#InConversations: Understanding Mobile Media Planning

Once every week, I rope in an an industry lead to talk at length about the latest trends in digital media. In this conversation with Ankit Agarwal, we talk about how media planning and buying is evolving with the rise of mobile.

Mobile usage has shot up. So have spends on the mobile media. Here is an in-depth overview of how brands are adapting to this fast changing landscape. Performance remains the only lens with which marketing activities are perceived. Mobile definitely attracts eyeballs.

Does Mobile drive ‘enough’ Performance ?

Performance is a pure play function of the category and the campaign objective. Of course Mobile, for the sheer traffic volume it attracts, does contribute to performance though clearly the conversion rates are still not comparable to Desktop. A factor that definitely applies to mobile and this is where a more holistic measurement approach comes in, is that mobile web is a top of the funnel channel. It is extremely critical from a discovery perspective and hence the high number of eye balls that it attracts. There are some fundamental facts here that we can’t ignore

Discovery is driven by Search. Search results should be driven by Context. Search volumes are being driven by Mobile.
Search Volumes on Mobile have already surpassed Desktop in 2015

There is a significant jump in the overall search traffic and essentially people using their smartphones at the first point of contact. There’s a lot of budget allocation happening for Mobile. As far as a budget allocation break up is concerned, from Search perspective alone the allocation Mobile spends have grown from 10 % two years ago to 25–30 % now. For some categories such as E-Commerce, Fashion, Travel this is even higher. From a performance point of view, the biggest driver is (if you still look at performance in isolation) Desktop web. It gives you a better conversion rate when compared to mobile ( again in isolation) and this is across categories.

Once you look at a more holistic measurement, while mobile spends drive a lot of mobile traffic and boosts the overall visibility which essentially leads to a lot of conversion happening on the desktop. Cross Device Attribution is yet to be cracked open as a problem statement and there are multiple attempts being made to solve this but my opinion is that it will take a while for a concrete solution to surface up.

Comscore Report MobileWeb and Mobile App. US Data Only
Mobile web as a first touch point, essentially is the top of the funnel wherein users are getting exposed to your brand on mobile.

You essentially drive traffic to the website, driving your eyeballs, generate that first conversation and then eventually through re-marketing or engaging them on other platforms. This is when overall conversions shoot up. Bulk of these are either via Desktop or Mobile App.

Comscore Mobile Web/ App Report. US Data Only

If you look at it from a holistic level, mobile web is very critical because now this is where people are discovering brands and their products much more. It becomes a top of the funnel, middle of the funnel campaign and the conversions impact is visible on Desktop. So, you see better conversion rates there. You see increased volume — and this has been proven time and again. We have done bunch of experiments that have established this. Stand alone evaluation of mobile will only give you skewed data and would always be discouraging.

Source: Google IO 2016
Mobile Web has its own set of challenges. Starting with screen size, smaller-keyboards-triggering-typos creating sluggish sub-optimal experiences. Mobile Web experience was created as an extension of Desktop web. Instead it needed a scratch up re-thinking.
  1. Drop-offs remain a challenge on mobile. From a transactional medium if a user has to fill like a 6 field form on a mobile web, the experience is limiting.
  2. And from an adoption/ usability perspective, specifically in India, it will take us a while to complete the end to end journey on mobile web wherein people just feel more comfortable doing end transactions on a larger screen or there are like more options to copy paste or evaluate. It’s a matter of time that this changes.

Are Brands agile enough to adapt this ?

Both Clients and Media plans across the categories are recognise the value of mobile as a medium. Transaction centric platforms such as Online Ticketing Agents, E-Commerce or Marketplaces are getting big on mobile and mobile apps per se. The App index is very high for a certain number of categories. But, from a maturity level, I think it’s mostly the E-Commerce players that have attempted to understand the medium and the need — “Why Mobile App?”. Brands while they understand the value of a mobile app, it’s either from a strategic budget alignment or from an immediate value add perspective, that they refrain from making an upfront investment.

220 Billion Apps Download in 2015. Is it time to make a mobile app ?

When we mention that number of downloaded apps, the other number that has also come to light is essentially that only a very small single digit percentage of apps are stay after a month. Let’s say, if I download an app today, there is a very small likelihood that I will keep using it after a month and which also speaks to that volume. Inherently, mobile is a personal device and there is only so much one can do with it. Even though 100 apps are downloaded as an end user I would be using 20- 30 apps. At best. While the initial hoopla was around saying “Oh ! everybody needs an app” “app is the answer to every marketing campaign or the engagement problem that we have had”.

Specially, the non e-commerce, non-digital only brands have realised that while mobile app is definitely a great investment, what really serves their purpose is leading the discovery route. Take for example, a leading auto brand. Now a Auto brand could yes do with an app but what are they going to do with an app ? You can only do so much from a customer engagement or a customer acquisition point that you justify an app that gets used everyday or every week. They have realised that instead of focussing on a mobile app, because everybody else has one, is probably not a very good idea.

A mobile app is potentially something you should need, it is not something you probably need right now or a year down the line until and unless you have the content strategy to go with it.

