How Marketers Can Improve the Mobile Ad Experience

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James Green, CEO, Magnetic
James Green, CEO, Magnetic

It's no surprise that mobile devices have come to dominate our lives. It's easier to forget your wallet at home than it is your phone. We check our mobile phones so frequently that when you don't have it you notice it's missing within minutes. Mobile devices can tell you your location and what you're doing next; they can answer questions and even entertain you when you're bored. They're moving inevitably toward mimicking real-life personal assistants, and just like yesteryear—when getting close to someone required cozying up to their personal assistant—marketers want to make “friends” with your mobile phone. But the fast track to a solid relationship is proving more challenging than marketers bargained for.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. The market is rapidly evolving, but still has a long road ahead. Sure, the Palm Pilot emerged last century but it's only been six short years since the launch of the iPhone. The amount of evolution within that small period has been nothing short of amazing. Manufacturers, platform providers, and app developers are moving toward unified ways of communicating with the outside world, but we're not there yet.

2. Apple and Android are at war. Apple's Advertiser ID is only useful in the app world and is essentially invisible within the mobile Web. Even though Safari rejects third-party cookies, first-party cookies are accepted and provide a tangible opportunity for retargeting. Android offers more possibilities, but even within that operating system it's difficult to join the app world with the Web-browsing world.

3. Data needs to catch up to technology. Deciphering that my smartphone, tablet, and laptop all belong to me is still more art than science. Even in the “desktop” world, something close to one third of all computers reject third-party cookies and a significant number of people use multiple browsers. Cross-device targeting still isn't 100%; identifying that a user accessing both Firefox and Chrome is actually the same person is attempted by only a daring few. The technology to do amazing things from your smart phone might be there, but the data to analyze the user behind the phone is noticeably lacking.

4. The path to attribution is largely immeasurable. Advertisers don't have a clear methodology for measuring or tracking whether consumers have viewed a TV ad and an outdoor billboard, or just one of the two. For now, marketers should accept that there isn't an accurate way to determine whether your desktop ad and your mobile ad are viewed, so plan accordingly.

So, what's a marketer to do? First, accept that the market is evolving and that anything you do is going to be imperfect. Next, realize that marketers have had to face this dilemma since the emergence of multiple media outlets. Given the wide-ranging current challenges, here are a few considerations for marketers looking to target consumers more effectively on mobile:

Not all screens are the same

Smartphones and tablets are vastly different in terms of user behavior. People use their smartphones for certain things and their tablets for others, so keep that in mind as you're developing your ad targeting strategies.

With apps, however, be sure to bundle all ads into both tablets and smartphones since we use apps in much the same way on both devices. Be careful of what apps you buy ads in because most of the inventory is gaming. The reality is unless you buy the inventory carefully, and then tie it into rewards or something else that's part of the game, your performance on in-game app inventory is going to be atrocious.   

Ad campaigns work differently across devices

Understand the platform your mobile campaigns are running on. For instance, you can run retargeting campaigns on the mobile Web for tablets of all kinds because both iOS and Android accept first-party cookies. Also, your banner or rich media campaign may look fine on a desktop or tablet, but it won't do you much good on even the largest Samsung phablet. For example, creative ad formats vary by platform so marketers should consider which ads work best and where.

Be considerate of the consumer

Mobile marketing's power lies in geo-targeting consumers, which allows brands to deliver relevant ads based on a consumer's physical location. While this provides a huge opportunity to reach new audiences, location-based marketing can feel creepy as opposed to useful. Mobile devices are intimate places for consumers—be mindful of that.

Marketers looking to master mobile must recognize that mobile is truly an ecosystem of platforms and they must alter their targeting strategies to work with each. Doing so will result in highly targeted and personalized experiences that will improve your brand's relationship with its consumers.

James Green is CEO of Magnetic
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