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mobilestance 2009 mobile predictions sm2Peer into Mobilestance’s Proprietary Crystal Ball!

Well it’s that time of year again… when pundits and publishers large and small exploit the slow end-of-year news cycle to recap the old and forecast the new.  Here at mobilestance it’s a extra-special time of year… as it was nearly one year ago when we formally “came out” of beta with our 2007 Recap piece and spammed it out to our publisher’s 3,000 +  email address book.  Ahh… memories!

This year, rather than spend the next thousand words rehashing what was undoubtedly the most exciting year in mobile since the advent of the crazy frog ringtone, we decided instead to take the easy way out and peer ahead to future…   casting our lot into a sea of like-minded posts from across the blogosphere.

So what will occur in 2009 at the intersection of Mobile and Marketing?  Will location become (as Dan @ Organic so eloquently put it in a recent Facebook status) “just another input”?  Will MMS finally become interoperable between carriers and ShortCodes, and finally emerge as a realistic marketing vehicle?  Will a wave of consolidation sweep the industry, as smaller independent mobile agencies, technology vendors and ad networks become casualties of the “great recession”?   Will newly legislated digital privacy-controls arrive just in time to kill the mobile web?  And of course the big question on everyone’s minds: Will mobile finally jump from the backwater of marketing budgets known as “emerging,” grow some legs, ditch the tail, and finally walk upon solid (budgetary) ground?

So read on then, fearless time shifters… and arm yourself for the ensuing complexities that will envelope our fledgling industry in the coming year!

