Mobile local: the value, the players, the potential winners

Published 25th August

In-Brief: Local focused mobile advertising will present significant revenue opportunity and will be one the few channels to buck the downward trend in advertising spend over the next few years. In looking to reap rewards the single biggest challenge will be about providing an offer that is simple, accessible and delivers value to the consumer.

Mobile local

There is so much doom and gloom about local advertising – across newspapers, direct mail, TV, radio, yellow pages, outdoor, magazines and fixed online collectively forecast by BIA Financial Network (BIA), parent of the Kelsey Group, to decline to $144.4 billion by 2013 from $155 billion last year. Despite this the decline is clearly not going to be consistent across the full range of media. With budgets under pressure and advertisers beginning to demand far more tangible results, traditional media as we know it is likely to be hit far harder.

As consumers continue to turn to online services, traditional media will become more and more redundant as an influence in the purchasing decision. Marketers have long realised this trend and increasingly turn their attention to online and new media channels. Online commands an ever increasing share of spend. BIA has forecast the new media share globally to grow from around 9% today to over 22% by 2013. A recent study from Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) predicts by 2013 the new media share of advertising in the UK will be around 34%.

So the advertising market is going to shrink and see a substitution of spend. Not exactly positive until you consider where a significant amount of spend is today – traditional media. The opportunity exists for the traditional players to migrate value to their online assets. The changing environment demands a significant rethink of the traditional media business models and operating principles to potentially even survive.

The media futurist Jeffrey Cole suggested that a key challenge is the reliance on traditional advertising models, “The problem I see is that these people often believe that there is enough life left in the ‘old advertising model”. Cole went on to say “I really believe we are still waiting for ‘indigenous’ advertising techniques. I think the big breakthroughs will be digital advertising developed by those who grew up their entire life with digital media – hence the word indigenous.”

Mobile I believe will be a very different story, and one of the few channels to see significant organic growth. It is already being driven by leaders who are not bound by legacy thinking, business models and operations. They recognise the old models will not bear fruit, a new approach is required and the potential rewards mean it is worth it.

In terms of numbers, the Kelsey Group recently reported they expect mobile local advertising revenue to reach more than $3.1 billion by 2013, up from just $160 million in 2008. In May this year the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported UK mobile advertising spend for the first time in 2008 mobile advertising was £28.6 million. In isolation these figures today do not sound particularly impressive, and the 2013 figure potentially unrealistic, until compared to the fixed online environment. In 1998 the IAB reported UK internet advertising spend of £19.4 million, just 10 years later spend has grown to over £3.35 billion.

The Kelsey Group forecast for mobile advertising means it could outstrip anything that has gone before, making the mobile channel one of the fastest growing advertising channels of all time. A remarkable feat when the overall advertising industry will be in decline.

Why is mobile so different? Consider the audience. In nearly every country in Europe and around the world mobile has mass penetration – a large audience to target.

Mobile ticks so many marketing boxes.

Some of the most prolific mobile users are aged between 18 and 30 years old – a very attractive demographic to marketers and notoriously difficult to reach. A mobile is a very personal device and is rarely shared – making one-to-one marketing a real possibility. Consumption of mobile services continues to see rapid growth – people are open to consume new content. Mobile activity is often needs driven and action focused – consistently close to the point of purchase. At every level activity and audience actions are measurable – return is very transparent.

For these very reasons I view mobile as one of the great untapped channels for brands and media owners alike. This is not revolutionary but potentially controversial when I consider those who I believe are likely to win out and why.

Who are likely to be the key players? There are a number of players that are vying for position in the mobile local space. At one end of the spectrum you have the search engines, Taptu, MCN, Google, Yahoo etc. at the other the directory publishers, Yell and Pagine Gialle, Pages Jaunes etc. In addition there are the social networks, media owners, verticals, handset manufacturers and mobile operators who all too want a slice of the action. The market is already crowded with get rich expectants and the race for signing deals to support distribution and gather content firmly on.

For most, if the current approaches are maintained I believe that we will see just a handful of mobile players becoming highly successful. The barriers, complexities of the channel and challenges of distribution and discovery play into the hands of some of the established deep pocketed players. This balance does not have to be the case, when you consider the real opportunity will be created by organisations that use the technology and channel in a smart and meaningful way to deliver real value to the consumer.

Who are going to be the winners? The winners will be those not simply with content but those who can recognise and deliver a contextual, relevant tailored offering to a mobile consumer. It will be the ones that ‘get mobile’; those that deliver to the device capabilities, present the expected features, use location well, support social and viral capabilities, add value through marketing and advertising. Sounds simple but why are so many still getting it wrong?

In short, lack of focus and understanding of the channel. Those who are delivering good results have largely franchised mobile away from their traditional business and brought in those with ‘indigenous’ experience. For some time leading digital agencies such as AKQA and Ogilvy and progressive media owners like the BBC and Sky have had dedicated mobile teams. Others are now following their lead with dedicated resources as they either realise the true potential of mobile or are pushed by their clients to engage.

Some of these have used the mobile channel to great effect. Brands like Guinness with their ‘Passport to greatness’ campaign, British Airways with their ‘Mobile check-in’, HSBC with their ‘Business banking’, Sky with their ‘Remote record’, BBC with ‘BBC mobile’ and New York Times with their ‘NY Times’ iPhone app all show they get mobile and the mobile consumer. All have dedicated teams or experienced agencies that understand usability and focus on mobile. Mobile is treated in relative isolation but remains firmly part of the digital mix.

I find it surprising that brands and media owners do not treat mobile differently. Ten years ago most saw the opportunity Internet presented and were quick to develop specialist teams that could take forward viable business plans. Not to approach mobile in the same way is like suggesting radio programmes translate well to television. The channels have very different characteristics and capabilities.

The players with structured local content should have a natural advantage. In a previous column I wrote for mSearchGroove (MSG), I said that directory publishers are best placed to deliver compelling local mobile services and importantly commercialise them through advertising. I still firmly believe this should be the case. They are best placed to commercialise the channel, all have existing customers and a very powerful sales force to sell advertising products. Despite the opportunity the challenging business conditions that many find them self in today are impacting on their ability to focus on the mobile environment and realise opportunity it presents. This leaves the door wide open.

Why is the mobile experience different? Go back to grass roots. For most people the mobile is a communications device. This is unlikely to change. What else it is capable of is increasingly important. The device has evolved into a multifunctional tool – it is our social organiser, our information resource, our boredom filler. Basically, it supports our lives. Personal attachment is unrivalled. As well as the form factor this is what makes mobile different.

Mobile comes with a whole set of new rules. The challenge is that many businesses have not yet figured out these new rules. Most try to adapt what they understand from existing media and simply move it to the next. This will not work. Understand these new rules and the channel can deliver real returns. A good start point for many will be to answer three core questions: ’how’ are you going to approach? ’why’ is your offer relevant? and ’what’ do you expect a consumer to do?

Despite a tough economic outlook for advertising mobile is set to buck the trend it will present a significant opportunity for many. I believe the jury is still out for those that can and will be winners. What is for certain is those that continue to carry on a path which does not reflect the potential new rules and the recognise level of expertise needed to execute are unlikely to reap rewards.

As a marketing medium mobile is only set to grow in value. A channel that brands and advertisers can no longer afford to overlook as part of their mix, as such the potential for commercial reward will increase. Providers who get the basics right, deliver features that add value and bring together quality partnerships that enhance the offer and support commercialisation will be the likely winners.

Importance of mobile is increasing, the channel is set to become a primary content environment for the majority. Gearing content and commercial capabilities for mobile will be key. 

Need more advice?  We specialise in mobile and are here to help.