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Which mobile channel will reign this holiday season?

This holiday season marketers are going to be using different mobile channels such as QR codes, mobile advertising, SMS and applications to drive in-store traffic, engagement and sales. However, which one will lead the pack?

Mobile has changed over the years. Retailers such as Target and Starbucks are using mobile to interact with consumers on a deeper level.

"If the recent CMO Council survey is to be believed, you can ask whether marketers are looking at the holiday season differently this year,? said Jeff Hasen, chief marketing officer at HipCricket, New York.

?Only 16 percent had a mobile strategy,? he said. ?Contrast that with mobile users who are way ahead when it comes to mobile and the holidays ? 56 percent of mobile shoppers will showroom and 27 percent will buy via their devices, according to Accenture.

"This creates excellent opportunities for mobile-savvy marketers to differentiate and satisfy the needs of the mobile subscriber and sell more stuff.?

?Tis the season
According to Mr. Hasen, many marketers who will win will provide consumers with mobile choices rather than dictate that interaction happens through one medium or another.

"Marketers should think of inclusive mobile strategies rather than ones that exclude users who have neither the technology nor the interest in interacting in just one way dictated by a brand."

?My wife has adapted her buying experience to include mobile, but the next time she scans a QR code will be the first time,? Mr. Hasen said. ?However, if you give her an optimized mobile site, convince her the experience is secure and provide a winning price and convenience, the deal is done.?

Mobile presents marketers with key opportunities to reach consumers like they could never before.

According to the National Retail Federation, online holiday sales are predicted to grow by 12 percent this year and retailers are promoting new tactics to drive sales on mobile devices.

?Because of this, I predict that we will see QR codes utilized by major brands to help facilitate mobile and online sales,? said Laura Marriott, CEO of NeoMedia, Denver.

?Brands will also leverage bar codes to drive customer loyalty through, for example, driving consumers to mobile rebate pages or product comparison pages at the point-of-sale,? he said.

Emerging technologies
Industry experts agree that brands and retailers will incorporate more mobile initiatives this year.

There will be an increase in some of the basics ? such as the establishment of mobile sites, SMS and QR codes ? and also an increase in mobile commerce, including NFC, mobile payments and couponing.

?Deloitte predicts that shoppers' smartphone activity, including research, coupon use and purchases, could account for $36 billion in holiday sales this year,? Ms. Marriott said. ?As always, online shopping will prove to be the most-utilized forum for holiday shoppers, but we will see much more of the traffic to online sites come from mobile devices,? she said. ?Because consumers have a powerful device at their fingertips, marketers need to ensure that their sites are optimized for mobile device access which will ultimately lead to sales.

?This is especially important, seeing that a new report from Gartner found in 2011, 79 percent of major advertisers had not launched a mobile friendly site.?

Ms. Marriott believes that mobile commerce and couponing will continue to be prominent within the industry.

Nowadays, consumers are always looking to save money ? especially during the upcoming holiday seasons.

Therefore, coupons will be big. However, mobile coupons will be even more impactful.

Consumers are constantly on-the-go, therefore giving them an option to save coupons to their mobile devices to be redeemed at the point-of-sale will be essential.

?Coupons will offer consumers the opportunity to make an immediate purchase on their device, and this trend will continue to increase as the use of coupons via mobile devices have already risen 10 percent from last year, according to Deloitte,? Ms. Marriott said.

?Additionally, as showrooming remains a critical issue for retailers, we?ll start to see more retailers/brands utilizing mobile to their advantage,? she said.

?For example, they may choose to include a QR code on their packaging/in-store signage to drive consumers to a landing page which compares the product to similar products from other brands, both in price and features.?

According to Vivian Rosenthal, founder/CEO of GoldRun, New York, mobile apps have become the go-to channel for brands for the holidays because they allow brands to connect with consumers while they're on the go, in-store and at home.

"QR codes are being replaced by GPS-based experiences, which don't require the user to scan anything," Ms. Rosenthal said. "And while SMS is in widespread use, it doesn't create a personal or visual connection with the consumer the way a mobile app experience can, if done well.