Mobilestance’s Top 10 Mobile Marketing Predictions for 2009

  1. 2009 Will be the Year of Mobile.   After many false starts the Long Joke will finally end… and Mobile will finally have its moment in the sun.  With the rising popularity of smartphones; the lower cost of mobile data; and the pervasiveness of mobile broadband, internet and other “beyond voice” services, Mobile (with a capital “M”) will finally achieve critical mass in the US – and agencies, brands and business infrastructure providers alike will finally start paying attention with the purse strings.
  2. 2009 Won’t be the Year of Mobile.  What would a mobile marketing prognostication piece be without some conflicting signals?  Call it hedging my bets… but I just couldn’t resist punching up the contradiction that is the current state of mobile marketing.   Sure, everything I said in the previous ‘graph is dead on… the crystal ball is crystal clear on that.  But will that make 2009 “The Year of Mobile?” Hardly.  Sure, mobile has made some great strides of late in terms of its effectiveness as a marketing channel, and there is NO doubt that will come even farther, faster in 2009.  But sorry kids, it simply will not find its way out of the “emerging” bucket when it comes to budgeting.  No, the “Year of Mobile” can only be declared after we see dedicated “mobile” advertising, CRM and/or marketing budgets… or (at a minimum) a substantive breakout from a larger “digital” line… and with 2009 shaping up to the second coming of the “Flight to ROI” of 2002 (warning: pdf link) , we’ve probably got until 2010 until we can finally herald the end of the Long Joke. In the meantime there’s still plenty for Mobile Marketers to do – namely, hone our skills and prepare ourselves for when the money spigot really opens up in 2010.
  3. Mobile Search Comes of Age.   OK, enough with the levity… let’s get into some serious forecasting. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about mobile usage in ’08, it’s that smartphones = search volume.  While previously a mere academic curiosity, this correlation will show real legs in ’09, as legions of iPhoners, Crackberry Addicts and the like will continue take to mobile search like a longshoreman on a bender (read: heavy consumption punctuated with colorful language) .  We’ve already witnessed both Google and Yahoo fine tuning their mobile search products – albeit in very different ways – and in 2009 we will see the beginnings of a real business emerge in this sector. Watch for the leading engines and agencies make a major mobile plays in ’09, as both will look to the sector to help sustain revenue growth and counter the “leveling off” of the (once interstellar) growth trajectory of “traditional” online paid search and/or SEM – as both (especially the former) begin to show early signs of maturation.
  4. Mobile Video (finally) Gets Interesting.  Along with search, the other interesting affect that comes with increased smartphone penetration is increased consumption of mobile video.  I say “interesting” as in “somewhat viable” or “worth experimenting with”- which should not be interpreted as “it’s going to explode” (or even that I’m reasonably bullish on the channel).  No… while I’ve been a mobile video hater for many years for reasons too numerous to count, we’ll see enough scale in 2009 to merit some testing… as after all, leveraging the moving image remains (arguably) the most effective method by which one can influence consumer behavior.
  5. Apples Grow on Trees… While Android Picks up Steam.  A no brainer that simply cannot be ignored… and the importance of which cannot be overstated.  Most likely, Apple will successfully keep its momentum into ’09 by rolling out popular, yet evolutionary iPhone models (think new colors and modestly increased storage capacity/performance, rather than new form factors or revolutionary new features or price points).  Android will likely see a bigger increase in Mobile OS share (albeit from a smaller base) than Apple, as Samsung (Spring) and Motorola (Fall) roll out hot new handsets utilizing the Open Source mobile OS.  And speaking of Open Source, it will be interesting to see if the (reasonably) open Android starts “out innovating” Apple’s proprietary mobile OS when it comes to features and applications.  As it is we’re still waiting for Google to integrate a working commerce model (safe money is on Google Checkout… duh!)  into the Android Marketplace so that developers will have an easier time charging consumers for applications (expected Spring, 2009) – so it might be awhile before developers truly embrace Android as tightly as they have with the iPhone SDK.  Our prediction:  in 2009 Android will become the “hip incubator” for mobile application and/or OS innovation… with Apple and/or independent iPhone developers skimming the cream and co-opting the most interesting ideas of the bunch.
  6. Biggest Losers of 2008: Motorola, Palm and Sprint Stay Alive.  Notable for their ability to keep breathing, the “Crap Pack” of ’08 will not kick the bucket as so many are predicting.  Sprint will slowly turn the corner in ’09 under Dan Hesse’s steady hand (is it us, or is anyone else getting a “Fred Thompson” vibe from his gently reassuring, speak-directly-into-the-camera series of commercials?), making incremental customer support improvements and leaning on that “Clearwire Thing” to leapfrog ahead in the bandwidth arms race (see “Wi-Max Casts Wide Shadow” below for more on this).  The great recession saved Motorola’s Wireless business, as the venerable Schamburg, Illinois red ink factory likely found no suitable suitors.  Now the company is forced to do what it does best… crank out a hit product to save the company – which we believe we’ll see in the form of a swank Android handset sometime late next year.  Until then Moto will occupy itself by doing the other things it does best: bleeding market share and taking on further debt… which brings us to our last lovable looser, Palm.  The fact that Elevation Partners decided to invest $100MM to keep Palm afloat just last month proves that there’s somebody out there for everybody… no matter how unsightly, aged, infirm or otherwise unappealing.  Seriously, we’re not entirely sure know how much lifespan $100MM buys Palm, but we’re betting 18 months, at best.
  7. Cash Poor Mobile Start-ups Get Snapped Up by Web, Traditional Media Players.  Another obvious one that needed to be said: the credit crunch / recession combo will start claiming casualties among the most vulnerable in the mobile sector, while traditional media giants and other web firms lacking mobile chops go bargain hunting.  Specifically, the time might be right for WPP’s 24/7 RealMedia to formally acquire one of their partner mobile ad networks (such as JumpTap or Millennial), should the opportunity present itself.  On the Cable side both Comcast and Time Warner have already made big bets on wireless with their Clearwire investments… yet neither have much else to leverage here in the form of inventory of other mobile-ready assets. A mobile video acquisition for each of these players on the order of a Rhythm NewMedia or Transpera might just be in the cards.
  8. WiMax Casts Wide Shadow.  While 2008 was all Apple and Google, newly-formed Clearwire (not to be confused with the “old” Clearwire, which had the same management yet different investors – a confusing situation that deserves a dedicated posting of its own) quietly rolled out what we believe to be the first real mobile broadband network in the US… (OK, well in Baltmore, MD – but heck, it’s a start!).  As Clearwire partner Sprint Wireless brings new WiMax hardware to market, and  the high speed service rolls into new markets like Portland and Chicago in 2009, look to Verizon Wireless and AT&T to fall all over themselves to attempt to bring their competitive 4G “LTE” (Long Term Evolution)  product to market by the end of the year.  It’s a moot point if Clearwire ever really rolls out a national WiMax network, or instead (like many are predicting) runs out of cash sometime in 2009 (prediction: cash-laden Clearwire partners Intel and Google will pony up an additional round of investment in the network while cash strapped partners Comcast and Time Warner sit this round out – slowing, but ultimately sustaining, Clearwire’s national rollout) what matters most is that Clearwire and WiMax is giving the industry a huge kick in the pants… and with this we’ll finally get the true mobile broadband experience we’ve all been waiting for.  Cue the brass band!
  9. MMS Gets its Act Together (Just in Time to Become Totally Irrelevant).   It’s no secret that MMS never really caught on with the public… and even when the carriers got their act together in 2006 and brought cross-carrier MMS interoperability online, the bloom was already nearly off the rose, as it were.  Marketing applications remained uber-niche, as lack MMS support for cross-carrier short codes left brands with two, equally unappealing options (e.g. the use of either a ten digit phone number or an email address in the primary Call-to-Action).   Still, while some consumers are giving the “Most Morbid Service” a second chance, the last nail in the coffin may have come from Apple, when it shafted the technology by not supporting it on the iPhone.   Now it seems the CSCA , along with their strong-armed cousin, NeuStar, are working with the US carriers to bring MMS support to intercarrer (common) ShortCodes… which, if achieved, would greatly expand the effectiveness of the channel as a marketing medium.  The question is, will this work be completed before the technology becomes altogether irrelevant?  Perhaps… although no one (including us) is betting on it.
  10. Application “Bubble” Doesn’t Burst… Yet.   A minor one, but just squeaks into our Top 10 (take that, “Privacy Concerns!”).   First, in order to predict that a bubble won’t burst, you need to prove the existance of a bubble.  Case in point: iFart (point proven!).  Now just when will the “App Bubble” burst?  Well, it would seem that in order to “burst”, the bubble would first need to achieve maximum volume, which won’t happen until iPhone and similar “ReallySmartPhones(TM)” achieve critical mass (we’re thinking 15-20% penetration) – and that’s not happening for at least a year or two – even in the rosiest of scenarios.  Still, for all the whooplaa around “+300MM iPhone app downloads in the first six months of app store,” some have acutely pointed out that the iPhone app growth curve has already started to flatten out.  That said… we’re likely to see a whole new crop of iFarts-like hits in 2009 – and needless to say Mobilestance awaits on baited breath.

