

Whilst there was an initial novelty factor to QR codes at the start of the last decade and there were plenty of brands eager to trial them for marketing and advertising purposes, ultimately they were just too impractical to ever catch on. It’s just easier to type in the address of the website being promoted than it is to actually scan the QR code. The social messaging app, Snapchat, did find a use for them, to be fair. That feature cost them $54 million (to acquire Chinese company WeChat) plus additional development work.

There are suggestions that QR Codes could make a return, but it’s hard to see them ever being much more than a gimmick.

2013: Web Push Notifications

Google pioneered web pushes in 2013, but it was 2016 before they became easy for brands to implement on their own websites. By 2019, most browsers could support web pushes. 

2018: GDPR

Not a technological advancement, but a significant milestone in mobile marketing. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is the poster-child for digital privacy laws but it only actually governs companies operating in the European Union. The U.K. has introduced the Data Protection Act, while Japan has the Act on Protection of Personal Information. The U.S. currently has no plans to bring in something similar at a national level, but the California Consumer Privacy Act came into effect on January 1st 2020. It’s likely that other states will follow suit sooner rather than later.

These laws have changed the way in which companies collect, handle and use consumer data. Marketers now need to be certain that they are behaving in accordance with legislation when sending a campaign.

2020: The Single Platform

More recently, we’re seeing a drive towards a single platform that brands can use to orchestrate and analyse engagement across all of their engagement channels. It combines customer data, campaign attribution and execution in a single piece of software.

Mobile Marketing vs Digital Marketing: Is there a difference?

Mobile marketing is a subsection of digital marketing. In the very near future, however, there may be little or no distinction between these terms as smartphones and tablets more or less replace desktops entirely.

Within larger marketing departments, it’s not usual for mobile to have its dedicated team working independently from their colleagues. This inevitably leads to siloed data and disjointed campaigns. More and more companies are seeking to address this through the implementation of Customer Data Platforms and Mobile Marketing Platforms to facilitate cross-channel customer engagement.

Mobile Marketing vs Mobile Advertising

For many, advertising is seen as a subsection of marketing and this is largely true of the mobile sector. And whilst there are obvious links between these two ideas, they are ultimately distinct. For the purposes of this guide, we should be clear what is meant by each of them.

Mobile advertising is predominantly concerned with display ads. By now we are all familiar with website cookies, which enable brands to target potential customers with ads when they navigate away from their site. It is a passive method of connecting with a target audience, wholly reliant on your content standing out sufficiently to distract the user away from their current objective. It differs very little from digital advertising in general, essentially behaving in the exact same way as desktop advertising, just with smaller images! With third-party cookies becoming a thing of the past, some believe that mobile advertising is dying a slow death.

When we talk about mobile marketing in the context of customer engagement, however, we are looking at ways to leverage channels and capabilities unique to mobile devices, as well as incorporating emails optimised for the smaller screen (as most emails are now read on mobile devices).

Is Mobile Marketing Effective?

Yes, to the point that’s essential for pretty much every B2C brand! You’d struggle to think of a company that would not benefit from an improved mobile marketing strategy. The 2018 survey below was carried out by global IT consultancy Gartner. Their research pooled opinions from hundreds of B2C brands across a wide range of industries. The findings reveal the effectiveness of mobile marketing at every stage of the buyer’s journey in comparison to the alternatives.


(Source “Use Mobile to Connect Your Customer Experience Across Channels” Gartner, Published 22 August 2018)

The report really puts a fine point on what most brands are noticing on a day-to-day basis; more and more decisions are being made on mobile devices. 

Should I prioritise mobile marketing?

Below is a list of attributes that are commonly shared by companies who can benefit from a mobile-centric marketing strategy. In some cases, delivery to a mobile device may be the only option, but where there is a choice, mobile is the optimal way for both brand and customer.

Digital pure play

Your brand is an entirely online proposition, selling a service or products that exist only online. A contenting streaming platform or a digital publisher would be two typical examples here. Although you may have several digital options available, chances are your customers are tech-savvy users who predominantly use their smartphone or tablet to purchase and use your product.

