In-depth: David Barker at Breakthrough Breast Cancer

by Jessica Ramesh

David Barker, Director of Communications & IT at Breakthrough Breast Cancer talks to Figaro Digital about the charity’s work within the mobile sector

Breakthrough Breast Cancer is an organisation which has embraced digital media wholeheartedly and, like everyone else mining the opportunities presented by new technology, the charity has been quick to recognise the significance of mobile. But how, in such a disjointed and rapidly changing environment, do charities harness mobile’s potential and ensure it offers a genuine return on time and investment? It’s an issue that David Barker, Director of Communications at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, has been looking at closely. How does he assess the strengths, weaknesses and risks associated with mobile marketing, and what sort of work has the charity been doing in this sector?

Making mobile easy

“For us at Breakthrough Breast Cancer,” he says, “mobile is just one element which we incorporate into the broader digital mix, but I think there are three main areas where mobile can struggle. The first is when it’s a marginal bolt-on. Too often people put together a campaign and then think about how they can apply mobile ‘bits’ to it. Secondly, it’s pointless doing anything on mobile if you’re not going to promote it properly. People need to be aware of what you’re doing, and you need to know the best way to make that happen. PR plays a massive part in that. Thirdly, you need to keep mobile simple when using it for advertising. From a technology point of view, if it’s slow or complicated people just bail out. At the opposite end of the spectrum, mobile succeeds when it’s quick and easy to do – when it’s part of a broader concept. From our point of view as a charity, mobile needs to look for new areas of opportunity whilst also building on what we’re already doing in our fundraising campaigns – just as it needs to help sales in a commercial context – and to form part of a wider communications strategy. When you look at the customer journey, you really need to think about where, within that, you want mobile to sit.”

As an example of how the charity has been able to incorporate mobile into the mix – and make effective use of mobile-specific applications like NFC and geolocation – Barker points to a foursquare promotion the charity ran with Marks & Spencer last year. 

“This was something interesting we did over the weekend of the London Marathon when people were running for Breakthrough Breast Cancer,” he says.”Users could check in at branches of M&S. The store then made a donation to Breakthrough Breast Cancer and users got a £5 voucher to spend in store. It wasn’t huge – it didn’t necessarily raise thousands and thousands of pounds – but it was as much for us and M&S about testing new concepts and ways of working. Foursquare is really interesting because what retailers are interested in is serving footfall to the store and then working out how they can upsell by giving a voucher or a two-for-one offer.”

That sense of experimentation, believes Barker, is significant in the development of new mobile strategies. “I think it’s vitally important to play with this technology because that’s how you learn and, hopefully, succeed. The best learning doesn’t come from courses. It comes from getting your team to play, accepting that sometimes you’ll fail and most importantly taking what you can from that and learning at every opportunity.”

Developing for new devices

One of the challenges presented by mobile technology right now is the fragmented nature of the landscape. Does Barker think the proliferation of different devices and operating systems is an issue for marketers?

“Well, the future is in HTML5. 4G is on its way. We’d think very hard about developing something that was just an app now. It’s about looking at mobile as an in-browser experience. We’ve been doing some redevelopment of our website and part of that has been driven by the fact that it has to work more effectively on a mobile device, whether that’s a tablet or a smartphone.”

Barker and his team have been working hard to integrate all these different elements into their campaigns and came up with a winner in the form of the free iPhone appiBreastCheck, developed in conjunction with agency Torchbox and designed to help women learn more about the disease and spot early symptoms. 

“We saw real success with this,” says Barker. “Early detection is critical in helping to beat breast cancer so a core part of our work is focused on promoting ‘TLC’ – touch, look, check. It’s a really practical app and it’s designed to get women breast-aware.”

Featuring SMS reminders for women to check themselves, videos explaining how to do it, a risk report, information on the charity and options to join the mailing list, for Barker the app is an example of successful mobile strategy in action, enabling the charity to broadcast its message in efficient, cost-effective fashion.

“This was the moment when I really saw all the different elements come together,” he says. “Simply putting an app out into the ether is a pointless exercise, in my view. We developed a big PR programme around iBreastCheck. We got it on the TV news, on This Morning and in the national press. It also really demonstrated the power of a single tweet. There was one from Sara Cox and you could see the huge download spike that followed that – almost in real time.”

Initially launched in March 2010, at which point the charity aimed for 10,000 downloads, it’s now been downloaded 28,000 times and generated a five per cent increase in newsletter sign-ups. 
“What that says to me is that you can’t look at mobile in isolation,” says Barker. “You need to think about how you’re going to get it out there and make it famous, and then integrate other elements like social.”

As mobile gathers momentum, it’ll be integrated, innovative and above all useful strategies like this that distinguish successful campaigns. “We’re not as sophisticated yet as I would like us to be,” says Barker, “but this a journey that we’re all on ourselves. We’re learning, we’re putting key things in place and we’re looking for mobile to bring us those long-term benefits.”

Article by Jon Fortgang