Permission is critical in the mobile channel, even if marketers are still wary of asking for it. So do new regulations have to be seen as a barrier to success, or could a shift in thinking allow brands to build trust, gain opt-ins and get their mobile marketing really moving? “It’s tempting to view mobile as just another channel like the ones before. It has a small screen, large reach and the added ability to track more, so let’s just crack on. The elephant in the room is that mobile is an extension of the self and is extremely personal,” says Jonathan MacDonald, co-founder of This Fluid World.
This summary of the tension between how consumers view mobile and the way marketers are tempted to tackle it reflects a widespread problem. For the first time, marketing can not simply ignore consumer preferences in a medium on the basis that the individual will either just live with the intrusion (email) or have to accept marketing-friendly rules if they want to use a service (social media).
In mobile, MacDonald stresses that marketing has to be “holistic, rather than opportunistic. There is a level of trust that is required for permission to be gained. The trouble is that moving consumers from trust to permission is seen as a tick box exercise.”
Brands have yet to realise that there is a value chain they need to work their way along before they get to this level of consumer engagement. What worries MacDonald is that they assume the same privileged status they have in every other medium and are operating their mobile marketing in the same way.
The understanding and tools necessary to capture all-important opt-ins for mobile are in many cases weak or missing. “Their cup does not overflow,” he says. Challenges that flow from this shortfall are not just around marketing performance - they go right to the heart of compliance.
While it is true that few breaches of the rules have yet been reported or enforced, that does not mean they are not happening. More significantly, whether consumers feel that marketers are being intrusive or failing to respect permissions is what matters.
Consumer knowledge about new regulations is high - 89 per cent have heard about cookies, 60 per cent know what they are and 72 per cent believe mobile and desktop cookies are used in the same way. Notably, 36 per cent of consumers say they have opted out of website cookies at some point. Marketing needs to embed both the rules and this consumer-first perspective if mobile marketing is to thrive.
Mark Brill, chief executive of Formatie and txt4ever, chairs the DMA Mobile Marketing Council. He has been running workshops for members on the legislation around mobile, especially the implications of the amendment to Privacy in Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR2) that require informed consent to any tracking.
Based on his experience of delivering these sessions, Brill notes that, “knowledge is worse on the whole than for other digital channels. People are less likely to consider the implications. Because the channel is emerging, there is less knowledge. If they have a brand marketing or agency perspective, they find it difficult to get their heads around it.”
Brill emphasises that PECR2 is essentially straightforward and an extension of what any brand now has to do with its online website. The law affects the storage of personal data on the individual’s device using a cookie (and other tools such as transparent GIFs or trackable links in emails).
Consumers have to be told clearly and transparently that these are used and have to opt-in before personal data can be tracked. PECR2 does allow for a cookie to be deposited before the opt-in request is serviced, but it has to be removed if consent is not given. It covers all digital channels and devices, from websites to mobile web and apps and even QR codes. In fact, the original regulations required consumers to be told such tracking might take place at the point of opt-in, even though this was widely ignored.
The new law has been in force since 26th May this year. What many in the industry have assumed is that they still have eight months’ grace before complying, because the Information Commissioner has said he will not be taking any enforcement action until 12 months have passed. This has not helped organisations to feel under pressure to adopt the new practice, nor has the widespread sense that a mobile technology solution might appear (similar to the “accept all cookies” option that used to be a default in web browsers.)
“Our view, despite the legislation and its implications is, don’t worry, because it is not that complicated. If you look at the principles, you just need to be clear about what you are doing, not just about dropping cookies, but saying what you are likely to do with the information they capture. Telling the consumer to look at your T&Cs should be sufficient,” says Brill.
Mobile web sites will have to serve up a link to simple terms and conditions for any consumer who wants to explore what will be done with their personal data. Clarity and transparency about the type of data being captured and what it is used for is best practice, as a whitepaper to be published by the DMA Mobile Marketing Council in October will explain.
“The net result might be interim screens, but not now. That is what organisations are supposed to be doing, but they have to be looking at developing things in the meantime,” says Brill. He acknowledges that many mobile marketers find this privacy-driven approach alien. “When they first address it, they see it as a worry. When they put their minds to it, however, it makes a lot of sense. Mobile is the most personal channel and getting trust is critical.”
Mobile network operators have been trying to get ahead of the curve and protect future mobile advertising revenues by soliciting opt-ins from subscribers. They are not alone - the competition to be the intermediary of choice through offering a service to manage opt-ins and preferences is intense.
Alcatel-Lucent was an early entry into this game with the launch of its Optism operation in 2009. Through its Bell Labs division, the company had a lot of relevant technology for inventory and campaign management as well as consumer profiling. “When I took over the lead of that activity, I spent time trying to understand what would be the best way to engage the consumer through the mobile channel to get the best for all stakeholders - the brand, the user and service providers,” says Thomas Labarthe, vice-president, mobile advertising at the company.
From consumer research, Optism identified the high degree of sensitivity around mobile privacy, as well as an opportunity to manage that on behalf of users. “I took the view that putting the end user in control of their marketing experience, having total transparency of what data is captured and used was the way forward. All of that had to be in a framework of permission,” says Labarthe.
With a global opt-in database of over one million consumers, the service had in place all of the elements necessary to comply with the European PECR regulations ahead of their revision and to meet likely new laws around the world. But Labarthe stresses that, “we don’t see ourselves as a data owner - we believe data is owned by each user. The fact they can very transparently give permission for data to be used or removed by opting out is very clear evidence that ownership remains with the end user.”
Using Optism, brands have been able to get between 10 and 40 per cent response rates on their mobile campaigns. Labarthe says this counters the notion that privacy laws are a problem and tend to reduce marketing performance.
“There is a belief that no-one will ever want to opt-in to marketing services, so better not ask. Our experience is very different,” he says. “If you build a service in a way that is of perceived value for each user, as opposed to saying, ‘are you ok for us to spam you?’, you get good results.”
He has the same concerns about marketers’ attitudes that are voiced elsewhere. “The problem is historical. When you look at the evolution of media, there is a tendency to apply the same recipes that worked before to each new medium. For mobile, that doesn’t work at all,” says Labarthe.”
Marketers who want to optimise their mobile activity according to both the regulations and the consumer perspective will not be short of advice. What is missing is hard evidence of opt-in mobile marketing at work and proof that it is sustainable. This is partly a reflection of the fact that levels of advertising are still low and those who are successful want to keep the secret.
Perhaps the ultimate example that consumers will opt-in to mobile marketing if they see some value in it is Blyk. The mobile virtual network operator was launched in 2006 offering consumers free mobile service in return for their permission to receive marketing. This ad-funded network was based on a critical insight. “If you make advertising communications so useful that they are a real benefit to the user - or provide something the user is not able to access elsewhere - they are not seen as advertising anymore,” says MacDonald, who co-founded the business.
That does demand a shift in mindset by brands. He says: “Over the last 100 years, advertising has become commoditised around selling, with marketing about creating the environment for the sale. We need less tell and more play.”