Turning Operators On to Off-portal

With consumer demand for dynamic mobile content continuing to grow, Oren Glanz, CEO of Olista, looks at current off-portal market trends, and explains how operators can tap into the off-portal market and use it to their advantage

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The mobile industry, spearheaded by the network operators, has invested heavily in stimulating market growth through the provision of desirable phones, sophisticated network infrastructure, affordable rate plans, point-of-sale education and customer care. Operators initiated the first content-based services, made easily available to their subscribers through self-contained portals (or decks), effectively home pages for the mobile Web.
Just as in the early days of the PC web, where users initially experienced the online world through a safe portal such as AOL or MSN, before venturing out to find interesting and relevant sites and services directly, we are now starting to see increasingly wide browsing behaviour among off-portal users. Ironically, some of the big Internet players, such as Google and Yahoo! are now also pursuing mobile users. 

Leveraging the off-portal trend
The off-portal route-to-market is an attractive alternative to on-portal for a number of reasons, ranging from improving the user experience through to billing. Ultimately though, they all result in an increase in potential usage opportunities for customers, operators and their partners, and finally any advertisers.
In addition, carrier portals give more specialised and niche content providers access to a market they could not otherwise reach. In Europe alone, over 70% of content is consumed off-portal. These findings are based on statistics gleaned from monitoring over 11 million mobile data users in the last three months of 2007 for five different mobile operators across Europe, including several Tier 1 operators.
As discussed previously, the mobile off-portal market is consistently growing, but the operators main revenue stream still comes from on-portal content. This highlights how important it is for the operator to have visibility into what the user is doing when they go off-portal, to benefit its customers and any other involved parties in the mobile eco-system.
Having a detailed knowledge of what a users needs are enables operators to provide their customers with a better overall service. By understanding search patterns, looking at interests, quantifying search usage and the depth of navigation and stickiness, operators can include relevant and targeted information on their own portals, making the experience much easier for, and beneficial to, their subscribers. For example, if a customer has a preference for a specific type of music, band or sports team, the marketing and advertising messages can adapted to meet these interests, based upon this information.
This in turn is a great advantage to any operator partners, for targeting again, but for billing purposes too. Having detailed knowledge of when users have accessed a particular service means that the right charges can be applied for the right times. So if a customer subscribes to Mobile TV for a special rate for their first three months, but is still using it after this time, the partner will know immediately how much to bill overall, taking discounts into consideration. This ensures they do not suffer from any missed revenue or overcharge subscribers, both of which could happen without this level of information.

Increasing customer satisfaction

Customer behaviour and needs within the portal are one of the basic elements for defining the operators on-portal and off-portal strategy. Operators implementing Service Adoption Management (SAM) solutions can improve the home portal offering and structure to help users find what they are searching for, and thus increase their satisfaction and consumption of content.
This includes search effectiveness, which enables operators to understand how users are accessing their sites, as well as identifying popular domains and pages; the detection of erroneous domains; and general usability education barriers. It is also important that the operator can identify sites that do not encourage deep navigation due to handsets, and thus optimise these sites through content adaptation. This enables the operator to engage with their customers through a better understanding off their personal habits and preferences. It also allows them to have a regular billing relationship.
In addition, operators would no longer feel the need to flood users with unwanted and irrelevant advertising that, according to a report published by Analysys in September 2007, Destroys consumer confidence and with it the potential value of the mobile advertising market (Analysis: The Mobile Advertising and Marketing Revolution, September 2007).
Despite advertising space within the operator portal being limited and it being a relatively new form of revenue, it does still require efficient and educated attention. Combining the navigation analysis and user behaviour patterns, mapping can provide the operator with visibility to advertising area success. This might include identifying who the target audience is, what the clickthrough rate is, and identifying other barriers and opportunities. This enables the operator to promote relevant advertising areas and secure the success of the advertisement itself, optimising its revenues from the limited portal advertisement space. It would also allow them to sell packages to advertisers that target specific groups.

Conclusions
The off-portal mobile market is clearly a rapidly evolving and competitive market today, giving content providers and brands a wide choice in technologies and partnerships for engaging with customers through their phones. As explained previously, off-portal can benefit not only the customer and the operator, but also help support any partners.
If the market grows in the way that mobile content markets have, it is likely that the majority of content revenues billed by network operators will be generated from the sales of off-portal content, while brands will invest in hundreds of millions of pounds of marketing to target their customers through mobile services. This is a healthy outlook for the industry.
The off-portal model means that the burden of attracting phone users to mobile services can transfer from network operators – which have initiated the market – to the brands, developers and advertisers who will maintain consumer interest in mobile services over the long term, not forgetting the importance of tracking the on-portals, which still remains the consistent revenue stream for operators.

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