To start with, a basic app would cost a brand about 10,000 USD to build but if you invest that money towards building a mobile web app that is responsive and progressive, you already have a potential upside. Also the end user is still not looking and saying “This app is what will help me get there.” They are looking for first, say,

  1. What do I need and
  2. Where do I need it from?

This is the moment marketing approach. Where to find this?

Google search bar is largely still the place where people will go. More so if they are smartphone users. In that case an app is definitely something that helps but when search dominates the discovery channel, mobile web experiences are where the brands have an opportunity to score brownie points.

Its time to take think beyond responsive websites.

For the most part, mobile was like a nice-to-have from a Mobile Strategy. ‘Nice to have’ means that there was a certain money allocated from a paid media standpoint saying , “We should be spending on mobile.” But I think in the last year or so a lot has been done on the mobile web. Primarily because of changes introduced or rather enforced by Google, such as mobile page load time, responsiveness being factors that now determine your search rankings.

In the last year or two, there’s been a strategic shift wherein brands have started understanding the value of investing in mobile web, wherein you can no longer say- you just have a desktop app and it also opens up in mobile. This does not suffice — not anymore.

Agencies are proactively pushing brands for investments on mobile web. For instance, getting brands mobile assets in proper shape, responsive website, pushing for an enhanced user experience. A better UX on mobile would limit the # of clicks in a journey to 2–3 vis-a-vis Desktop where it might take 3–4 interactions. With every additional interaction, there is a drop off. On Mobile there are lot of variables beyond your control, that can trigger a bad experience. Cranky internet connectivity, screen resolution, load time et all. Brands realise this and are have started working proactively towards this. There is that strategic shift happening, wherein brands have now actively started investing in creating native experiences on Mobile. Not just from a media perspective but from a UX perspective

Next Big Thing — Progressive Web Apps. Google said it.

There is a sense of “need of a Progressive Web App”. Honestly there is little choice with brands. It remains no more a thing wherein, brands can say that they are evaluating their options. There are no options. Brands, more than the want, have the need to do this, because at the end of the day, Google is a 50 per cent or 40 per cent contributor of their traffic — both paid and organic. It just pretty much enforces brands to take notice and start investing in building progressive web apps.

From a native web or a progressive web, mobile web experience, all brands do realise but there is still at large a dissonance between them realising that it is important and then actually investing. It still is challenging to go to brands and explain that mobile as a stand alone channel is probably not going to get direct conversions. Not all brands “get” mobile in the from a strategic budget allocation. Most of the brands look at mobile in isolation and that will rarely works. There is this dissonance between brands understanding the importance of progressive web apps but at the same time not having the budgets or not having the foresight to invest that kind of money.

Now, that is one part of the equation. But having said that I’ve seen luxury brands do take stand. Luxury brands doesn’t necessarily mean fashion. So, for instance if you look at BMW wherein they have a well defined niche market, they build around their user experience such that they are able to marry the brand associative-ness with being very sleek. They are investing heavily on the mobile experience — be it an app or just through web. For instance, when you look at their e-mailers, customer lifecycle management, et all, they are becoming cognizant of the fact that their audience is a smartphone first — only.

Luxury brands to a certain extent are investing heavily in terms of giving that progressive web and the only other category that I can think of would be transactional platforms specially E-Commerce and Travel. I work closely with a leading hotel brand and now they are betting big on mobile web because they know there are those last minute or the immediate emergency queries that happen on mobile web where people are just trying to book a hotel. That is where they need to deliver that serious mobile web experience end to end.

What Next for Brands ?

There are things that we would want to happen as marketers but that may not be the reality of what’s next in AdTech.

“Banner advertising is as good as dead” Somebody said that five years ago and we are still here with banners attracting investments.

In the short term, there is a definite focus on MarTech, which essentially includes building better measurement systems, better attribution and bringing data analytics to start playing an important role in decision making. In long term, building owned media as they work better.

  • Firstly, Better Measurement Systems and More Transparency: A lot of focus on using better tools, in terms of using better channels, tools, engaging ad-formats and doing so efficiently. When we deal with brands for AdTech, we sell them solutions saying you need an ad server, you need programmatic, dynamic creative formats et all. More investments around UI, UX, Conversion Rate Optimization, better owned asset conversion mechanism, web push notifications and essentially a lot of investment efforts going towards top of the funnel and not looking at and saying “Paid, Earned and Load” instead of it should become “ Owned, Earned and Paid”. We are still a few years away from that.
  • Secondly, brands need to start viewing owned media a strategic investment. Brands handover properties to agencies and wash their hands. Brands end up with multiple agencies to manage PR, Paid Media, Properties, SEO. Too much clutter. Owned media is where brands have either not given that strategic importance or have not invested either in-house or with agencies. From own media perspective, the only investment that has happened is primarily around SEO. SEO is considered the only approach towards making owned media delivered better. But there is a definite room and this is where a lot of conversations are happening. Owned media is something that a lot of brands will come to realize that this is something else.

As a performance marketer, if your Owned Media/ Properties/ Own Assets do not deliver on the goals, you’re essentially putting all that paid media into a leaky bucket. In times to come, we will see brands focussing a lot more on their owned assets instead of just focussing on throwing a bulk of money just to get the right kind of reach or impressions or conversions for that matter.

In the next #InConversation, we will try to understand more about the metrics that brands need to start looking at, as they chalk out their growth strategy.

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