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Brands seek mobile data ownership, putting agencies’ role in question

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While one of mobile’s more significant benefits for marketers is making possible a wealth of new consumer insights, a showdown may be imminent over who owns the consumer data generated by mobile.

Ad agencies have traditionally played a critical role in how big brands take their messages to consumers but in mobile, that role may evolve if brands make a play to control customer data, as some signs would suggest they are doing. Further putting pressure on the role of the agency in the era of Big Data is how rapidly platforms are evolving, making it challenging for agencies to build solutions fast enough.

“Agencies are involved [with mobile data], but not at as high a percentage as some people might think,” said Mike McGuire, Santa Clara, CA-based vice president of research at Gartner for Marketing Leaders. “I think a lot of that has to do with brands are treating this very carefully so it can be that very intimate ongoing relationship.

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“You are one bad message away from undoing a lot of brand equity you may have built up with a set of consumers if you are using mobile inappropriately,” he said. “I think that is why a lot of brands are careful.

“I don’t know if brands shut out the agencies as much as they are redefining the roles they see the agencies play.”

20 percent involvement
Gartner’s research shows that of the data work in mobile is being in-house by various brands.

This is because brands are looking to retain some level of control over the data themselves.

“When it came to defining the strategy, making decisions about technology that you would use for a new set of mobile tactics and then measuring the performance of the mobile marketing campaigns or tactics, agencies had 20 percent involvement in those areas,” Mr. McGuire said.

“The strategy and the measurement, is pretty clearly dominated by the mobile marketing and the digital marketing teams, with IT taking the role of selecting technology and implementing it,” he said. “Agencies had a relatively smaller percentage of involvement.

“Who owns that data for a campaign, how it is maintained once the campaign is over — the issues around data ownership online are extremely difficult when we think about mobile.”

Rethinking relationships
The challenge for ad agencies when it comes to mobile data is that it opens up a host of new opportunities and challenges for brands, with one of the results being that brands are rethinking their agency relationships.

Mobile gives brands the ability to engage directly with consumers, something that was previously difficult to achieve. Tracking how consumers use mobile devices to check email or engage with apps can provide significant insights into what motivates consumers to purchase a given service or product.

Because this more direct relationship with consumers is still relatively new, brands may be reluctant to share it with other entities.

Brands also see mobile data as providing a competitive edge.

“Mobile can't be stand-alone in the long term even if that is how it is approached to gain momentum,” said Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

“It's not clear to me that agencies are going to hold this vault of data and responsibility for generating insights,” she said. "It has the potential to be a phenomenal source of competitive advantage."

A different role
Mobile is increasingly seen as the glue that links together digital and real-world strategies and runs throughout a brand’s entire messaging strategy, another reason why some brands may choose to keep certain aspects of their mobile program in-house.

Then there is the concern over the delicate nature of some of the data being collected. Brands see this as a real business challenge and are treading carefully as a result.

Some agencies such as SapientNitro and Razorfish are tackling the mobile data challenge head on while others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Additionally, because the mobile marketing space is still relatively young, there are still a number of specialized companies and independent consultants focused exclusively on leveraging mobile data.

How these roles will evolve going forward is still being determined.

“How this plays out longer term is a bigger topic, which is the role of the agency in this rapidly hyperchanging world of new technologies, new approaches,” said Duncan McCall, CEO of PlaceIQ, New York.

“It is almost impossible for these guys to keep up and develop those core competencies internally but I think there is this role they can play,” he said. “They can connect their clients to the right companies, like ours and others who are specialists in this area.

“I don’t know if it is 12 months or two years out, but it will become a more mature market where the value and the ROI is clear. At that point, the agencies have an opportunity to have the big systems and the competencies and the connections to all the other areas as well so it is not a point solution.”

TV experiences
Agencies need to continue to invest in building their mobile expertise and look at how to deploy it in a way that is most useful and interesting to clients. This may mean that instead of trying to take a comprehensive approach to mobile, some will decide to focus in on one area to specialize in, such as tying mobile and TV experiences together.