Well folks… there you have it – our top 10 predictions for 2009.  Feel free to leave a comment if you feel we’ve missed something… or if you just want to throw some gasoline on the fire… and check back with us throughout the year as we continue to chronicle this thing we call Mobile.

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dancing-with-the-ad-networks-sm.jpgVerizon, FOX Take on Additional Sales Partners as US Mobile Ad Inventory Glut Continues.

Millennial Media recently announced an agreement with Verizon Wireless which allows the ad network to begin selling a portion of the carrier’s on deck mobile ad inventory. Prior to this move, AOL’s Third Screen Media was the only third party repping Verizon Wireless inventory. It is believed that Third Screen will continue to sell a portion of Verizon’s on deck ad inventory as well as act as the carrier’s primary ad server.

In a similar move, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based mobile ad network (and white-label search provider) JumpTap announced that had signed deals to sell the mobile ad inventory of both NBC Universal and FOX’s Mobile Entertainment Network (which includes Jamba, as well as mobile extensions of FOX programs such as Family Guy and 24). Millennial Media currently is FOX’s exclusive third party sales partner for all FIM mobile sites, such as mySpace mobile, FOX Sports and rottentomatoes.com.

All these moves would be enough to drive media planners crazy, if only they were paying attention – and therein lies the heart of problem. With well more than half of mobile ad inventory going unsold over any given period, its no wonder publishers are feeling a little antsy about the ability of their sales partners to close the deal. And why aren’t buyers buying? That’s really the question, and we’ve a hunch the publishers wont find relief simply be adding additional sales partners.

For our friends on the supply side of the mobile advertising market, we offer the following advice:

  1. First, you must accept that you are selling a niche media product – a situation that probably will continue for the next three years at a minimum. This means stop with the “reach story.” Stop telling buyers that “over 250 million US consumers own mobile phones” and start with a more sophisticated segmentation strategy that tells buyers that you can efficiently deliver a specific audience against their specific needs. You’ve already got a solid out-of-home story, but why not do what the niche cable nets and magazines do – start by investing in some real research that shows how your audience indexes against specific product categories (MRI would be a good start).
  2. Second, try really experimenting with pricing models other than CPM. Sure, AdMob and a few others have brought text-based CPC inventory to market, but what about getting bold and offering up display-based CPC inventory as well? This will do much to alleviate the inherent risk that buyers must accept in your untested and unproven form of media, and with most of your impressions going unsold month after month you have very little to lose. What’s more, if we’re to believe that mobile click-thrus are really averaging over 2%, then surely you wouldn’t mind putting your numbers on the line with a model that pays out based on campaign performance?
  3. Finally, get togther with each other and figure out a way to track uniques across all publishers, ad networks and carriers. Without this, there is no way your media fits into an (even soft) reach/frequency model – the backbone of modern media planning. Saddle up and get it together. You can’t blame media buyers for this one…

Of course, blame cannot be lopped only on the supply side of the equation. Our friends on the buying side have their work cut out for them as well:

  1. Stop complaining about the “unattractiveness” of existing mobile ad units. Sure, mobile banners are small – but that’s not the point. When viewed as a percentage of the screen they actually are quite reasonably-sized. Hold your phone up to your face (as one does when one browses the mobile web) and it will take on the prominence of a 65″ plasma. Unfortunately mobile is just too new a medium to start messing about with seriously interruptive forms of advertising. Waiting for Verizon to approve that full screen “roadblock” ad unit? Don’t hold your breath.
  2. Take the time to understand what’s really out there. Shaken by rumors of $50 mobile CPMs? You might be surprised to learn that quality mobile display inventory can be had for under $5. Still not happy with mobile ad banners? Well, folks like Greystripe have full screen units for sale, and there are plenty of content integration options with the likes of Buzzd, UpSnap and Free-411. These guys are simply dying to meet you and tell you about what they’re got for sale, so do everyone a favor and put aside 30 minutes a week to meet with them. Get smart on the mobile publishing side and your clients may just reward you.
  3. Finally, challenge the publishers and ad networks to craft real solutions to your clients business objectives. This means sharing (some) information on what you’re trying to accomplish on the media side in terms of strategy, reach and intended action. Too often media salespersons are simply left guessing as to what value their product can add a larger media plan. Is it any wonder they often fall short? I know from experience that these media sales people are a very creative, sharp and hardworking sort. Give them the information they need to succeed and they just might surprise you with a program that makes you both look like rock stars.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we’re more than comfortable with the concept that the more things stay the same, the more mobile advertising will stagnate.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and continue the conversation.