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How mobile advertising needs to change

How mobile advertising needs to change Ric Elert

People aren't websites. And they aren't phones. But the way that marketers have built their mobile campaigns on top of them, you wouldn't know it.

Back when marketers started reaching people with mobile ads, they targeted specific websites. But because so much of the audience wasn't useful (if you visit a sports site, it doesn't necessarily mean that you want men's athletic shoes, or even that you're a man), it wasted impressions and drove higher eCPMs.

Now marketers often target the devices themselves. That drills down a little deeper, but it's still inefficient. All devices aren't used exclusively by one person. They're also frequently lost, broken, or replaced, which means that marketers can't tell consistent stories to their customers, and they can't always find them again when their new phones are switched on.

And if you're only concerning yourself with your mobile messages, you don't know what you've already told consumers on their desktops or tablets.

To do mobile marketing right, you need to know more than people's websites or phones. Those things are important, but you also need a complete view of who they are, what they do, and what they've seen, across all their devices.

Cross-device is essential, but not if you do it wrong

The latest data tell us that each consumer uses, on average, more than three devices. And every marketer knows that it's a good idea to recognize them across all of them. Sure. Ad tech at a minimum should be able to do that. If I can't tell that the guy who's using this iPhone also sometimes uses that laptop, then I'm in the wrong business.

But "cross-device" as a tactic -- just slapping it on top of the campaign you're building -- is a waste of money. For marketers who want to spray-and-pray their messages across inexpensive mobile inventory, then cross-device is just doing more spraying and praying.

It may get them some reach (once they subtract all the bots and unviewable ad units), but reach alone isn't what drives action. Action only happens when you have the right conversation with your consumer, at exactly the right time.

It should be as natural as knowing how and when to talk to someone in real life. If you know Pete's always in a bad mood before he has his coffee, don't ask him for any favors until he's got an empty mug in his hand. And if you remember that yesterday he gave you a "maybe," use today's conversation to go in for the kill.

Forget phones -- focus your strategy on real people

Of course, you won't know that about Pete, or about your audience, unless you truly recognize and understand them, based on data you've gathered about them for some time.

It's not enough for marketers to have access to a network of devices connected to each other. The devices need to tie back to persistent consumer profiles that you can pile all your knowledge on top of: demographics, browsing behavior, online and offline transactions, hobbies, life events -- the more the better, as long as it's completely scrubbed of all personally identifiable information.

That's how messaging can dig down past the device, website, and household levels to the person level. And connections between brands and consumers can persist over time, outliving each individual device.

Focusing on the person, rather than the device (or website or cookie), also benefits you during the campaign measurement stage. If you know consumers well enough that you can follow them across their devices and transactions, you'll accurately know when they convert, even if they do it offline.

This allows you to do true test-and-control measurement and actually quantify your campaign's incremental lift. That way, you'll know if you're actually driving new conversions, or just spreading your money around.

Make each message count -- or don't deliver it

People may be spending more time than ever on their phones, but they're not converting on them. At least not at the rates they do on their other devices. So why would a marketer want to serve the same exact message on mobile?

Unless marketers know how each consumer uses each device -- which one they convert on, which one they just browse on, and which one their thumbs get in the way of -- then they won't be able to maximize each messaging opportunity.

Don't waste an impression just because you notice that someone in your target audience is on a phone or tablet you recognize. Only deliver when, based on person-level data, you know that it's the right time of day for them to be receptive to your ad, and they're on the best device and format to take them to the next stage in the purchasing funnel.

For instance, don't try to drive a conversion when the consumer isn't on the device they usually convert on. It's not a wasted opportunity; it's being smart with your marketing budget.

It's time for mobile marketers to get smarter

No one's denying that mobile advertising is a huge opportunity. But it can't reach its potential if it's done in a silo.

Mobile marketing gets smarter when you're not concentrating on the "mobile" side of it. It doesn't matter if the device you're communicating on has a 3-inch screen or an 80-inch screen.

Don't focus on the channel. Focus on the conversation. Every marketer needs a continuity of voice as they talk to each consumer, wherever they are. Even as they show different sides of themselves on different sites and channels, a smart marketer sees it all, and acts on the cumulative knowledge. Knowing who you're talking to must be at the center of every campaign you run, and every single message you deliver. Otherwise, why deliver it?

Conversant President Ric Elert is a recognized industry leader with 24 years of experience in high-scale technology, individualized data and operational development. As President, he sets the company’s vision and guides its 900+ U.S. employees...

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