Urgent or time-sensitive communications

If you regularly send out campaigns that contain urgent or semi-urgent messages (e.g. “your order is on the way”, “your subscription is about to expire”, “you’ve logged in from a new device”) then a mobile channel is absolutely the most effective way to communicate it. It may be that SMS is the best route, as it has a +90% open rate.

Regular contact

If, either by necessity or choice, you engage with your customer base on a frequent basis (more than once a week) then identifying the right mobile channel should be a priority.  

Mobile app

There’s no doubt if your brand has an app that is an important part of your marketing strategy then mobile-centricity is key. Push notifications, in-app messages and an app inbox are three channels that will help you increase the number of active monthly users, increase wallet-share from them and retain them for longer.

If you can relate to some of these attributes then you should strongly consider adopting a mobile-centric approach.

Mobile Marketing Statistics

What’s that old saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”? It’s true that stats can be misleading, but the following little nuggets certainly all point to the continued rise and importance of mobile marketing.

  • The average American spends 5.4 hours per day on their smartphone. Millennials are unsurprisingly the biggest age group in terms of usage, so it’s likely this figure will increase significantly over the next 10 years. 


  • Approximately 2 hours of that time is spent browsing social media, with apps in general accounting for a whopping 90%. But don’t despair if you only have a website because…


  • By the end of Q4 2019, mobile web browsing had close to 53% of the total global share. That’s a 20-point increase since 2015 by the way! In the US, it’s at about 57%.


  • 80% of in-store buyers use their smartphones while shopping. They’re looking up reviews and of course, cheaper deals online. 


  • 75% of us check our emails on mobile devices. 

Mobile Marketing Channels


Reports of its death have been wildly exaggerated. Maybe you’ve heard the stats, and maybe you haven’t, but with an average open rate above 90%, SMS needs to be taken seriously.

To be fair, the SMS game has changed a lot. Now, brands are leveraging MMS (multimedia messaging services) and RCS (rich communication services) to create more dynamic experiences that extend beyond the bare text. 

Mobile App Engagement Channels

When it comes to driving engagement with your mobile app there are three key channels; push notifications, in-app messages and the app inbox.

  • In-app messages

These are delivered through the app while it’s in use. 

Customers incorporate this channel into their app engagement campaigns in a variety of ways, driving business goals at every stage of the funnel.

We’ve seen them feature prominently during app onboarding and welcome series, but we also work with brands that use them to recover abandoned carts. 

One of the big advantages of in-app messaging is that you have several formatting options,  depending on the message you are sending. You can choose a subtle banner, or go all out with a full-page takeover.

And you can also be selective with who receives a particular in-app message, segmenting your audience based on any number of attributes and behaviours.

Learn more about this channel with our guide to in-app messages.

  • App Push Notifications

If your brand has an app then you need to start sending push notifications. It has to be pointed out though that it’s a permission-based channel. Android users automatically give consent when they download an app, but iOS users must go and do that manually. 

But who knows if and when this will change?

In any case, here’s a guide to convincing your app users to opt-in for push notifications.

  • App Inbox

This channel acts as an inbox which stores messages you send to an app user. You can set an expiry date on the message or mark it as permanent, depending on how time-sensitive it is.

Again, there are a host of business goals that an app inbox can help you achieve. In terms of formatting, you can either choose your service provider’s default template or build a custom one using HTML.

Here’s a more in-depth piece we’ve written on the value of the app inbox and its use cases.

Mobile Website Engagement Channels

We’re going to cover three similar channels here; web push, on-site messages and the web inbox. 

Web pushes are perfect for driving traffic to your website, whilst the other two are used to keep visitors engaged for longer and to create new conversion opportunities.

  • Onsite messages

You are probably familiar with the classic “pop-up”. They are a common sight on many websites, serving a variety of purposes. They are often used to share “similar content” in the middle of a browsing session, promote flash sales or grow an email subscription list. 

