There’s More To Telco Data Than Brand Advertising Opps

PontisMobile carriers don’t lack for data.

Consumption habits, location, usage, email address, physical address, behavior – it’s all there in deterministic black and white.

But the mobile ads business hasn’t turned out to be all that friendly a place for the telcos, especially in the United States, where privacy advocates are keeping a wary eye. Verizon’s addressable advertising unit, Precision Market Insights, came under serious fire in January when its unique identifier header was used to power a zombie cookie that continued to track users even if they’d opted out.

Some carriers are looking to use their rich data points to court brand advertisers and app developers with cross-screen tracking and targeting opportunities – but telcos also need to focus on themselves.

For many mobile operators, subscribers are their raison d’être and becoming an advertising platform for third parties is comparative gravy.

It also takes a lot of work to keep those subscribers happy. According to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers released Tuesday, telecoms receive more customer service queries than any other industry, including financial services, retail and travel.

“If I’m a customer and I feel like my telco is selling my data so a brand can contact me and maybe annoy me – it’s a revenue stream that’s not really worth it,” said Ofer Razon, ‎VP of products and marketing at Tel Aviv-based Pontis, a company focused on helping the marketing departments within telcos activate user data to provide more personalized experiences to their subscribers.

Pontis, whose headcount is about 200, has 30 telco clients around the world, including Nextel, T-Mobile, O2 and Telefónica, and an assortment of Vodafone operators, including Vodafone UK, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Germany and Spain.

The company – which claims to help operators generate response rate up to four times higher than traditional campaign management – recently announced that it now reaches more than 500 million subscribers through its various telecom partnerships.

AdExchanger spoke with Razon.

OferRazonPontisAdExchanger: How would you describe Pontis in a nutshell?

OFER RAZON: We create a whole new level of opportunity to help telecom marketing departments engage with their end customer. Think about the engagement that happens between a user and a telecom from the telecom’s perspective – there’s an entire life cycle of events that begins the moment someone goes through the onboarding process. A telecom always wants to make sure its customers get the right experience, while also identifying opportunities to cross-sell and upsell new products and create new revenue streams.

How do you do that?

Our technology is about allowing telcos to dynamically create real-time experiences for every customer. To do that, we get streams of data from the telecom network – pretty much any piece of data that exists on the network, including every location, call and text message in real time.

We use this information to analyze and profile each customer to understand what context they’re in. Is this customer adopting a new service? Increasing their usage? Does this user go past a specific location often? Is this person about the churn? The marketing person at the telecom can then define the journeys and experiences they want to bring to their customers for each of these situations.

What would be a practical example of that?

If someone calls into a contact center with a complaint about reception problems, you want to make sure that the interaction doesn’t end when they hang up the phone.

Because you know the reason for the call – quality-of-service issues – you can monitor that customer over the next five or seven days to make sure the problem is resolved. If that person continues to experience trouble, you can proactively initiate a follow-up call to tell them that you’re aware there’s still an issue and it’s being taken care of.

How else can carriers activate their own data?

Let’s say a telecom wants to push its users to adopt more services, like mobile data or the mobile Internet. We can trace the status of every customer, which allows the telco to introduce the right content, apps and packages. We can also use what we know about the customer to create personalized products and pricing that they’re more likely to respond to.

What about the privacy implications?

Privacy is always an issue. There are two ways that telcos can use their data: one, the internal use case, which is when a carrier uses their data to promote their own services, and two, the external use case, which is when they use it for advertising other brands like banks or retailers.

Naturally, operators are much more careful when it comes to external uses cases, even if they’re legally allowed to use certain data, because they’re afraid of putting their own brand and their relationship with their own subscribers at risk.

What kind of data do you access through your telco clients?

In terms of internal use, most of the data has to do with user habits. We know how many calls someone makes and at what time of day, how many messages they’ve sent, etc. – but we don’t analyze the content of the message, although we do know which numbers a person sends messages to, which shows us who’s likely in their social circle. We know the amount of data a person consumes, but we don’t see what they do with it. We also know what devices someone has.

Location information voice, text and mobile data user information, engagement, user feedback and CRM data are the pillars of data we use to help telcos build experiences and campaigns.

But you can learn a lot just by analyzing basic usage patterns.

Does that differ by market?

There are some markets where we’re allowed to use something called DPI, or deep packet inspection data, which means we can can also see what sites a person has visited. But we never actually use this information to trace specific sites. Rather, we use it to statistically better understand a person’s interests and find other people who are similar. If someone consumes the same content as I do and they buy a certain product, it’s likely that I might buy that product, too.

While we need to look at the differences between markets – in Germany, for example, people usually top up their account once a month, but in the Philippines, people do it twice, maybe three times a week. Some things, like customer experience, are market-agnostic.

For example, if a user is about to exceed their data allowance, most operators would send a planned SMS alerting them to that fact. Everyone in that situation would get the same message. But we try and use it as an opportunity to personalize the engagement. We can identify a person’s peak usage and, rather than waiting for them to exceed, we can contact them beforehand through their preferred channel, whether that’s text or email or having someone call them.

Pontis is very focused on the internal use case. Any plans to start focusing more on working with advertisers that aren’t in the telco space?

We’re not aiming to be a mobile advertising platform or to manage campaigns for advertisers, but we do see several opportunities around customer re-engagement. App developers are looking for data around how people behave and what content they consume. A mobile operator can know that quite easily. We can help promote apps based on customer profiles. It’s something we’re piloting with a leading gaming company.

Another potential opportunity is to use telco data to enrich the RTB ecosystem since, again, telcos have the most up-to-date and contextual view of the customer.

We’re exploring these things, but our focus will continue to be to target telcos. The real evolution for us would be to target other industries, like the credit card industry, for example. Advertising is very interesting, but it’s a side effect of our main go-to market.

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