Fixing Mobile Monetization: A Town Hall Conversation
For those who have been out of the IAB news loop, last week we held our Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. It was an intense, jam-packed few days. One of the highlights for me was that I got to be a “provocateur” in a Town Hall-style break out session we held on mobile monetization, called “Are Mobile Pennies Inevitable? The Challenge of Mobile Monetization.” Under the able moderation of Chris LaSala of Google and Cary Tilds of GroupM, participants jumped in to a lively series of discussions about the challenges facing mobile advertising today, and how we—the industry and the IAB—can contribute to solving them.
We started by enumerating and prioritizing the problems: according to a Kleiner Perkins study, mobile revenue is something like 75 cents per user as compared to $3.50 per user on desktop.
Most of the mobile problems we came up with are familiar ones:
· 1. Lack of knowledge about how to measure
· 2. Too much complexity (HTML5 v Flash, varied screen sizes, etc)
· 3. Creatives hate it: too small, too fragmented
· 4. Standardization is needed
· And so on….
But the biggest problem for investors and brands in mobile is that there’s a lot of chaos to sort through. It’s hard to figure out how to invest in mobile faster, and hard to keep on top of the landscape.
— cary tilds (@ctilds) February 25, 2013
What is Mobile?
One challenge is that we don’t even have a firm answer to “what is mobile?” And indeed, the distinction between “mobile” and “not mobile” may be fading away. Whether we separate out mobile, or how we divide up the world, depends on what we’re talking about.
From a marketing strategy perspective, there’s a compelling view that “mobile” shouldn’t be separated out, we should think in terms of at home versus office, event, retail, and other places. The tablet on the couch, the screen in the car dashboard, the smartphone in a restaurant: it’s where you are physically that defines the opportunity, not what device you happen to have. As the IAB says, mobile is really a behavior, not a device type.
Another participant advocated a hub-and-spoke framework, where mobile is not unique or disconnected from other media, but is the central device/medium for advertising, and other media (TV, outdoor, print, PC, etc) all are spokes that relate to the mobile hub.
While a marketing strategy perspective may be ready to move beyond the mobile/non-mobile dichotomy, a plumbing point of view still argues for looking at mobile as a distinct medium. There are unique, mobile-specific problems that need to be resolved before these integrated, cross-screen marketing plans are feasible. These relate to scale, approach, and currency, among other things. Technical solutions like HTML 5 will help with some aspects of the plumbing problem but there’s still a lot to do to get mobile advertising flowing easily.
Another strong theme from the Town Hall was that while standards are starting to exist (thanks, IAB!), they are not there, not deep enough, or not clear enough yet.
One of our subgroups recommended, “standardize first, and innovation follows.” Another asked if it shouldn’t be the other way around. That comment sparked the great question: “Is there a necessary trade-off between awesomeness and standardization?” The broader chicken-and-egg question is important, and it shapes the way the IAB approaches timing for mobile and other standards projects. We count on members and others in the ecosystem to let us know if we’re being premature or late to the game. And I do agree that we should strive for standards that permit, or even encourage, awesomeness.
One summary of the conversation held that mobile does not have a monetization problem, it has a measurement problem. And the measurement problem can be decomposed into two parts: a plumbing problem and a standards problem. However, we as an industry are not 100% sure on what the solution to the plumbing problem should be, and if it should cover just mobile or extend across screens/devices. And there’s not complete agreement that there should be standards yet.
A pithier summary of the conversation was: “The screen size is small. That sucks. Get over it, and learn to build mobile creative that works.”
In my mind, both of these conclusions imply time as part of the solution. Time is needed for brands and agencies to get their bearings where mobile is concerned, and it takes time for the media side of the industry to move from competitive land grab to cooperation. Any standards effort requires consensus around which aspects of mobile are just table stakes (where standardization helps everyone) versus things that are true competitive differentiators. Hopefully, via conversations like this and our ongoing standards, committee, research, and other efforts, the IAB’s Mobile Center can accelerate that process.
Joe Laszlo is Senior Director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB.