In Search of Engagement

David Murphy

Vishwanath Alluri, CEO of mobile value-added services provider IMImobile, offers his take on the mobile advertising sector

A recent report from analyst firm Gartner predicts that global mobile advertising revenues will exceed $2.7 billion (1.36 billion) in 2008. While this is a healthy sum, it is just the tip of what could be a very large iceberg, provided operators make full use of the available consumer marketing channels.

Accessing marketing gold
At the moment, most mobile marketing is fairly basic and in many cases simply replicates traditional online advertising models. For example, look at the made-for-mobile versions of Google and Yahoo. However, this extension sells the potential of mobile advertising woefully short for a number of reasons, not least because it is failing to capitalise on the treasure trove of subscriber information, drawn from subscribers interaction with a variety of network access channels, including SMS, WAP, video downloads, and location based services.
When it comes to tracking individual user behaviour, the mobile device is incomparably superior to the traditional PC-based Internet. In the PC world, individual users cannot be accurately identified easily, since different people may use the same computer, and those individuals may use more than one PC. Mobile devices, on the other hand, are very infrequently shared between users, and subscribers can easily be identified via their mobile ID. When this is married with the subscriber information a mobile operator has, such as caller data records, monthly billing patterns and age and gender data, a very powerful pattern of user behaviour can be compiled, which will become even more powerful, as the mobile device is used more and more for activities such as Internet transactions and electronic payments.
As such, the mobile advertising efforts of Google and Yahoo are decidedly second-best, since their access capabilities are confined only to Internet Protocol (IP). This is compared to what could be undertaken by mobile operators who have the ability to gatekeep across a much wider variety of access channels, such as text and video messages and downloads, caller ringback tones, voice portals and location based services. This allows for a far higher degree of personalisation and means that subscribers can be targeted and incentivised based on their preferred access channel.

Opening up the channels
In the online world (and the equivalent offerings on mobile devices) there are just two main advertising channels open opt in emails and advertising embedded into websites. With mobile, however, there can be as many as seven channels, including SMS, MMS, caller ringback tones, video clips, voice and music downloads, and WAP. This gives mobile operators and their advertising partners a much wider variety of methods to engage users in real time and reward them for participation via free talk time or music or video credits to their phone. It could also mean that consumers receive redemption vouchers sent to their device to trade in instantly at their favourite high street shops or via mobile browsing at participating online retailers.
The key word here is engage. No subscriber is going to want to be bombarded by endless, irrelevant SMS messages. But if users can be incentivised via special offers relevant to them, or receive free goods or content in exchange for allowing the advertiser to marketed to them, then the subscriber, advertiser and operator all stand to gain.

The operator in control
Perhaps the best element of mobile advertising from an operators perspective is that it is they who are in control, rather than a third party such as Yahoo! or Google. Since the operator owns the relationship with its subscribers, as well as the intellectual property pertaining to the goldmine of information so useful to potential advertisers, it means they are the gatekeepers to the mobile advertising world. This puts them in prime position to control a vital, and lucrative, new revenue stream. 


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