The value of mobile, seamless experiences and the confusion of being too data-driven: Yahoo's Nigel Clarkson mulls MWC lessons

Connected Car

An interesting idea came out in the conference hall yesterday around mobile facilitating and driving 'the 4th industrial revolution'. With the Smartphone being just 10 years old, we are in a massively accelerated time of global, technological revolution that will utterly transform our lives and the world we live in.

There are now 5 billion people connected globally. Think about what the decade-old smartphone has brought to us: Connections to each other, connections to valued and trusted news sources, connections to our homes and the appliances in them, and fitness trackers that make us healthier, or at least better able to track our un-healthiness. An end result of all this is the creation of multiple layers of data and insight derived from constant and increasing usage.

However, if there is one clear theme from this year’s Congress, it is probably that there is no single, over-arching theme – at the show or in our industry. The conference is a melting pot of telco developments (5G, connectivity, net neutrality), hardware (cool gear based on the phone itself or associated connected devices), infrastructure (the pipes and analytics behind the scene) and mobile facilitation (basically the surrounding stuff that the phone allows us to do, including content and marketing). The challenge is that no-one really owns the space, yet they all intrinsically rely on each other for all the sum of the parts to work.

Consumers probably don't care who does what, they just want seamless experiences with products that are easy to use, that benefit their lives, and – more often than not – are free. Here's where our great industry comes in. The 'free internet' relies on some sort of data / advertising trade off in order to operate. Some of the relationships are obvious, such as the Guardian and Wikipedia asking their users to help pay for the service, while others have managed to provide a service that is so good people will pay – often to remove ads (Spotify and Netflix).

'Get the content right and people pay' is true for some businesses, but as we can all see from the premium publishing world (and the mooted creation of the UK press joint sales operation, Project Rio), news is really hard to monetise. There is so much generic news content and so many general advertising slots available across the different channels programmatically. We need to be much better at placing value on premium news and the monetisation of that area before it becomes too late. The offline world has always done this, with different CPM's for the FT versus the Star, for example.

Although readership of premium publishers is accelerating, thanks to digital distribution and content partnerships (see Yahoo's announcement last week) the monetisation is not following as it should. Hamish Nicklin and Jim Freeman, of the Guardian and Telegraph respectively, have both spoken about this recently. We need to do better at valuing an impression served in a premium news environment, for trust, value and brand perception reasons. It is imperative we work to get this right and I know a couple of the big agency groups have this area in their sights, which is promising.

Linked to this, there were a couple of sessions yesterday on the power of personalisation and the value to consumers of personalised experiences and content. This week a piece of research showed that 16-24 year olds prefer an algorithm to curate their news feeds, rather than a human curator. Automation can aid and often improve human curation in some instances, although I like to think there is a balance to be struck here, or we will run the risk of losing the element of discovery.

Clients are increasingly pushing us to be more data-driven and performance-driven, but at the same time Marc Pritchard has publicly stated that P&G went too far down a hyper-targeted route, and that the brand will broaden its targeting for more mass cover and frequency. Basically, using digital like every other media channel.

You could be forgiven for feeling some confusion around an industry being pushed to be more accountable, more data-driven and more performance-driven, while also being challenged to be less targeted and push more meaningful brand metrics and real world business outcomes. I still don't see how a native ad in a premium publisher’s newsfeed isn't granted the same 'brand building' capabilities as an ad in a magazine, a tube panel or a bus shelter 6 sheet. It’s 100% viewable, and takes up a third of the mobile screen! Instead, it’s conferred the same value as a pop up ad or banner in a game or torch app.

Anyway, that's me done for another year. MWC is awe-inspiring, huge and in your face. Much like the price of a G&T in Hotel Omm, where the UK contingent normally gathers to unwind. There were plenty of UK folk there this year and a chance to catch up with other humans is still the most valuable part of any conference I go to. Long may that continue! Over and out, until next year.

Nigel Clarkson is the UK managing director of Yahoo!

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