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GUEST OPINION Mobile marketing in the performance channel

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As more and more people hit websites through handheld and mobile devices, so the online marketing and advertising model starts to shift. But what can be done to exploit it? Affiliate Window’s Kevin Edwards offers some answers

Affiliate Window marked a milestone in April 2012: for the first time online traffic through mobile and handheld devices hit double digits. It was a date we’d been second-guessing for months due to the inexorable rise of mobile clicks and sales. When we started monitoring activity in November 2010, a barely acknowledgeable one per cent of traffic was attributed to handsets and tablets. Fast forward two years and we’re anticipating one in six clicks will be flowing through such devices by Christmas 2012.

When factoring in the actual numbers and natural online growth, that represents a 20-fold increase in traffic, an anticipated 50million clicks with sales in excess of £120million: in other words little short of a digital revolution.

Working with about 1,600 advertisers from SMEs to the largest UK retailers, coupled with a network of thousands of publishers, the rise of mobile provides us with a significant dataset to interrogate.

Such a rapidly evolving phenomenon no doubt warrants significant investment: the crucial point however, is exactly what to invest in. Understanding what we need to do from a technical point of view as well as cultivating new marketing opportunities, not to mention appreciating what constitutes effectiveness and measurement, have led us to conclude that there is a significant hole in how advertisers are exploiting opportunities in the mobile performance space.

In the way that we do not consider ‘desktop’ to be a singular channel, so we should not make the same assumption about mobile; it’s a complex ecosystem incorporating numerous elements. Some of these are retention not acquisition focused, but many of them reference how mobile is shaping different consumer behaviours to those we’ve spent many years understanding via traditional desktop.

By interrogating our data some of these insights have emerged. We know, for example, that mobile sales are highest at the weekend rather than the start of the week for desktop. Over time, could we see advertisers targeting specific mobile incentives for Saturday and Sunday? Turning our attention to retail sectors that over-index on mobile, low value, generic products that are not dependent on ‘customer experience’, e.g. CDs, DVDS and SIM cards all out-perform other products alongside takeaways and additional low consideration goods.

Typically these are products that consumers feel comfortable purchasing without necessarily needing to see, the main considerations likely to be delivery costs and times, things that transcend the more emotive decisions around product selection.

A rapidly growing sector that seems a perfect fit for mobile is group buying. Working with a number of the key players in this market we have traced their performance and found the incidence of sales through handsets and tablets can be as much as double that of our programme average. It makes sense: there is an imperative to transact quickly due to the time sensitivity of the offers: someone interacting on a handset may not have access to a desktop or laptop connection. Often deals featured are snap decision purchases coupled with a leap of faith in buying these deals regardless of what medium you’ve viewing them.

Group buying perfectly encapsulates some of the crucial elements of mobile that are important to grasp. The shift towards internet mobility coupled with the emergence of the online savvy shopper and mobile’s geo-location abilities have created a fertile environment for group-buying.

In many ways they also offer a perfect opportunity for performance marketers, capitalising on one of the industry’s biggest success stories of recent years; voucher coding. We only need to consider how the average consumer interacts with their mobile from a retail perspective. More often than not it is to either research a product (for additional detail or to compare prices) or to seek an incentive for transacting. Cultivated by the now ubiquitous discount restaurant deals and compounded by a handful of advertisers rolling out big ‘in-store money-off promotions’ at seasonal peaks, mobile represents a powerful and crucially trackable medium that enables retailers to incorporate multi-channel campaigns alongside their existing online marketing activity.

For retailers looking to run mobile promotions via their publishers, incentivisation is the most obvious sphere to explore. Not only is it within this area that the biggest publishers sit, but the latent traffic is ripe for tapping into. These publishers (Quidco and TopCashback together with the major voucher directories) have all been first to market with apps and a variety of mobile and online to offline opportunities. It’s no surprise that at present as many as 80% of Affiliate Window’s mobile clicks originate from these so called ‘incentivised’ publishers.

Reiterating this point we only need to take a look at the impressive databases these sites boast: is poised to sign up its six millionth member and the bargain hunter’s destination of choice, HotUKDeals, regularly features inside Hitwise’s Top 20 retail sites.

With the advent of mobile, it was an inevitability that this latent army of engaged consumers could and would be tapped into. In a recent conversation with the MD of one of the largest voucher code sites, he stated his belief that mobile is a retail tipping point, enabling sites like theirs to take a slice of the majority of revenue that is still spent offline.

For many of these publishers, mobile presents a fillip, a way to demonstrate the incremental nature of their sales in the face of increasing scrutiny. Recently Quidco was able to showcase how advertisers who ran multi-channel campaigns with them (on site, in-store codes and mobile check-ins as well as ‘traditional’ desktop promotions) were benefitting from increased consumer spends and average order values. In turn, customer profiling is bucking conventional (and often misguided) wisdom that customers they deliver are less valuable and less demographically attractive.

We can therefore see a positive picture of innovation and insight, but there are red flags emerging that anyone involved in performance marketing should be concerned about.

One of the key Views we’ve been pushing is how without the fundamental building blocks firmly in place, mobile will never be fully exploited by publishers. As hard as it might be to believe, a huge stumbling block is the simple issue of tracking.

There has been some confusion about what mobile tracking looks like but this is a smokescreen: standard desktop tracking added to the confirmation page of a mobile site will do the trick. Without it, affiliate sales won’t track causing significant issues for publishers like Quidco and Nectar who cannot guarantee customer cashback or rewards on handset devices for certain retailers with mobile sites who have failed to add appropriate tracking.

Of our top 1,600 advertisers, about 400 have mobile sites but only 60 of these have added tracking. In other words, 340 are benefiting from free affiliate traffic and sales. We’ve estimated that for every additional 1% of sales through mobile handsets, publishers are losing out on commissions totalling £1.2m and sooner or later something will have to give. As a company we’ve committed to ambitious targets for affiliate tracking on the majority of our advertisers’ mobile sites, but it’s a major project, especially when mobile marketing responsibilities typically sits outside of the remit of the performance marketing teams our account managers work with.

These are real challenges that we need to keep hammering. There is no doubt that mobile opportunities are enormous and will change how we transact forever. The performance channel has the ideas and willingness to be at the forefront of this revolution: it’s up to us to ensure that advertisers are fully paid-up members of the cause.

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