As more of us rely on our smartphone and tablets as remote controls for life, more and more digital information is being created about people’s behaviours, habits and preferences. It’s creating new ways for businesses and brands to connect with customers, opening new routes to build customer satisfaction and loyalty through personalised experiences and services. It’s driving industry evolution to deliver benefits to customers and growth opportunities for businesses. For marketers and advertisers, this mass consumer adoption of mobile also means they can now reach their audiences on the move through exciting and engaging new media formats.
One example of this evolution is Weve’s entry into programmatic, which launched at this year’s MWC. Weve built on that with the announcement of a partnership with AppNexus, which saw the O2-owned mobile marketing firm link up its first-party data based on both the real and the digital world, offering an end-to-end view of customer behaviour, an using AppNexus’ ad tech platform in order to drive more accurate mobile ad targeting.
“Until we signed this partnership, there was no first-party verified permission-based telco partner in the mobile space that was able to offer this kind of data,” says Tom Pearman, commercial director at Weve.
Weve was formed in 2012 as part of a joint venture between UK operators O2, EE and Vodafone, before O2 took sole control of the business in May last year. Given its network operator roots, it’s no surprise that the company’s initial offering was built around the anonymised and aggregated permissions-based subscriber data.
As Weve has broadened its range of services to focus increasingly on data-led programmatic advertising, however, it has expanded beyond this initial subscriber base and introduced modelled audience data “at a higher accuracy than exists in the market today”, according to Pearman.
“Working with audiences of 20m-plus that are modelled-out, you can start to build campaigns at real scale for brands,” he says. “By taking it away from those permission-based customers, we're stepping into a model audience, which is cross-network and by making sure that you're absolutely compliant with regulations around personally identifiable information, the opportunity then becomes really exciting.”
‘The sleeping giant’
This last point, about privacy, is vital. Pearman describes it as Weve’s “number one priority” to make sure that customers are completely anonymised – a process that is handled by its DMP partner Axonix. Navigating these issues of user privacy means that it’s taken a while for the AppNexus partnership to go from initial conversation to reality.
“We've been talking for a number of years between the two companies,” says Nigel Gilbert, VP strategic development EMEA, AppNexus. “The goal of those discussions was to find the right way for this to actually work. The important considerations that have taken additional time are the guidelines over privacy and the user considerations that of course Weve has to take into account.”
This is something that has formerly held operators back in this space, Gilbert argues: “Telcos have always been the 'sleeping giant', if you like, in terms of mobile advertising. It's always been quite complex for them to navigate the best way to actually approach this, particularly inside programmatic, where control and privacy are always going to be key topics.”
But with those wrinkles all ironed out, the partnership is about to bear its first fruit, an insights offering available through AppNexus.
“Our proposition will allow clients to use our insight and data, and append that to their own supply at scale,” Pearman explains. “The opportunity to separate the two is quite unique we think and will give us a significant advantage in market.”
This runs counter to the standard approach, to date, of requiring customers who want user data to also buy their inventory through the same supplier. “While that's acceptable in the market today, it will be seen as restrictive in the future,” says Pearman. The partnership between Weve and AppNexus means consumers continue to be protected while advertisers get greater insight to target ads more accurately
The mobile offering is now live but according to Pearman, it’s just “phase one” of the Weve and AppNexus’ partnership. Work has already started on taking the insights proposition cross-screen, with a launch set for early next year.
“It was one of the cornerstones of the conversation to begin with,” says Gilbert. “With AppNexus we can run across all three formats – desktop, mobile, video – all through the same UI and same console.”
“Customers don't want to buy mobile, buy desktop and then have to buy tablet, they want to talk to one person, regardless of the platform they're on,” says Pearman. “And so, if you're not thinking in terms of 'what does my insight provide, how do I understand a customer's behavior and then deliver the right execution for brands?' you've got a very linear view of the market – and I think that just won't be acceptable to consumers next year.”
In fact, just thinking of ‘cross-screen’ as these three channels may be a thing of the past before too long. Both Pearman and Gilbert agree that greater things are ahead for programmatic.
“Programmatic is not just about what we see as linear digital today. It’s becoming digital outdoor, TV, radio, it's becoming every platform,” Pearman says. “So we need to be thinking ahead on how we adapt to those markets. The answer isn’t there today but I know that both of our businesses are having those conversations.”
The creativity debate
So if the world is going programmatic, what does that mean for creativity? The popular view is that the two make poor bedfellows. But AppNexus’ Gilbert disagrees:
“Very regularly, programmatic gets tarred as the antithesis or polar opposite of creativity. I remember about a year ago someone actually said we could either do something programmatic or we could do something creative,” he says. “That kind of thing bothers me because they're not mutually exclusive, obviously.”
This is a narrow view of what creativity means within advertising, Pearman argues: “Creativity might be that first execution or it might be what you then take people to. A lot of the creative that we build tends to be directed-to from an ad. So for example, an ad that clicks through to an amazing gyroscope-controlled 3D experience inside a car, that can be delivered programmatically.”
Either way the programmatic opportunity for creativity is changing. According to Gilbert, the notion of a split between the two has its roots in the fact that much of the early growth in programmatic came from direct response campaigns, as well as some technical restrictions.
“Programmatic, in order for it to scale, required standardisation,” he says. “So generally speaking, the formats had to be the same size, the same shape, fit within certain creative guidelines, so that they could be traded at scale.”
Now that the tipping point of programmatic’s growth has been reached – programmatically-traded ads will account for 70 per cent of all UK digital display ad in 2016, according to eMarketer, rising to more than 75 per cent by the end of next year – this no longer has to be the case.
“If you have the buyers and sellers on the same platform, you have a much more frictionless, rich media workflow as well, if people want to start getting very creative with the things that they're delivering,” says Gilbert. “You now have dynamic creative opportunities: for example, tags that are able to read what's on the page and then create placements that are unique to that environment.
“The limitations have largely been overcome. I think next year you'll see the two sides co-existing much more happily, and creativity can really come back to the fore.”