"Bringing consumers into a dialogue with the brand is critical," she said.

This holiday season, mobile marketing is going to explode and be the biggest way that brands reach consumers in the coming years.  

"We are anticipating photo sharing on mobile as the go to solution for brands because it creates both a personal connection with the brand and also has the viral effect that the retailers are looking for," Ms. Rosenthal said.

Testing on mobile
The biggest opportunity for retailers and brands this holiday season is to connect and engage with customers via their connected smartphones.

While QR codes, SMS, and the promise of NFC are likely exciting to marketing departments, they are really just vehicles for driving traffic.

"The question every retailer and brand should be asking is 'what experience are we providing to mobile consumers and how can we best drive conversions?' said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

"Any marketer that is not working in lockstep with their ecommerce team to ensure an optimal mobile commerce experience delivery is simply not paying attention," he said. "An integrated, dedicated mobile commerce site is the obvious first and most-important step to unlocking the door to mobile traffic and subsequent conversions as sales revenue.

"All else is secondary, as there?s no use driving mobile traffic to a site not ready to receive it."

According to Mr. Kerr, real world trigger points such as NFC ad QR codes are hot, but an often overlooked key to mobile commerce success is a rapid seamless checkout process.

"Mobile integration with ecommerce registration allows mobile users to access pre-stored shipping and billing information so this data is autofilled on a mobile device, at checkout," Mr. Kerr said.

Key trends
Although there are many emerging mobile technologies out there, QR codes are becoming a hot commodity.

"QR codes will reign this holiday season,QR codes is the new generation of modern technology innovation," said Isabella Lin, content director at Appitalism, New York.

"Consumers expect immediate service and immediately understanding and knowledge of the product in this holiday season, this only QR can be done," she said. "For the interest of consumers, QR codes can provide all - service projects, the commitment of the transaction in the form of additional benefits, coupons, video lottery, social media interaction.

"Additionally, QR codes also helps ads break through the clutter."

In the past marketers were facing dizzying array of options to help capture the audience's attention and drive sales.

Mobile technology has rapidly gained momentum.

"Mobile and the upcoming holiday season follow with QR code potential is immeasurable, the next generation of bar code, will be held - so much more information and an Internet connection, will not even be necessary," Ms. Lin said.

"The content will be simple and efficiently embedded in the code," she said. "You will see QR code in all areas of the market everywhere."

Proliferation of devices
Over the past few months, there has been a proliferation of new devices including Apple's new iPad mini, iPhone 5 an the new Windows 8 tablet.

Tablets are becoming bigger and bigger each and every day.

"The tablet will rein this holiday season," said Bruce Bennett, CEO of Mad Mobile. "We will witness the first large scale test of the shopping season couch surfer/buyer.

"A recent study shows that 73 percent of consumers prefer to shop on mobile-optimized sites rather than just 27 percent of people who prefer to shop on a mobile app," he said. "So when it comes to shopping this holiday season, mobile-optimized sites will be the primary medium where consumers are engaging with brands.

"It is important to note that mobile shopping does not necessarily mean mobile purchasing. You have two types of mobile shoppers ? those using their smartphone to search for information such as store location and hours, price comparison and product reviews, and those who are actually looking to make a purchase on their mobile device. It is equally important to have a mobile-optimized site for both types of shoppers."

Marketers will try to balance their omni-channel efforts. Mr. Bennett believes that spending will increase. 

"Microsoft will be a huge player in the rise in spending around their launch of Windows 8," Mr. Bennett said. "Mobile and social ad spend will be a large part of the $1B plus spend for this holiday season rollout. 

"Windows 8 is a massive step in the direction of touch management for laptops and tablets," he said. "Mobile marketing was a key contributor to the 2011 holiday shopping season and it will be much bigger in 2012 as more and more consumers are using their mobile devices for shopping.

"Large spend on tablets of all vendors, sizes and price ranges. The widespread rollout of 4G LTE will make true mobile web browsing a reality for mobile phones. Showrooming in its many forms will affect the majority of mobile shoppers. This will be the basis for a mobile-ffirst strategy for holiday seasons to come."

Final Take
Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York