Such an approach could make sense for agencies, which traditionally have had strong ties to TV.

“That expertise they have in TV advertising and how a brand can extend that to mobile are the ways that we are going to see the agencies maintain their role,” Gartner’s Mr. McGuire said.

“I don’t think they are by any stretch aren’t rolling over and ignoring mobile,” he said. “I think they are trying to find what their role is going to be.”

The ability of agencies to develop close relationship with major mobile media platforms will also be important.

With Americans spending more than 19 percent of their total media time on smartphones and wireless devices, mobile is quickly becoming the first screen.

Mobile is also becoming the first screen for major media publishers such as Facebook, Pandora and Twitter, who see between 50 percent and 75 percent of their revenue coming from mobile.

“It’s only natural that mobile data become a bigger part of crafting effective marketing strategies,” said Steven Wolfe-Pereira , chief marketing officer at Datalogix, Westminster, CO. “However, advertisers are still lagging behind with only 6 percent of total advertising dollars going to mobile.

“This gap creates both new challenges and opportunities for both marketers and agencies looking to engage their audiences on Mobile,” he said. “Over time, the cookie will become less relevant as the primary identifier for users and ‘addressable identity’ in the form of a mobile ID or login will become more important.

“This will be less about traditional versus digital agencies, but more who will be able to connect users with the most important ‘registration-driven’ media platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

News Editor Chantal Tode covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at chantal@mobilemarketer.com.

Related content: Advertising agencies, ad agencies, mobile data, brands, Gartner, Mike McGuire, Forrester, Julie Ask, PlaceIQ, Duncan McCall, Datalogix, Steven Wolfe Pereira, mobile marketing, mobile advertising, mobile

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Comments on "Brands seek mobile data ownership, putting agenciesí role in question"

  1. Len Shneyder says:

    March 7, 2014 at 12:48pm

    This is a great article and brings up a number of questions, in addition to head scratchers. However, mobile is not a silo unto itself. Too many companies haven't connected the dots or found tools that allow them to integrate mobile into their overall outbound digital communications. As a matter of fact, a number of ESPs, purveyors and practitioners of the black arts of cross-channel/omni-channel/multi-channel marketing don't even know what native mobile messaging really is. In one conversation an executive at a top tier ESP/campaign management services company told me

    "Mobile is growing leaps and bounds for us! It's about 15% of revenue at this point!"

    Oh yeah?! I responded, but not stopping there I asked him "So what do you consider mobile?"

    He said "You know, mobile email and SMS!"

    I looked for the nearest wall to introduce to my forehead with great gusto and repetition. We've spoken to companies across verticals and in the most adept of mobile trenches and practitioners: we've learned that a) mobile is a red-headed step child b) ownership of the channel varies wildly from marketers to IT c) the brand own the data but all brands are struggling to integrate it to create a single view of their customers, regardless of platform or device.

    Agencies and ESPs do take stock of much of a brand's data, but at the day, the brand needs to take stock of that data and find ways of bringing their various marketing tentacles together into a concerted effort. I would agree that brands are a heart beat away from irrevocable brand damage due to bad messaging, but because of the glut of good, messaging focused analytics and integration, they may never know when that happens.

    So much of the action in the mobile space is focused on the delivery layer, however this has now been totally commodified. The game is higher up the stack and today's Fortune 500 brands and SMBs alike need a platform like OtherLevels that brings to the mobile market the same sophistication that they've become accustomed to in email, web and search. What this article hasn't stated and it should is that much of mobile messaging today is about broadcast messaging. Why is that? Because companies lack the requisite tools to analyze user behavior, deliver relevant content based on that analysis, accurately target segments based on a myriad of analytic feedback and tie their messaging efforts to measurable outcomes. That's why we created OtherLevels, and why at the end of the day, agencies can own the data, the brand can, but the important thing is that the data reside, or be accessible from a tool that can leverage the totality of customer data including the growing heap of mobile data.
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