Fatal flaw in study of consumer attitudes on mobile advertising

Just read another forward-looking study on consumer attitudes toward various evolving aspects of mobile and mobile advertising. My thoughts apply equally to any emerging and rapidly evolving field. Like many such reports, taken at face value it might be read as giving clear guidance to go down a certain path. That may help sell reports, but it would better serve its audience if the research weren’t written up that way.

Be careful listening to consumers answer hypothetical questions about what they might do with something they’ve never experienced.

‘Tis true, you’d be a fool not to ask.

You’d be a fool not to look for insight in their answers. Be open to new directions.

You’d also be a fool not to keep moving forward to try putting something in their hands and see the results. Then go back and ask (and listen) again.

In general, qualitative research seems more useful for forward looking hypotheticals. Something feels irresponsible about providing quantitative results here. But survey percentages are less expensive to produce and sound more authoritative, so we got plenty of them. Instead, let me hear what people are thinking, in their voices, unshaped by multiple-choice boxes.

Either way, take hypothetical studies as just that: something to prove wrong or right. Use them to look for possible insights, not for answers.

Location-Based Services Coming Soon (says a long-time naysayer)

For years, I’ve heard that location-based services are just around the corner. “Later this year.”

For years, I’ve told clients, “Not for years.”

Especially when they want to do marketing by taking advantage of LBS.

Emphasis needs to be on “services” first, providing something the user wants. That has to be in place before there is an opportunity to market through LBS, and even then, privacy and other considerations will dictate the the marketing message delivers real value. The best marketing isn’t a message you want consumers to hear, it’s value you provide in some service, entertainment or education that they want.

Even if it becomes technically possible, I’m never going to want a coupon for a latte to pop up as an ad on my mobile just because I’ve walked by a Starbucks. That’s the kind of thinking that drove carriers to charge per-lookup fees for location, hoping to get revenue streams from both the end-user and from brands.

I might be interested in location giving additional contextual relevance to my search results. There are lots of really cool things I might do with location that no one has thought of yet.

Anyway, Mashable is right to suggest that iPhone 3g is game-changing in LBS.

The new pricing model for the iPhone 3g with GPS along with the forthcoming App Store make for a perfect storm coming. Developers have a great platform and now are freed from old constraints to think first and foremost of what services users will want.

No longer will they be constrained by rather than thinking of how be ad-supported (or how to cut deals with handset manufacturers or carriers).

For the first time in the history of mobile, a significant base of users will have everything needed and developers can take advantage of this to offer new applications and to incorporate location seamlessly. This will open many new possibilities, not all of which we can predict now.

Most of these, we won’t think of as location apps. They’ll just be apps that also take advantage of location.

In the same way, I hope we’ll see innovative LBS marketing that consumers won’t think of as marketing or advertising. Those will be the stand out successes.

Google CEO on mobile search (Why it's different and what to do about it.)

This morning Reuters ran an interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt reinforcing some of what I know about mobile search and making “do no evil” more concrete.

First, the quote on mobile search and advertising, then some additional info and conclusions on working with mobile search.

Speaking of the emerging market for Web-based advertising on mobile phones, Schmidt said the vast majority of Google searches on mobile phones were done on Apple Inc’s year-old iPhones, which prominently feature a Web browser.

“Mobile looks like it will ultimately be the highest of ad rates,” because ads can be targeted by user location, he said.

Since the iPhone has a small fraction of the market, this tells us that few searches are being done on most other phones. Today, buying Google mobile search ads amounts to targeting iPhone users.

As well, it reminds us that mobile searches are different from web searches in another way — they tend to be more locally focused (and that enhanced targeting can be worth paying extra for).

I recently spoke with a potential client who, even with a small test budget, had trouble finding enough mobile AdWords inventory to buy. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this complaint, so thanks Eric, for reassuring us about why.

Earlier this week Mobile Marketer ran a good piece on why Search doesn’t play a large role in mobile – yet: Crisp CEO that also reflects his comments:

A surprising finding in the first quarter index is that only 7.51 percent of traffic to the publisher sites in Crisp’s network is driven by search engines.

“Search does not play a large role in mobile yet, and it is not increasing much at all.”

Google accounts for 6.4 percent of the total traffic to the Crisp publisher sites, or an 85.2 percent share of the search engine traffic.

Traffic referred by search trends higher within local properties such as local newspapers and local television.

…local newspapers garnered a 27.36 percent… Local news TV was next, accounting for an 11.75 percent share of traffic from search… Categories such as men/sports, autos, online services, business, national news, magazines, TV and entertainment, women’ lifestyle and youth, in that order, accounted for the rest of the traffic from searches.

Note that what we’re really saying here, is that even on the iPhone (accounting for most current search traffic), people use search differently on mobile than on their computer. This is with the most usable device for the mobile web, the game-changing enabler in that space.

Therefore, it is the mobile context, not the device or dataplans, that accounts for these differences seen in use of the mobile web.

You can expect mobile search to grow as more folks get iPhones (or equivalent), but you can’t expect the mobile context and behaviors to change. Plan for these categories to continue driving most mobile searches, with inventory to match.