Up until a few years ago, digital marketers were reliant on providers like Unbounce to launch these highly effective engagement messages. Not only have platforms like Xtremepush made it easier to create an on-site message but they have also vastly enhanced their functionality. Following a simple SDK deployment (which requires minimal input from a developer or web-master), you can start sending them straight-away.

One nice detail to note about in-web messages, they do not require the visitor opt-in! And they can be triggered by pretty much any onsite behaviour, like the number of page views, specific page viewed and dwell time.

Onsite messages give you plenty of creative freedom, supporting large images that can be used to strengthen your marketing message (and there’s no text limit, either). They also support up to two CTA buttons, so you can drive more or less any business objective you have.

  • Web Push Notifications

Web push is an increasingly important channel for many brands, engaging both “anonymous” website traffic and existing customers with timely, personalised messages. This is especially true considering the decline of display advertising.

If you have a mobile website that’s converting well then you should strongly consider web push as an engagement channel. Each message can be deep-linked, directing the recipient to any page you like.

Similarly, if you’re finding it difficult to remarket to website traffic, web pushes give you another chance to engage them. This all depends on getting your opt-in messaging right, however.

We’ve written elsewhere in greater depth about web pushes so if you want to learn all there is know about them, from set-up to practical use cases, we recommend you take a look at that article.

If you are already sending web pushes, then check out this guide we’ve written on creating the perfect web push for eCommerce brands.

  • Web Inbox

Now, this might be a customer engagement channel you are less familiar with. It’s not all that common, despite its usefulness.

As brilliant as web pushes can be, they disappear once they’ve been engaged with or dismissed (hopefully not too often!). This makes them a less than an ideal channel for evergreen content or offers that last for a long period (like a Summer sale).

A web inbox is perfect for sharing these messages with your website visitors.

An icon (often a bell, but it can be anything you want) is added somewhere prominently on your website. Clicking on it opens up the notification centre. Again, this can be customised to reflect your brand’s colours. Essentially, this behaves like an email inbox, acting as a place to store all of the push notifications that each user has received from you.

The user doesn’t need to create an account, either, as the Xtremepush platform tracks the profile based on the Device I.D.

It also gives you repeat opportunities to convince visitors to opt-in for web pushes, with a simple on/off toggle that makes it easy without having to go into their browser’s notification settings.

The Essential Mobile Marketing Tools & Capabilities

Campaign automation tools

Unless you have a very deep budget for human resources (and let’s face it, no-one does!) then you’re going to need to automate your digital engagement campaigns to achieve results at speed and scale.

Intelligent workflows, built around dynamic message templates, allow you to deftly nudge customers towards goal completion time after time. It could be an onboarding or welcome series, intended to drip-feed information at a consistent pace or it might be an abandoned cart recovery campaign that brings users back to the checkout.

The Xtremepush customer journey-builder, Maxautomation, has been designed with multichannel marketing in mind. It allows our clients to efficiently orchestrate otherwise complicated cross-channel campaigns.

One of our biggest clients, Oddschecker, the world’s leading odds comparison website, launched over 100 dynamic campaigns, across 5 channels, over the course of a single week. They were able to do this with a team of just three people. You can read more about our work with Oddschecker.

Customer segmentation

Segments are created based on known behavioural data (particular pages visited, app usage, etc) as well as characteristics (nationality, location, age, gender).

The most powerful segments are the ones that combine several pieces of information to create incredibly rich, individually-specific user groups. Once you have these groups, it becomes so much easier to drive business goals.

Let’s say, for example, you wanted to increase your number of monthly active app users.

Rather sending a re-engagement campaign to everyone with the app, you’d want to create a dynamic segment of users who haven’t opened it in two weeks (or whatever time-frame you like).

To give yourself the best chance of re-engaging them, you then further segment that list by a secondary attribute (such as products bought or favourite sport). You can now send these smaller lists personalised, relevant and compelling messages that will have higher engagement rates than a generic blast.

A/B testing

Whether it’s the exact wording of an offer (does “sale” or “discount” get more clicks?) or the nature of the promotion (10% off for 24 hours or 20% off for 12 hours?), digital marketers need to A/B test their campaigns to get the best results.

