Forrester analysts are encouraged to “make the call” and here’s a call that is sure to invite some heated disagreement (native advertising has a way of doing that).
Today my report about native advertising came out and, if I had to bottle up the recommendation of the entire report in a two-word slogan, this would be it: Worth pursuing. That’s not “pour all your advertising dollars into it”, “go hog wild!” or any variant on that theme. By “worth pursuing”, I would say that it: a) is a very imperfect tactic, b) holds great promise, and c) requires some experience to get right.
(First of all, if you’re not sure what native advertising is, quickly go here [definition] or here [examples]).
Let’s start by assessing the promise of native advertising. What’s so great about it?
From a marketer’s perspective, the opportunity to go from a position “next to the show”, “interrupting the show” or “between the shows”, to “part and parcel of the show” is extraordinary. The church/state editorial wall that media outlets have trained advertisers to respect has become porous, and it’s the outlets themselves who are pounding holes in it (most recently, the New York Times). That change should not be underestimated.
During 2014, we’ll pass a key milestone: an installed base of 2 billion smartphones globally. Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub but also the bridge to the physical world. That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations — it will transform your entire business. 2014 will be the year that companies increase investments to transform their businesses, with mobile as a focal point.
Let’s highlight a few of the mobile trends that we predict for 2014:
Competitive advantage in mobile will shift from experience design to big data and analytics. Mobile is transformative but only if you can engage your consumers in their exact moment of need with the right services, content, or information. Not only do you need to understand their context in that moment but you also need insights gleaned from data over time to know how to best serve them in that moment.
Mobile contextual data will offer deep customer insights — beyond mobile. Mobile is a key driver of big data. Most advanced marketers will get that mobile’s value as a marketing tool will be measured by more than just the effectiveness of marketing to people on mobile websites or apps. They will start evaluating mobile’s impact on other channels.
Every year for the past few years, I've revisited our predictions for the previous year's mobile trends. It's now time to look back at 2013 and, specifically, at the 2013 mobile trends post I put together a year ago with my colleague Julie Ask.
So many things happened in 2013, making it difficult to sum up the year overall. BlackBerry’s struggle and Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia devices offered apt symbols for the end of the old mobile era. However, the mobile war is far from over. Following marketers’ integration of mobile into the mix, many vendors started to acquire mobile expertise, technology, and resources — and those acquisitions are far from over. Players like Facebook that acknowledged their past mistakes and turned into mobile-first companies managed to generate significant revenues; mobile now represents more than 40% of Facebook's ad revenues.
Let’s take a look at some of the key trends we highlighted last year. We expected that:
Facebook now has 819 million mobile monthly active users. That’s a huge audience. That’s actually 71% of total active users.
Yesterday, Facebook reported they generated 41% of total ad revenues via mobile. That’s pretty impressive considering they generated nearly 0% end 2011 when they had already 432 million mobile monthly users. Since the launch of mobile ads in 2012, Facebook steadily increased the share of mobile in total ad revenues: it was 23% end 2012 and 30% in Q1 2013.
There is still a monetization gap in comparison to the share of their mobile audience, but that’s definitely impressive for a new product.
There are a couple of reasons for this sharp increase. Time spent on Facebook is meaningful. Facebook’s mobile ads integrate well in the natural flow of Facebook’s news feeds. They are quite visible and are increasingly successful at driving mobile app installs. According to our European Technographics Consumer Technology Online Survey, Q4 2012, 16% of online adult smartphone owners (ages 16-plus) who use apps report that they first learned about an app via social networking websites such as Facebook. No wonder why the likes of Fiksu and other app boosters spent a lot of money on Facebook mobile ads. Cost per click increased despite a lot more clicks and ads shown.
For this approach to be successful in the longer term, there are a couple of key questions to be answered:
The drivers behind this take-off of mobile ad spending are:
Increased device ownership, particularly of tablets. Smartphone installed base growth in 2012 was more than 35%, while tablet installed base growth exceeded 120%. By 2016, tablet sales will overtake the sales of desktop and laptop PCs.
