Two Keys To Help Publishers Escape The Mobile Trap

linde“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Alex Linde, vice president of monetization at The Weather Company and board member of the San Francisco Bay Area Innovation Group.

In the race from TV dollars to so-called digital dimes and mobile pennies, the multiscreen publisher has been the captive and unwilling participant. They first resisted, but then accepted the new media and have worked hard to address the questions posed by these platforms.

Growth today primarily comes from mobile. Most publishers have successful mobile apps or sites but monetization lags. Sales teams comfortable with their online capabilities find mobile falls short, while managers have few options to raise revenue per thousand impressions.

While alternative revenue models have been explored, including subscriptions, paywalls or incentives, the vast majority of content is consumed in an ad-supported model. Against this backdrop, publishers have two main opportunities to increase monetization: formats and targeting.

Finding The Right Format

The first opportunity is the placements themselves. The app dot-com land grab is still in full effect, with many pushing beautiful ad-free apps in a bid to take points from the established players.

The root issue here: Banners are not cool. Some in the industry don’t do ourselves any favors with ugly flashing banners used to self-select audience segments that are likely to convert or the deceptive banners that look like the Facebook toolbar.

What to do? The trends of the last 12 months show real promise.

Large magazine-style creative with beautiful, aspirational imagery allows marketers to tell stories. The applications themselves are becoming prettier by the minute, and very soon we’ll see the end of skeuomorphism and a move to the clean, crisp lines of Apple’s iOS 7 software.

The rise of mobile video also brings support for pre-roll. Consumers have shown plenty of willingness to consume video on their mobile and tablet, but with the small screen size, it’s just not as pleasant to read text.

While it’s been around in the form of sponsorships forever, we now see that native, or in-feed, advertising is increasingly well-executed, with content from publishers that makes sense and advertiser integration that is thoughtful. Just like video, the ability to deliver seamlessly across screens is a real bonus.

Connecting The (Data) Dots

The second opportunity is with targeting. While the mobile networks have for some time built up a picture of consumers, it’s taken longer for the development of solutions for publishers at scale on mobile. Today, these solutions break down as follows:

Immediate-Context: The most important thing for a publisher to get right. Is this a fashion app? What type of vehicle is the consumer researching? Context is the key differentiator for any publisher and it’s the easiest to implement technically using a keyword on any ad server.

Immediate-Place: What does the consumer’s current location — an airport vs. an auto mall vs. an elementary school — tell you about them? For apps or sites with a location aspect, this targeting is logical and subject to appropriate controls that are privacy safe. Vendors provide this as a service and the resulting segments can be sent with an ad call for targeting.

Profile-Context: This is a tried-and-trusted technique from online. A DMP can store context over time and build a behavioral profile. A consumer may browse sports, for example, but has researched cars for the last two weeks. Mining techniques can develop personas for consumers, such as chief household officer or empty nester. While segments can be sent with the ad call, most ad servers do not have an ability to sync mobile segments.

Profile-Place: In the same way that context over time can create a behavioral profile, place-based activity over time can build a real-world picture, such as regular visits to auto malls or home improvement stores. Sensible policies around retention, notice and choice must be enacted for this to be privacy compliant, as precise locations must be associated with a device or user identifier to build a profile.

Profile-Derived: Services that capture personally identifiable information, such as a home address, can map to offline data sets, including Acxiom or Experian. With the lack of cookie segments on mobile, it is difficult to obtain this type of data through other means. Some networks look to estimate home address over multiple requests which may be outside consumer and policy expectations. Again, this requires that a device or user identifier is combined with precise location over time.

Profile-Third-Party: Data providers are developing third-party data segments based not on cookies, but on device identifiers. While the number of segments available is small compared to Web third-party data, the segments come directly from mobile activity, integration through an existing DMP or via direct request. In either case, Apple’s Identifier for Advertising or a privacy-compliant derived identifier is needed as a key for the match.

X-Screen-Profile: For publishers with first-party registration the ability to tag mobile users with their Web identity has existed internally for some time but only recently have DMPs started implementing support for a publisher provided identifier to allow a match to be made for advertising purposes. Not only does this allow mainstream third-party segments to be used from Web to mobile, but also for retargeting cookies, customer relationship management and more.

X-Screen-Probabilistic: These statistical techniques allow a publisher go beyond the subset of users that are registered and logged in by attempting to match a Web cookie with a mobile device. Vendors use signals, such as IP, that are common to both Web and mobile activity to make assumptions about devices shared by the same household and even the same consumer. Implementation usually requires both a desktop pixel or cookie sync along with a mobile device identifier to make the match.

Symbiotic Success

Publishers will stay on top during this turbulent transition by staying true to themselves in context and translating the needs of marketers into solutions that can serve them in the mobile world.

The techniques listed above provide a snapshot of the state of mobile advertising. To be successful, however, the marketer must also evolve – whether it is the true translation of campaign objectives to mobile, KPIs that can span screens or the ability to successfully complete a retargeted transaction on a different device to the one upon which it was started.

But these are just two techniques. Many others are being investigated, so we can be sure there are ways to engage with mobile that we have yet to discover. Let’s save that for a future column.

Follow Alex Linde (@usuallyalex) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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