Heard the one about the digital business that turned its back on conventional marketing and trebled engagement rates with their customers as a result? If you’re in mobile - to any extent - you should probably pay attention. Swrve customer icelolly.com, a fast-growing UK-based travel comparison site, has put big data to good use, delivered the kind of mobile experience that users expect, and seen plenty of benefits from that approach.

Setting The Scene

I recently spoke to Darren Kunar, CRM Communications Manager with icelolly.com - the man responsible for building relationships with the millions of people who use icelolly.com to compare and book holiday deals. His approach and philosophy is very much one based on the ‘new marketing’ that mobile demands, an approach that acknowledges the risks of simply spamming customers in such a personal channel.

As he explains it:

“Customers are not there to be bombarded with sales messages. They need to be respected, and we need to focus on helping them rather than selling to them. If you aren’t helping, then you won’t get attention on mobile. So fundamentally that’s what we do, we help people on mobile”

And mobile is becoming increasingly important to the icelolly.com business. Already over half of all sessions are on mobile, and that number increases every year. Mobile is clearly the channel of choice for discovery and the early stages of search, and although bookings via mobile form the minority of the business, that is also growing.

We want to make sure we cut through the noise, because there’s now so much noise on mobile the challenge is to be noticed and get attention.

Whichever way you look at it, mobile matters. “We have millions of holiday deals online at any one time”, explains Darren, “so it is vitally important to ensure that users can find what they are looking for quickly and easily, and on mobile that can be even more of a challenge. We want people to think ‘icelolly.com’ when they think holidays, and that means making the experience as strong as possible”.

Significantly, downloading the app is seen as a statement of intent on the part of consumers, and mobile users who download the app do convert in stronger numbers. On that basis, icelolly.com puts particular effort into nurturing this relationship from the start.

First Time User Experience

“We’re fundamentally focused on giving customers a great user journey so they can find what they are searching for fast”, says Kunar. That process begins, however, from the moment any potential customer first opens the app. The icelolly.com team’s first project was the creation and delivery of dynamic onboarding screens via Swrve, with the intention of improving early life retention. The initial experience is of course incredibly important - without getting that right every other metric is compromised.

Ice Lolly holiday comparison app screen - star rating

There was also a focus on improving opt-in for push notifications via customized in-app campaigns that sold the value of these to users. Again, push was a key aspect of the icelolly.com mobile strategy as we will see in the campaigns below. With both these initial projects live and delivering results, it was time to move on to the main event…

A Campaign Of One

With a background in email and other aspects of broader digital marketing, Kunar and the icelolly.com team were keen to look at native mobile alternatives for customer communication, and that meant push notifications. But what happened next is where the story gets really interesting.

“It’s basic but it’s true - whenever you use the right communication at the right time for the right customer, and it’s tailored to them, that’s when you’re going to get success. We didn’t want to do things the traditional way - building segments and defining audiences - but instead wanted to build a single engine that delivers the right message every time.”

What that means is dynamically capturing the parameters used in search queries (such as length of stay, destination, date and price) and then using that data to both inform which push messages are sent, and populate them to make them clearly relevant to the user. Instead of “We have lots of new holidays today”, “New deals on fortnight stays in Tenerife from the 14th June at under £800”.

Better yet, these individual, personal campaigns are effectively a single campaign. By building a dynamic push engine the team are able to effectively send a million individual campaigns without any need for human input. Lastly, by using ‘optimal time’ sending logic, icelolly.com are able to automatically send these personalized messages at the right time for each individual user - when they are most likely to open the app.

Ice Lolly app push notification permissions and offline blog screens

It is probably no surprise that as a result Darren and his team have seen engagement rates increase by over 300%. That’s an extraordinary result, but what is most interesting, and has the most implications for others on mobile, is the philosophy. In Kunar’s own words:

“As long as the data’s there, we don’t choose the audience - the audience chooses us. Push notification campaigns are only sent based on user preferences as they’ve communicated to us during search, and only at times that suit the customer. We’re not a massive batch and blast push notification user. We want to make sure we cut through the noise, because there’s now so much noise on mobile the challenge is to be noticed and get attention.”

All of this speaks of a business that understands how mobile has changed the dynamic between the brand and consumer. The former are now obliged to help - rather than sell to - the latter, and successful campaigns are characterized by being useful rather than intrusive. A flat ‘sale’ message is intrusive, a price or availability alert on an item you searched for 2 days ago is useful.

What’s next for icelolly.com? “We’re interested in any way of improving experience and getting closer to our customers” says Kunar. “That means anything from using WhatsApp as a channel to increased video content on site and in richer mobile marketing. Mobile will keep growing, but what won’t change is that it’s all about putting the customer first, if you do that right in any business you’re going to get success”