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Mobile Surveys and Monitoring

Mobile surveys and monitoring
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Edward Kershaw

Edward Kershaw

Edward is responsible for growing Nielsen's mobile business in Europe. He recently joined Nielsen from Nokia where he was Director of Mobile Media Experiences within Nokia's Mobile Phones Business Group.

Read the full biography here

Can't Keep Still
Why users aren't satisfied with available mobile metrics

By Edward Kershaw - 5th February 2010

In the marketing press, on the conference circuit, in the blogs and Twitter posts, you quite often hear that mobile marketing and advertising is being held back by a 'lack of metrics'. Yet, a Google search on 'mobile audience measurement' comes up with dozens of accurate results, pointing to everything from small specialist measurement companies to the global leaders such as Nielsen. So why are the metrics not reaching the people who need them? Or is it a lack of faith in the numbers that do exist?

Sometime the questions I'm asked by clients are as straightforward as 'how many people use smartphones today?' (in the UK, the answer is over 6 million, or about 15% of the mobile population) and 'how many people are browsing the mobile internet?' (in the UK, it's about 10.4 million people, and growing fast). This data is vital when planning a mobile strategy, but the insight available goes far deeper than this, into attitudinal preferences of mobile consumers from different demographics, mobile dashboards and behavioural profiles of a particular brand's target consumer, and trending usage patterns between consumers with different tariffs, or handsets, or even mobile operating systems.

complaints of a lack of metrics are a symptom of a highly complex and fragmented mobile world that defies attempts to treat it just like the more established methods

In fact, I believe complaints of a lack of metrics are a symptom of a highly complex and fragmented mobile world that defies attempts to treat it just like the more established methods used in other areas of audience measurement. In a technology sector that is changing as fast as mobile, where we're doing completely new things with our phones - things that TV, radio and even fixed line Internet cannot do - usage metrics on their own are not enough. Marketers must understand how to drive that engagement with consumers, and how to ensure that this highly personal medium, which is rapidly becoming the heart of our connected lives, is used efficiently and conscientiously. As in so many other areas, knowing the right questions to ask is vital. Just providing 'a number' doesn't answer those questions.

we're doing completely new things with our phones - things that TV, radio and even fixed line Internet cannot do

Mobile marketing and advertising covers a wide variety of activities, reaching far beyond display banner advertising. Advertising messages can be delivered by text message, or via Bluetooth in a store or shopping centre, or even while you're waiting for the person you called to answer the phone. And there is an explosion in creativity and innovation happening at the moment, where new smartphone features are opening up an even wider variety of marketing channels that have the mobile phone at their core. Compared to mobile banners on wapsites, this is really exciting stuff.

Newer smartphones know exactly where they are (through GPS), and can place themselves on a map where brands can advertise themselves through their proximity. If I want coffee, or a meal, or a bookshop, I need nothing more than my smartphone to get me there. These phones even know which direction they're pointing (through a built-in compass ), and so I don't even need to read the map: I hold up the phone and it displays the shop's location on the screen, telling me which way to walk. The ability to scan barcodes instore or off the printed page, linking physical goods to online promotions and discounts, or the right page on Amazon or eBay to check out the best prices, means that new forms of couponing and interactivity with brands are possible while consumers are out and about.

When it comes to measuring consumer behaviour, there are a number of technologies that can be used. The mobile equivalent of PC metering does exist today, and Nielsen is operating this technology in a number of markets right now. These on-device meters (or ODMs) work on a variety of smartphones, monitoring which mobile websites are visited, how often and for how long. Typically, a panel of smartphone owners is recruited, and the mobile app is delivered to their phones for installation. The app collects the data and sends it back to us over the mobile network, and it is aggregated and analysed for our clients. Due to the wide variety of phone technologies in the market, where there are no common software standards between manufacturers and some phones cannot install any kind of application, it is not possible to capture the entire mobile market this way. However, the majority of mobile browsing activity takes place on smartphones, and the rapid rise in smartphone penetration in the UK means that ODMs will be able to monitor a larger and larger share of the market over the coming months.

Another methodology that can provide great insight, and avoids the issue of handset coverage faced by ODMs, is to analyse the server logs from the mobile networks themselves. All mobile browsing traffic carried over the phone networks can be monitored by the operators, and this anonymised data is then aggregated into a tool which presents the sites visited, the number of unique users, and the frequency and duration of their visits. When combined with demographic data, this produces highly relevant and useful information for the advertising industry to use as currency. The mobile networks' trade body, the GSM Association, is running a large-scale project across Europe to capture and aggregate this data at a national level and the first results will be seen in 2010.

Nevertheless, operator server logs only capture the traffic that is carried over mobile phone networks. A feature of many new smartphones is the ability to connect to WiFi networks, often at faster connectivity than 3G networks can provide. Typically, this would be in a home or work environment, and happens most likely when consumers are watching video on their mobiles (BBC's iPlayer, for example).

One last important difference between the mobile world and the PC is regarding cookie technology, traditionally used on PCs to arrive at a figure for unique users (which is what all media planner-buyers want to know). Cookies are hindered on mobile phones by the same issues faced by ODM technology; mobile browsers vary greatly in sophistication, with the default setting in some phones ignoring cookies, and others unable to cope with cookies at all. Luckily, both ODM and server log methodologies help us arrive at accurate numbers for unique users.

So, mobile is a dilemma for the measurement industry. On one hand, there is an increasing number of highly relevant and exciting technologies coming to market that brands want to explore, demanding numbers which they can trust. But this same technological revolution has created fragmentation that means that mobile cannot be regarded as 'business as usual' for electronic measurement.

Accurate and trustworthy metrics for mobile behaviour do exist today, but our industry clearly cannot sit still. By continuing to develop innovative methodologies to address the new opportunities that mobile keeps on bringing us, we can continue to provide insight and guidance to help grow the mobile marketing industry.

Edward Kershaw

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