This is part of learning to Think Mobile. Users will always treat mobile differently from past media, including the desktop web, no matter how advanced the devices get.

Bonus Quote: On Evil and Changing The World
I’ve always loved the idea of Don’t Be Evil (and the Ten things Google has found to be true). Great to hear how it works in practice.

Even better to hear from one of the world’s most successful companies that making money is a side effect of wanting to change the world, not the other way around.

From the same Reuters article:

When he first joined Google as CEO seven years ago, Schmidt acknowledged thinking the “Don’t be evil” phrase was a “joke” being played on him by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Schmidt recalled sitting in Google’s offices later in 2001 when an engineer interrupted a strategy discussion over a planned advertising product by saying, “That is evil.”

“It is like a bomb goes off in the room. Everything stopped. Everyone had a moral and ethical conversation, which by the way, stopped the product,” Schmidt said.

“So it is a cultural rule, a way of forcing a conversation, especially in areas which are ambiguous,” he said of how the mission statement works in practice at Google.

Schmidt reaffirmed that the company’s primary goal is not to make money selling ads, whether it is banner ads or ads on Web searches, online video, TV and mobile phones.

“The goal of the company is not to monetize everything, the goal is to change the world … We don’t start from monetization. We start from the perspective of what problems do we have,” he said, referring to big, world-class problems.

How to do Mobile Marketing Fast and Cheap

Text messaging programs with a shortcode often involve complexities requiring good sized budgets and months of lead time to set up. I’ve certainly wished this weren’t the case as I’ve managed many of these initiatives.

Sometimes there are effective shortcuts.

Coors Light recently added an interactive element to ads with a simple text messaging program. Fans txt’d “coorslight” to 44636, opting in for SMS updates on the NFL draft. Subscribers received a series of 31 messages which came as each NFL team made its top pick.

Agency DraftFCB handled the text messaging part of the program, implemented with a free text service. 4Info lets you publish via SMS for free. They are ad supported, selling text ad space at the end of published text messages.

This approach can only handle a small subset of text programs, but is effective marketers who only need simple publishing.

Tradeoffs include:

  • avoid the considerable time and expense of a new branded shortcode
  • loose flexibility in sharing the 4Info (44636) shortcode
  • avoid most of the other costs of a text messaging program
  • your messages may include ads from other brands
  • few options for programing, interactivity, integration, and control

Here’s what the program looks like to subscribe:

me: coorslight
Coors Light, the official beer of the NFL is proud to provide NFL Draft Results. To confim you’re 21 & receive alerts, reply PICK + TEAM NAME ex. PICK JETS
pick niners
NFL SF@OAK 8/8 10p Reply 1 for NFL San Francisco 49ers score alerts *Courtyard by Marriot. Reply CTYD

I didn’t get a chance to see the TV commercial for this — if anyone has a link, please share in the comments.

Thanks to Mobile Marketer for the article bringing this campaign to my attention. The New York Times has an interesting article on the broader Coors Light campaign including the social media elements.

Comscore buys M:Metrics

An web strategy/analyst friend asked on Twitter what I thought of this afternoon’s news that Comscore had purchased M:Metrics.

In more than three years I’ve been doing mobile, M:Metrics has been invaluable for industry usage statistics to give me information in the US and worldwide for facts and figures like what percentage of US subscribers have sent a text message in the last month, or how many have a full keyboard. Their ~120 customers have been large players in the mobile space including mostly carriers and handset manufactures, perhaps some entertainment heavyweights selling ringtones and games in mobile.

According to M:Metrics, of 226 million US subscribers, only 13.5% Accessed news/info via browser in February 2008. They’ve stopped publicly releasing the percentage who text each month, but it’s likely more than 50% at this point. For comparison, they indicate that over 20% play a downloaded game or send/receive a photo.

Thus, smart mobile marketing has included the more common modes to be able to reach as many handsets as possible: voice, text, ringtones, etc., and the best often give users options with one or more.

Mobile web still has limited reach.

Still, M:Metrics recognized the growing buzz around mobile advertising, and thus mobile web, adding products in this market outside what was previously its core anticipating the market.

It seems like more buzz, more startups and more investment has been shifting this way. learly the move paid off for M:Metrics in terms of an acquisition. Comscore is likely in a much better position to sell those services than M:Metrics was.

So is this smart buzz and a smart move for Comscore?

Comscore focuses on web metrics. They want M:Metrics for mobile web metrics.

Honestly, I’m not sure what it would have cost Comscore to build out the mobile web piece it’s buying in M:Metrics. I suspect it might be cheaper to build much of that technology than to integrate it, but I’m just not familiar with the details.

As well, I believe the majority of M:Metrics revenues have come from the rest of its business. I wonder what will come of that part of the business with the Comscore acquisition.

Anyway, back to the mobile web, and mobile advertising.

M:Metrics reports that “smartphone users to spend an average of four hours and thirty-eight minutes per month browsing the mobile Web in the United States.” It seems inevitable that devices and networks will add more capabilities and speed so that the mobile web becomes usable for most mobile subscribers, so that 13.5% number should go through the roof, right? And mobile advertising should go through the roof with it just like the buzz says?

My thoughts on this will have to wait for a later post…