Marketing used to be a far more laborious, time-consuming process: weeks for focus groups, months crafting a campaign, photo shoots and contact sheets, building ads without a computer.

Happily, things have changed. Today, a long time is the time between latte and lunch. Now, shifts in marketing messaging can be measured in seconds or minutes... if you're equipped to handle those shifts. Luckier still, your customers are equipped to help you—with their ubiquitous mobile devices.

Smartphones and tablets are changing nearly every aspect of our lives. We've never been more connected... or hard to reach. Never more focused, yet perpetually distracted. Still, never in the history of the world has it been easier for us to share our thoughts, feelings, and opinions—and, for smart marketers, never easier to collect that information.

Harness the Power of Your Consumer's Mobile Device

Your prospects and customers (yes, even a growing percentage of your older ones) are interacting in more and more ways with their mobile devices. They share bad experiences as well as good ones. They snap photos of their recent purchases. They share their whereabouts and their plans. They interact with their tablets and smartphones intuitively—because their mobiles have become a natural and ever-present part of their lives.

Make that natural, electronic extension of their lives a seamless part of interacting with your brand. All you have to do is provide a bit of motivation. Whether you offer a product or service or you produce events or educate classrooms full of people, start thinking of your customers' mobile devices as real-time conduits through which you can collect incredibly valuable feedback.

Five Ways to Tap Into Your Customers' Thinking to Build Your Brand

These methods aren't exclusive to the examples that accompany them. Be creative. Put yourself at the end of your customer's smartphone-wielding arm. You can see your brand as they do. Make it easy for them to use their device to interact with your brand and enlighten your marketing in the process.

1. Use a mobile survey to ask for feedback even as customers are interacting with your brand

Remember, it's now second nature for your customers to pull out their phone to scan a code or enter a short URL to answer a few questions—especially if you give them an incentive. There are no apps to upload, and customers have complete control over the data they provide.

Want to know what customers think of your new formulation? Ask them on the package insert they see when they open it. Want to know what attracted them to your brand and where your competitive edge is? Ask! Want to know how long they've been purchasing your product? Ask! But ask in the moment! Seize the moment of excitement when they have product in hand.

Want new product ideas? Asking your customers used to take weeks and thousands of dollars. With a mobile survey, you'll know both instantly and cost-effectively.

2. Mount a tablet in-store and reward consumers for taking your mobile survey

A modern-looking stand securely housing a tablet computer has a very small footprint and is easy to integrate into your product's area in retail. Create a branded tablet-based survey and engage people in the act of shopping to share their insights. Find out what's important to them. Ask about your display. Ask about intent to buy.

Are you doing a sampling promotion? Don't just give away product, ask recipients to give you a few quick responses in return. Offer everyone who does a coupon or free product or other incentive. Your only costs are the rental fee for the tablet and your actual costs for the incentive—a small, small price to pay to collect real-time consumer feedback from customers actually interacting with your brand in a retail setting.

3. Plan instant feedback into your next event

Promoting and producing events involves lots of moving parts, from tons of planning to systematic execution. With so much going on, it can be easy to overlook a comprehensive, immediate feedback mechanism. Yet you DO want to know what went right—or wrong—don't you?

Don't end the event wondering about anything! Ask everything you want to know to ensure your next event is even better. Equip all your staff members with smartphones or tablets to offer quick survey access to attendees. Or position pedestal-mounted tablets in different parts of the venue, and give people a reason to stop and swipe their way through six or seven telling questions.

People like sharing their opinions, and they will be gratified that you went to such "lengths" to ask for their input. And with the event fresh in their minds, they'll provide more accurate, honest assessments about just about anything.

Ask via email a few days or a week later, and the quality of the feedback will fall short—if your email even gets opened.

4. Add a tireless survey-taking member to your tradeshow booth

No serious prospect visiting your booth at a tradeshow or conference should leave without leaving you some choice information.

Structure your survey to elicit the precise information to drive your marketing needs and gain contact info. It can also incorporate a quiz question to add gamification elements that are proven effective at lowering barriers to submitting personal information.

5. Get an education for yourself from the next class you train

Don't train a group of people without assessing their collective understanding of the subject. Maybe they know a lot more than you think and you'd be wasting everyone's time teaching at too low a level. Maybe the opposite holds true, and you'd be going too quickly or speaking above the level of your audience.

Getting real-time answers to questions can actually help you customize your training on the fly, adding value to your material and increasing the value of the people you're charged with training. Your attendees can take a pre- or post-lecture quiz and actually see their scores, too.

Since all of them likely have a smartphone or tablet with them, put those to good use! Ask them to pull their mobiles out, enter a URL or scan a QR code on the course material, and start answering your questions. You've never taught a course like this before, and they've never attended one. Word will get around!

* * *

Think of the different ways prospects and customers interact with your brand. And remember that the vast majority of them have in their possession powerful computers with cameras, video recorders, microphones, and a way to communicate anything they wish to share.

Never have marketers had access to so many insights from so many customers and consumers. If people are always going to be connected, make sure they're always connected to your brand.

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Always-On Marketing to the Always Connected: Five Ways to Tap Into Your Customers' Thinking

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image of Mark Penson

Mark Penson is CMO of Survey Anyplace. Survey Anyplace Mobile Surveys provide an app-free mobile survey and gamification tool that generates real-time customer insights at the moment of experience.

LinkedIn: Mark Penson