Publishers Clearing House builds out its mobile home

Most companies commit to a mobile strategy by partnering with a digital agency. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) instead acquired a mobile advertising company as part of its comprehensive mobile strategy.

In 2011 the direct marketing company best known for its sweepstakes and contests purchased Liquid Wireless, a mobile tech firm that designed for brands mobile-friendly versions of offers and deals. PCH’s aggressiveness within the mobile space began in 2008, when according to Mike Zane, the company’s senior director of online marketing, it began noticing an uptick in percentage of online traffic coming from mobile—nearing 5%.  

“We started to have a mobile strategy—we’ll loosely call it that—in 2009,” Zane told Direct Marketing News following his presentation at DMA2012. But it wasn’t until 2010 when the company realized it needed to define a long-term strategy, one that focused and so far continues to focus on the mobile web.

While PCH intends to begin building out its on-device app strategy in the coming weeks, simply developing a mobile site was crucial how much the mobile user experience differs from the desktop experience.

Magazines and gaming websites, previously done on Flash, wouldn’t work on Flash-unfriendly Apple devices. Moreover, mobile pages needed to be significantly lighter to reduce load times. “If you try to load a desktop page on a mobile device, it’ll take too long for comfort,” Zane explained. “You can’t present product in the same way on a mobile phone. That was the biggest ‘aha!’ for us.”

PCH, which partnered with Liquid Wireless before acquiring it, also found that unique intelligence came from the mobile landscape—notably differences in user activity based on specific devices and mobile operating systems. Consequently, PCH couldn’t commit to a single mobile interface; it needed to develop a different user interface for different mobile users.

“Whether you’re on an iOS or a Blackberry or an iPod without phone capabilities, those all factor into the decisions we make on the user experience,” Zane explained. Device profile, he added, is a key factor in the way information is presented to or requested from mobile customers.

The issue for many companies is resource allocation—not all companies can expend the effort managing different interfaces for different users, which is why PCH and Liquid Wireless had to design mobile creative that looks good across multiple mobile platforms. “We don’t have any variations [in our email] up front,” Zane cited as an example. “We don’t have a desktop, tablet, or mobile [version], which are the three ways we see the world. We have an email creative that works on all three platforms.”

PCH currently has a click-through rate of over 30% on its mobile email, Zane said, and the mobile landing page that presents itself to users differs based on each user’s device and operating system. This is particularly important because PCH’s emails are typically calls-to-action, placing the consumers on a sweepstakes page that requests the user to input information.

Moreover, Zane noted that different mobile operating systems are indicative of various demographics. “And those demos,” he said, “react differently to different offers.”

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