Not long ago, brand marketing involved strategically creating campaigns that targeted consumers with a specific message.

It was directional.

But with the rapid rise of mobile commerce and social media, fashion apparel brands and retailers are learning that technology is allowing for two-way dialogue with their consumers. Moreover, that conversation is ongoing and includes a variety of interactions between a consumer and a brand along the entire shopping journey.

Here Maya Mikhailov, cofounder and chief marketing officer of mobile commerce solutions provider GPShopper, discusses with WWD how brand marketing has responded to a consumer centric retail environment as well as other trends in the mobile commerce space.

WWD: Can you briefly describe what the “brand conversation” means?

Maya Mikhailov: A brand conversation is the continuous dialog that brands have with their fans and potential customers across all touch-points — digital and analog. Sometimes it is a one-way conversation where the brand is dictating a lifestyle position or company messaging, which usually isn’t very effective. Increasingly, thanks in large part to social media, the brand conversation is becoming a two-way dialogue between customers and the brand.

WWD: How has the current consumer centric retail environment impacted the “brand conversation?”

M.M.: With more emphasis placed on understanding customers, brands are becoming better listeners. With channels like social media, customers can communicate what a brand means to them and show how they express themselves with the company’s offerings. The customer is essentially showing the brand “this is me expressing myself through your voice.”

Apps play a role in this experience because there is this unique opportunity for personalization and contextual relevancy. Here a customer is saying “this is what I like and this is how I want to be marketed to.” Couple this interaction with location information and it can form really meaningful brand conversations that are relevant to the customer and create a more lasting impression than “here is picture of something you should buy.”

WWD: You noted once that mobile is the new “It Screen.” What does that mean from a brand marketing perspective?

M.M.: It means that the mobile device is the most important device to reach the digital shopper. People go to sleep and wake up with their mobile devices by their sides. Americans are spending three hours a day using their mobile phones, not to mention that they’re customizing the preferences and apps on their devices. If you want to find a screen they are staring at more so than television, it’s their mobile phone.

To build lasting relationships with customers, brands have to be where the eyeballs are. The brands that are most successful in reinforcing their customer relationships via apps will see the benefits in their bottom line.

WWD: Do you think retailers are using data in the right way? Why or why not?

M.M.: For the most part, retailers are overwhelmed with data that is currently available to them. There’s data from mobile, social, in-store and more. They have dashboards on top of dashboards, but rarely the business insights experts need to extrapolate that data into meaningful action. This causes the data to be siloed or misread even when it is clearly available.

Retailers need to be less focused on separate each channel so they can apply the rich data insights from one to another. With a big picture mindset, retailers can find more applications for their data and execute accordingly.

WWD: Why is creating a so-called seamless shopping experience important? And what are some of the challenges for retailers and brands in doing so?

M.M.: Creating a seamless shopping experience is important because increasingly the impulse to “shop” is being fragmented at different locations and times. The modern consumer is always shopping, whether they’re scrolling through their Instagram feed in bed, catching up on celebrity Snapchat Stories while having lunch, walking into a store while flipping through new arrivals on an app at the same time or reading fashion blogs at a music festival with friends. They are always shopping for inspiration so when it comes to finally executing the “buy,” it should be easy regardless of the channel.

This is still a struggle because increasingly many of these attention channels are not controlled by the retailer — they are third-party platforms. That means seamless shopping is at the whim of tools provided by those third parties. Smarter retailers are making the investment in their own systems to build out tools that can be used ubiquitously to shop their brands. They are also recommitting to their own channels by adding content and creating sticky digital experiences that encourage repeat visits and purchases.

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