Knowing the customer: It’s all about Frequency

Today we bring you the second of Dominic Travers’ columns on the subject of Frequency. If you missed his first one, (“Stop selling Ringtones and start selling Frequency Data“).

Over to you Dominic:

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In the first article in this short series I explored the frequency of mobile user activity in the context of music services and speculated how useful this information would be to the owners and distributors of music content. I think that the measurement of the frequency of each and every activity we do on our mobile devices can be very useful information for every type of service provider. I feel it is crucial that we as mobile customers are able to explore this data and take control of it.

There is traditionally a cultural divide between the way web companies and Mobile Networks view their users. Web giants such as Google and the prominent social networks put a lot of stock in “knowing the customer”. This knowledge of an individuals digital footprint allows them to place targeted adds on their pages in the hope we will think them relevant. Often this relevancy is laughably off the mark, the way Facebook persists in advertising dating services to people listed as married or in a relationship has received much derision. By contrast the Telco mentality is one of “owning the customer”, they are the conduit for all our mobile activity and we pay them a pretty penny for it. The operators maintain call detail records (CDR’s) for all of us, these allow them to make assumptions about us via similar data mining activities to those of the web players. The real relevance of their conclusions is still woeful, mostly because we have no way of retroactively influencing either sets of data.

In India for example it is common place for mobile users to receive daily marketing messages by SMS and unsolicited sales calls on their mobiles. Most Indian users are incensed by this but they have no recourse to stop it happening. AT&T managed to incur the wrath of a huge number of customers recently with a SMS campaign promoting a new series of American Idol. As AT&T are paid for every SMS vote cast on the series this must have seemed like an idea of genius at board level. This has created a wave of bad feeling and critical press. They did not think it was spam as they had taken a cursory glance at their CDR data, spokesman Mark Siegel explained…

“the message went to subscribers who had voted for “Idol” singers in the past, and other heavy texters”.

This level of assumption is what is holding up mobile marketing at present. The mobile is a very personal device, fortunately in Europe we have laws that govern this kind of SMS spamming but it still goes on to a certain extent. The CDR data is powerful, and hopefully closely guarded because it is actually our data. Then surely it belongs to us, if we recorded our calls and messages we would have the same set of information.

Last year I researched hundreds of mobile companies in order to programme the Future of Mobile conference. During this process, Skydeck stood out like a beacon. This is because Jason Devitt and his team went through a long and arduous process of gaining access to the CDR data from American Network Operators on behalf of their subscribers. They have recently launched their full raft of services in the USA to great accolades, many of us in Europe are looking on with envy. The service maps your CDR data in to a web app which allows you to see your real social graph, you can then share this with friends and colleagues to facilitate business and social activity. Skydeck truly understand the way this data should be used…

“it’s your data, not ours, and Skydeck protects it with bank-level encryption.”

This is hopefully the beginning of a new generation of tools we can use to leverage our own data. As with the Last Graph illustration in the last piece, graphical representation of the data really helps us understand our own activity. I would love to see graphical representation linking together the activity from my mobile, Twitter, Facebook, gmail and search history. Being able to choose which parts of this to keep private, and which elements I could make public as a profile for marketing agencies to see, would be beneficial to all. I have proposed that a simple set of sliders could have this information mapped on to them, allowing the user to switch either private or public and then set a measure of relevance unique to them. This kind of simple interface is well suited to the prevalence of touch screen devices. These could be nested to allow users to drill down as far as they feel is necessary to fine tune the control of information.

Advertisers need to get a lot smarter in the ways they deliver messages. The traditional mass media are rapidly loosing ground to the web and mobile in the way we consume content. Consumers are much less tolerant of interruptive adverts, personally I am happy watching a pre roll advert before some video content I want to see. I wish however that the provider knew much more about me so they could serve the product video for a new Armada ski model instead of an advert for a Royal Mail tailored growth pack. Jonathan MacDonald terms this preference information as vapour frames. If we could select themes and products we as individuals are interested in and simply star them in to our public profile, the agencies would know exactly what sponsor our content with.

We have reached a time where open Operating Systems and the enormously helpful growth in services with API’s should bring down the barriers to the development of these systems. The Mobile Marketing Association and Mobile Network Operators should be seriously looking at areas where they can combine to offer us new content and services on mobile. If users feel they can exert a level of control over this new mass media, I am convinced they will respond. Now if even more value can be added in return for engagement and sharing the marketers message amongst your peers, the ecosystem everyone wants will come to be. I intend to look at this further in part 3.

Related Links:

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You can contact Dominic Travers via his Twitter: @DominicTravers.

Incidentally I’m meeting Jason from SkyDeck next week at Mobile World Congress — we should be able to bring you some good footage.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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