Multivariate testing, as it’s sometimes called, should play a role across all of your mobile marketing campaigns. It’s the only way you’ll be able to optimise your messages for conversions and maximise ROI.

The more you test, the more you learn about both your products and your customers. Which type of products generate the most interest and what type of language resonates strongest with your audience?


Personalisation means different things to different people. There’s some uncertainty out there regarding what’s actually possible and how achievable it is at scale.

For some, it goes no further than including the recipient’s first name in the message. That’s certainly one aspect, but true one to one marketing goes much deeper.

It’s really about using all of the available data you have about your customers, from order details to behavioural patterns and preferred content, to deliver individually relevant experiences.  As consumers, we expect our favourite brands to know more about us, and to use that information to add genuine value to our lives.

Mobile Marketing Platforms

Mobile Marketing Platforms, often abbreviated to MMPs, are pieces of software that facilitate the creation and delivery of mobile-centric marketing campaigns.

They possess deep capabilities in mobile-specific channels we’ve mentioned like in-app messaging, push notifications and SMS and excel in capturing usage analytics for mobile devices (as well as desktop users). Some MMP providers will also provide email and web channels like browser push and on-site messaging. Again, this demonstrates that there is always going to be some cross-over between mobile-centric marketing tactics and a general digital marketing strategy.

A comprehensive Mobile Marketing Platform can act as both the intelligence centre and actioning arm for all of your digital marketing tactics. It differs from a Multichannel Marketing Hub (MMH) mainly in relation to the richness of features it offers and the depth of channels available. Typically, the leading MMHs excel in email performance but lack the necessary sophistication elsewhere.

In terms of use cases, Gartner assesses MMPs on the basis of their ability to help brands acquire, engage and retain customers. There are a number of factors which contribute to an MMP’s overall efficacy in these categories; the number of channels, the ability to scale as message volume increases, enterprise-grade analytics, real-time functionality, a robust automation or workflow builder, custom segmentation options and campaign optimisation tools.

Beyond the features mentioned, one of the most attractive aspects of purchasing an MMP is the elimination of point solutions. By running all of your communication channels through a single interface you not only save a huge amount of time, but you also reduce your costs. A Mobile Marketing Platform will also help you to execute cross-channel campaigns, connecting with customers at the ideal moment and through the most effective medium.

Download your FREE copy of the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Mobile Marketing Platforms

Permission and consumer privacy in Mobile Marketing

GDPR, and its counterparts around the world, have made permission marketing a non-negotiable.

There are some marketers that pine for the “good old days” when you could be less worried about who you were sending messages to.  But the very best professionals have been playing by the rules for a lot longer than 2018, when GDPR came into effect.

Rather than cursing your luck that you have to operate under the careful eye of consumer watchdogs, however, we recommend that brands really embrace the limitations that privacy laws have placed on digital engagement.

You’re probably already familiar with the concept of “opting in” to receive marketing communications. We’ve written before about the importance of getting this right. In some cases, you may only have a single opportunity to convince your audience to listen. Some of the newer engagement channels, like web push notifications, have permission-requirements at their very core. You need to have consent before you can even begin to start sending messages.

Brands must realise that we are only at the beginning of the privacy-era. Laws are going to become more stringent and the penalties for getting it wrong will increase. That’s why we have adhered to the philosophy of privacy by design throughout the development of our mobile marketing platform. We want to help brands not only stay on the right side of compliance laws by default, but also foster brand loyalty in doing so.

By making the privacy of your customers a priority you can actually forge better relationships with them that will yield more ROI in the long-term.

About Xtremepush

Xtremepush is the complete digital engagement platform, purpose-built for multichannel and mobile marketing. It empowers brands to deliver personalised, relevant and real-time messages across email, web browser, mobile app, SMS and social messengers.

The platform is completely modular and combines enterprise-grade analytics with a full suite of campaign and automation tools. This provides brands with accessible and actionable data, enabling them to unify the silos, create dynamic customer experiences and execute core business goals at speed and scale.