The intensity of online tablet use. Despite tablets representing less than 30% of the mobile device market in the US, they represent more than 40% of total mobile page views. In addition, the majority of tablet users watch video on their tablet, compared with about a third of smartphone users.
AppGratis is a French app promotion and discovery platform startup that was recently ejected from the App Store on the grounds that it violated Apple’s developer T&Cs. Back in September 2012, Apple tweaked its developer guidelines, adding a clause that states: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”
Simon Dawlat, the CEO of AppGratis, shares his vision in great detail here and explains why he thinks the ban is totally unfair. Even France’s digital industry minister, Fleur Pellerin, has spoken up in support of AppGratis, describing Apple’s actions as ”extremely brutal, unilateral, and without explanation,” and calling on Cupertino to “behave ethically.“ Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch fairly and exhaustively summarizes the whole story here.
Without going into the legal details here, one may argue that there is a blurring of the line between app discovery and app promotion. I personally viewed AppGratis as a traffic booster based on curated app discovery experiences. I think it definitely helped gain some initial visibility in app stores, but I think app developers and publishers still needed to measure the customer lifetime value and make sure their audiences would stay engaged.
Anyway, the AppGratis controversy highlights the growing dependency from publishers and developers to Apple and Google in the app economy.
That’s kind of a bold statement to make when many companies — be they media players or the likes of Facebook — face a mobile monetization gap and when most successful companies generate only dozens of millions of dollars of direct mobile transactions. Despite the hype around “freemium” models, the reality is that few companies can now rely on a standalone mobile business model and that most mobile business models remain unproven.
The Web extended most business models and created only a small number of truly successful new ones. Mobile will follow the same path: Extension, rather than disruption, will be the norm for most businesses, with a few disruptive mobile pure-plays as the exception but not the rule. That doesn’t mean, however, that mobile-first businesses won’t disrupt existing players. Mobile is an enabler of new direct-to-consumer products already, in industries such as car services, food delivery, and home health products. And mobile is disrupting born-on-the-Web companies such as Facebook.
I listened to the Mark Zuckerberg interview from the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco this week.
There were a few choice quotes (I'll paraphrase them here - these are not literally a transcription. You can find the video/audio on the TechCrunch site):
"The biggest mistake we made (with our mobile services) was relying too much on HTML5 and for too long."
"We finally realized that a good enough mobile experience would fall short. We needed a great mobile experience. The only path to great is native on iOS and Android."
"Our mobile users are more engaged and use our services more frequently."
"All of our code is for mobile."
"We'll build native code for iOS and Android." (And it is building for iOS first)
"Ads can't be standalone on a sidebar in mobile. They need to be integrated into our product."
"We reorganized. A year ago, 90% of the code check-ins were from the core mobile team. Now 90% comes from other parts of the organization."
"We reorganized. We were in functional silos. We now have product teams (responsible for delivery)."
"A Facebook phone doesn't make any sense."
Some context. Certainly, Facebook is unique with it being a media-centric company and very global. It does need mobile Web to reach much of its audience - now nearing 950M. For many companies, mobile Web will continue to be a relatively low-cost, broad-reach play to get to most of the phones. Mobile Web doesn't go away, but it is not where the differentiation will happen - at least in the near term.
Following its acquisition of Quattro Wireless for $275,000,000, Apple has just announced the launch of iAd, its mobile advertising platform (see my colleague’s take here). Adding the $750,000,000 that Google is ready to invest in AdMob (the deal is still under FCC scrutiny), the two most disruptive new mobile entrants have invested more than $1 billion — a clear signal that mobile advertising has long-term potential. The main difference between Google and Apple is that Apple is only just entering the advertising business, while Google’s entire business model simply IS advertising. However, that potential has yet to be realized. Does that mean stakeholders can generate significant revenues in the short term and that operators will be bypassed once again? I have read in various places some strange comments suggesting that Google’s mobile ad revenue share with mobile operators would be a way to finance network evolution. Just compare the cost of a base station and the significant investment required to finance 4G with absolute mobile advertising revenues and you’ll quickly figure out for yourself that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. This is more of an online advertising discussion around the Net neutrality debate (remember France Telecom’s CEO warning that he was not “building freeways for Californian cars”!) but it will crop up later for mobile.