In Pursuit of a Standard Metric for Mobile Marketing

With adoption rates and mobile ad spend skyrocketing, the marketing industry needs a standardized metric for mobile media now more than ever

By David Ward

Caliper, tam_odin/; phone, guteksk7/; photoillustration by Lee Stillwater


Mobile marketing began as simply an extension of a brand's overall digital program, but for many advertisers it has rapidly turned into the preferred platform for reaching and engaging their audience. Mobile ad spending in the U.S. will top $53 billion this year, according to eMarketer, which also predicts that by 2020 smartphone-centric campaigns will account for more than 70 percent of the expected $105 billion in U.S. digital ad spending. With this growth has come the realization that mobile advertising requires its own set of success metrics, one that incorporates many of the standards used to measure desktop-based digital campaigns, while adding new variables, such as a user's real-world location and what that says about their purchase intent.

"Mobile has increasingly moved from being something to consider as part of a campaign to, at times, a significant focus of a campaign," notes George Ivie, CEO and executive director at the New York–based Media Rating Council (MRC). "As a result, it's important that the same objectives of valid, reliable, and effective measurement that MRC has as its central mission extend to mobile environments."

To that end, the MRC, together with the ANA, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), is hard at work on the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, which aims to establish standardized metrics for all interactive advertising that's comparable to traditional advertising metrics. Smartphone advertising is a key component in all of it. "As we continue to execute against the 3MS principles beyond viewability, we are doing so with an absolute focus on inclusion and consideration of mobile," Ivie says, "and that has positioned us to set some standards that are very timely for the current landscape. For example, the recently released Location-Based Advertising Measurement Guidelines." He adds that most of these 3MS standards should be available for public comment and subsequently finalized within the next few years.


Those standards for mobile metrics are likely to be welcomed by mobile- and location-based advertising platforms and analytics companies eager for the chance to prove with hard numbers and accepted metrics that smartphones can be a valuable way for digital marketers to engage consumers. After all, most U.S. adults (77 percent) own a smartphone, up from 35 percent just six years ago, according to the Pew Research Center.

Mobile could be the most measurable media platform the advertising industry has ever had.

"We absolutely need industry standards and we're actively helping to establish them," notes Steven Rosenblatt, president at location intelligence company Foursquare. "We're advocates of transparency and we're advocates of quality data. We may have this huge proprietary data set, but we're working with partners to help them understand it — and we're working with the industry to convert that into the usable metrics that everyone in the ad industry has worked with for years."

Rosenblatt argues that mobile could be the most measurable media platform the advertising industry has ever had, primarily because it can incorporate context and proximity into its metrics. "Those places you take the time to go to, outside of home and work, will be maybe one to three locations during the week and a few more on the weekend," he explains. "Think about what that says about you as a consumer. It signals a level of intent that's in addition to the content you view as a consumer, so it adds a whole new dimension."

The challenge now is to avoid the similar kinds of fraud and distortion that have dogged digital advertising for years. Despite how straightforward an insight based on location data would seem to be, it's still susceptible to tampering.

"I think fraud is a digital problem and I don't think it's any different in mobile," Rosenblatt says. "We know that about 80 percent of location data across programmatic is inaccurate because we check it against the data we get through our consumer apps. So, location is not going to be a check-the-box strategy — you have to work with the right partner and make sure it's vetted."


With mobile metrics still a work in progress, many brands are combining a few agreed-to, industrywide standards on things like viewability with their own internally developed measurements that are much closer to direct response than they are to general brand awareness metrics.

"When it comes to mobile," says Paul Murray, director of digital innovation at Dunkin' Brands, "and specifically the Dunkin' Donuts mobile app, there are a number of different metrics we evaluate. This includes app downloads, members of the DD Perks Rewards Program, the use of features such as On-the-Go Ordering, and also ticket size when guests place an order using our mobile app."

Murray says relying on measurable data from consumers' in-app experiences enables the company to make on-the-fly tweaks to its mobile program. "We're also continually evaluating data from our mobile app usage to make the user experience even better and more seamless," he adds.

"At the end of the day, marketers need to focus on two numbers: the cost of the campaign and the revenue generated."
— Oren Kaniel, co-founder and CEO at AppsFlyer

Oren Kaniel, co-founder and CEO at global mobile marketing analytics platform AppsFlyer, suggests that many mobile marketers are taking a similar approach by leaping into mobile measurement now with some internal metrics and data, all verified and analyzed by an unbiased third-party analytics firm, in anticipation that mobile measurement will get more sophisticated and standardized in the future.

"We're just at the beginning of truly understanding mobile user behavior and we have a lot of work ahead of us," Kaniel says, adding that in his estimation 95 percent of all marketing, including mobile, is either not being measured or not being measured correctly.

Kaniel, whose clients include Credit Karma, the fashion resale site ThredUP, and, which was recently purchased for more than $3 billion by Walmart, says mobile is such a dynamic platform that brands need to be measuring their mobile ad programs 24/7 with a focus on ROI and calls to action rather than impressions. "We push our clients to provide messages that trigger actions, such as booking a hotel, booking a taxi, or buying something," he says. "You're going to see different ads based on your profile, based on your location, based on your device, based on your lifestyle, based on whether it's taking place in-app or on the mobile web. Everything goes into that engine — but at the end of the day, marketers need to focus on two numbers: the cost of the campaign and the revenue generated."


So, what do the mobile metrics say is working for advertisers right now? AppsFlyer has found that in-app ads are much more targeted and deliver higher ROI numbers than mobile web ads, because the media companies and networks have much more information when a user is visiting a mobile app versus randomly browsing on their phone.

The current metrics also indicate that the newer the device the consumer is using, the better the mobile marketing results. "For brand new devices, the ROI is 50 percent more, on average," Kaniel explains. "Which means that as soon as Apple or Samsung releases a new phone you should start targeting owners of those devices."

When it comes to best practices for mobile metrics, Barak Aviad, CEO at the data-driven mobile user acquisition platform MobAir, says marketers need to keep pace not only with their audiences but also with the rapid changes taking place in hardware and services.

"One of the biggest challenges in gauging mobile campaigns' success is figuring out the right KPIs for your business, setting up tracking accordingly in the funnel, and evaluating incoming traffic based on numerous nuanced metrics that come out of it," Aviad explains. "To get your mobile metrics right, you need to know your audience, keep up with the latest tech developments and select KPIs that make the most sense for your business — then measure, measure again, and measure some more."



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