Appetite for Disruption: Mobile Marketing & Bots, Ad Blocking & “App-athetic” Users Part 2

Mobile marketing is entering yet another exciting era. Email, apps, notifications, and chat have produced unique opportunities, while the rise of the bots, improved machine learning, virtual reality, and other innovations are creating new ways to gain consumers’ interest and importantly, their trust in the age of ad blocking and “app-athetic” users. But keeping both remains a challenge.

The ever-shifting landscape has already caused a lot of upheaval in the brief smartphone and mobile app era. After all, it’s been less than a decade since the iPhone burst onto the scene and changed mobile marketing forever. The disruptive pace has been brutal to many sectors and a number of industry insiders say they don’t see it abating anytime soon.
The media industry has been stood on its head, consumers can now literally order modern conveniences such as dinner, drivers, or dry cleaning at the touch of a button. Texting has surpassed talking on the phonefor many, particularly for millennials, and continues to present engagement opportunities.
But while texts, snaps, and notifications are instantaneous they can also lead to uninstalls if consumers are bombarded with spam or feel their privacy is threatened.
And in a time when app adoption is slowing and greater growth is coming from existing users than new ones for many mobile businesses, and more ad blockers are being deployed on the mobile web, what does it take to create a winning mobile product and marketing strategy in light of the current, and future, challenges?
A number of executives from different disciplines shared their insight, experiences and outlook for this second part of an in-depth look at the industry in advance of the Open Mobile Summit on November 29-30 in San Francisco.
 
They are as follows:
Paul Gaffney, Senior Vice President of Software Development, The Home Depot.
He is responsible for leading the IT technology development for more than 2,000 stores across the U.S. and Canada. Paul drives the design and development of our long-term strategy and vision for the technology roadmap that supports our stores, online, merchandising, supply chain and other developmental platforms.
Paul brings more than 20 years of technology expertise that spans multi-channel retail, financial services, e-commerce, physical distribution and direct fulfillment operations. Before joining The Home Depot in 2014, Paul served as president and CEO of American Automobile Association of Northern California, Nevada and Utah. He has held executive leadership positions at Desktone, Staples, Office Depot and Charles Schwab.
Scott Havens, Head of Global Digital for Bloomberg Media.
He is responsible for Bloomberg’s global consumer digital initiatives, overseeing digital product, user experience, partnerships, and overall digital strategy for Bloomberg’s websites, mobile apps, over-the-top platforms, and distributed content partnerships.
Previously Havens was Senior Vice President of Digital at Time Inc., where he managed operations and drove the strategic development and rebuilding of digital products within the news, business, sports, and entertainment verticals.
Before that he was President of The Atlantic, playing a key role in the successful digital transformation of the 157-year-old magazine into a profitable, global, multi-platform media company.
Prior to that, Havens managed the business development team at Yahoo! Finance.
Kate Harris, director of product for The New York Times.
She oversees product development across its core digital platforms (Android, iOS and Web) and manages third party experiences, such as Google AMP and Apple News. Harris joined The Times as a mobile product manager in February 2012, before she moved into her current role in June of 2014.
Prior to joining The Times, Kate did stints in mobile product strategy at HUGE Inc., strategic partnerships and new product incubation at Google and emerging media at Conde Nast. Before that, she worked in strategic development at a startup and statistical modeling at a consulting firm.
Laura Newton, Product Manager, Bot Platform, Kik
She works closely with one of Kik’s development teams.
Newton gathers feedback from partners and external developers, deciding which features to build into Kik’s platform, when to do that and how the user experience will work.
She works with the development team and designers and the business team to get them built and launched successfully to the developer and brand community and pushed through Kik’s launch process.
Ben Smith, Senior Vice President. Head of Experience, Hulu
Smith is responsible for the end-to-end viewer experience and customer journey on Hulu – everything from product design to customer service.
Prior to joining Hulu, Smith headed Product Management at Sonos where he led the global expansion of music services. As a Partner at Microsoft, Ben led product design for Xbox for nearly a decade, broadening the gaming experience with Kinect, pioneering streaming video and living room UI on Xbox 360, and designing the TV and video experience for Xbox One. In 2014 Smith and the teams he led at Xbox won an Emmy for Innovation in Entertainment Devices.
Angela Wise, Head of Product at Sprig
Wise oversees product management, design, research, brand and culinary R&D for the meals on-demand company. She is responsible for the Sprig customer experience via Sprig’s mobile apps, menu strategy, food quality, and customer insights.
Prior to joining Sprig, Wise worked in product management at Uber on surge pricing, and dispatch. Before Uber, she led several R&D efforts as a PM at Microsoft.
 
Beating the ad blockers
 
Social media giants have become de facto media companies while legacy media companies are trying to quickly figure out the best way to monetize the product while trying to get it to trend.
This quest has been compounded by the proliferation of ad blockers.
Harris:The shift from platform companies as a source of referral traffic to platforms actually hosting and caching news content in their own environments (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP), presents real economic challenges. While this shift introduces opportunities for tremendous reach (Apple News alone is preloaded on all new iOS 9+ devices), it also runs the risk of distancing our audience from our brand.
We’re balancing the need to introduce The New York Times to new and younger audiences against the need to be a subscriber-first destination for our most engaged readers. We will continue to test into and experiment on these platforms as long as they support our business goals and journalistic ambitions.
We’re combating ad blockers by developing and promoting quality and engaging digital advertising through our branded content business, and through much improved display advertising. That means faster, more relevant ads, delivered at the pace of mobile and in-line in the newsfeed at the point of discover.
Havens:The digital media business has more than a few current challenges including global media competition, the fragmentation of consumer focus, the audience and financial dominance of the platforms, and supporting a global operation. Some of the things we are doing to address these challenges include: building a digital team that can pivot quickly, innovating across all facets of digital advertising, and leveraging our traditional media assets and resources.
 
Trending for success
 
What new technologies do you see having the most potential to boost your business in the near future?
Harris:We took a big bet in 2015 on virtual reality and it’s far exceeded our expectations. Our VR app had record-breaking downloads on day one and the average time spent is over six minutes—and growing, surpassing our other apps. We’ve also been able to build a significant advertising business line that allows us to take a bigger risk with the technology.
Smith:Virtual Reality and augmented reality are technologies that will have the biggest impact on the future. We won’t see it in the next six to 12 months, but in the next five years we will see virtual and augmented reality transforming the entertainment spaces. As technology stops front running, content creators catch up and device ergonomics become more advanced, VR will fundamentally change how we think about and approach video.
 
Gaffney: One of our strategic pillars has been and will continue to be: We want to be a product authority in our category; if you are engaged in home improvement, you will not get better information and you’ll likely get information you won’t get anywhere else, by turning to Home Depot.
We don’t want to think about our product authority as advertising, it’s an aspect of Home Depot that people want to pull information rather than us feel like we need to push it on them.
 
Analyze This
 
Statistics are a great starting point but these industry insiders say analysis is a key ingredient that’s still missing to efficiently and accurately track marketing spend.
 
Harris:We need to solveanalytics in a multiple device/browser world. Each browser on each device uses its own set of cookies, which means a single anonymous user looks like four users to us if they, for example, read The New York Times on their home computer, on their phone, on their tablet and on their work computer. Consolidating these user profiles and tying app data to mobile web data is critical for success--especially since mobile web has such large volume and apps such large engagement.
Wise:Analytics is one of the big black holes here… We had to develop our own analytic staff because we couldn’t find one off the shelf.
From my perspective, marketing technology is only useful when you can tack marketing spend to user action. If that’s not good enough, it’s very hard to spend marketing dollars wisely.
Smith:The continued evolution of attribution and optimization systems-- knowing exactly for every dollar you spend how it results in customer acquisition. It will be interesting to watch how data science will be able to extend into areas that are beyond well-known science like last click attribution to deeper, more complex full media spend analysis and optimization.
Gaffney: In a world where the sheer number of interesting things you might try is growing, everyone needs more empirical ways to know where to place their bets. That attribution is important. We’re getting better at it where we control the entire experience. I’m hopeful the people who own the social media platforms will come to that realization and provide that kind of end-to-end instrumentation so you can really do that kind of attribution.
If you’re testing a feature and can control the flow, you can get a good read on whether the customer wants to pay for it. Once you get into the social sphere, you don’t know how things flowed.
 
End Note
 
Clearly mobile marketing is in flux as new technologies, platforms, and processes are adopted and adapted by consumer-facing companies.
The dream of seamlessly interacting and engaging with mobile consumers and tracking the efficacy and spend of these campaigns is slowly being realized. But there are growing pains as companies figure out how best to use bots and other mobile modes of communication, beat ad blockers, and improve analysis.
Sprig’s Wise talks about the growing pains when it comes to these mobile trends: ”From my perspective, push is one of the most overrated pieces of technology. It has tactical value: ‘Your Uber is arriving now’ is very useful but in general it doesn’t seem anyone has figured out how to use push in a meaningful way. I don’t think it’s super valuable for a customer. You can create a much more immersive experience in email marketing, the same is not true for push.”
And as app downloads continue slowing in an ever-expanding sea of competitors, it is also harder to stand out so The New York Times’ Harris sees more of a merger than a winner-takes all battle between apps and the mobile web.
“Apps are learning from the mobile web—deep-linking and better attribution, and the mobile web from apps—progressive web apps, interactive push notifications, offline support…I think the jury is still out on who will win the app versus mobile web battle, but there’s no doubt the two worlds will continue to blend.”