Ad-blocking an effective shield against ineffective ‘Spray and Pray’ marketing

Marketers need to consider a mobile engagement strategy that uses echnologies to deliver ultra-personalised and less intrusive services. SMS is a channel and opportunity that can be used for personalised offers, and one which consumers seem to prefer.

Ad-blocking on mobile has been generating significant buzz of late. The instigator, as so often is the case, was Apple with news that it would include tools for developers on iOS9 to block ads in its Safari browser. Not far behind, Google has weighed in on the issue arguing that ad-blocking is enough an issue that the advertising issue needs to reassess its approach and do so quickly.

The case for ad-blockers can be boiled down quite simply: consumers find banners and pop-ups to be intrusive. As such there have been calls for ISPs to adopt ad-blockers. Public feeling is so strong that some are even calling for it to become a legal requirement.

The reaction in marketing circles has been as anxious as it is predictable. Speaking at WSJDLive, Google executive Sridhar Ramaswamy called for the implementation of a ‘sustainable ad standard’ that was bandwidth efficient and non-intrusive. Meanwhile it seems there is real momentum amongst consumers too: a May 2015 report by media analyst Frederic Filloux found that 15 to 17% of the U.S. population already uses ad-blockers, with the numbers concluded to be higher in Europe. The fact is, the pop-up/banner model just isn’t working with modern consumers and marketers need to react accordingly.

A move away from the ‘spray and pray’ strategy employed by many today to a more customer-centric approach looks to be the best means of survival.

’Spray and Pray’ is increasingly missing the target

Ad-blockers have been in use for some time. Apple’s recent announcement has shifted the conversation to mobile, in a nice piece of symmetry to the way its technology has done over the last decade. The fact that the debate has moved to mobile is such a concern for advertisers is because mobile is the way the average person interacts with brands whether it’s shopping online, via apps or through social media. Mobile is completely integral to the consumer journey.  Perhaps more importantly, these mobile first consumers are interacting with brands how they want to, rather than vice-versa. This might mean shopping at 3am when they can’t sleep or checking out the latest offers on the train home from work. Time and location aren’t really a factor.

By no means is all marketing considered an inconvenience to consumers; there is no broad-brush, inherent distaste towards brand interaction. The issue is that the customer experience is sacrificed for the sake of getting a message out there when that experience is a core part of the brand they should be projecting. When they take a broadcast approach, then customers can become irritated and will take steps to avoid advertising attempts through the installation of an ad-blocker. This isn’t a selective measure; everything is blocked indiscriminately. This means that brands can’t learn from their successes or mistakes and build more effective campaigns in future. Ads can’t be retargeted and we have a circle of persistent poor customer experience.

Getting your aim right with your mobile engagement strategy

Marketers and brands need to be a little more accurate in their approach – they can’t just broadcast, cross their fingers and see what sticks. A mobile engagement strategy is crucial to improving the customer experience so that any form of engagement is smart - just like our devices - relevant and personalised. By compiling contextual mobile web and app data including both real-time location and location-history of a device, marketers can potentially leverage location as a proxy for a consumer’s real-world activity, interests and intent. With the increasing popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) and bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technologies such as Digital Genius, Google’s Eddystone and Apple’s iBeacon that can provide even more mobile data for ultra-personalised services, the opportunity is larger still.

The delivery mechanism for a two-way, user-centric and personalised engagement on this platform will be via intelligent SMS solutions, especially for consumers on the go. At OpenMarket we commissioned eDigital Research to find out which platforms were preferred by shoppers, for a number of use cases. The results show there is no one size fits all solution. Different approaches work better in different settings. What the research showed was that when the message is time-sensitive and when the consumer is on the move, SMS is the best choice.  Not only does it deliver open rates of over 95%, in contrast to email and push notifications, but it is also prioritised by 83% of consumers.

SMS soft engagement tactics combined with AI such as DigitalGenius has worked for a number of brands including Unilever, who use the technology to power a virtual cooking assistant. According to Dmitry Aksenov, founder and CEO of DigitalGenius, the app allows a consumer to “text in [to] tell it you have five people coming for dinner and need ideas. It will recognise your request and can tailor all communications around your mobile number. For example, it will remember that your spouse is a vegetarian. The levels of engagement are exceptionally high.”

Even start-ups are looking at SMS as a marketing engagement tool. Digit, a tool that promotes savings asks its users to sign up for the service on its website. Users then key in their mobile phone number and bank account number. Amongst other features, the software can analyse spending patterns and automatically set money aside in a savings account. With the widely documented onset of consumer app fatigue, SMS is becoming the universal UI.

When it’s all about the customer, it’s all about mobile

Former Tesco CEO Philip Clarke summed up the engagement challenge nicely: “It’s about putting the customer in control, and enabling him or her to engage and transact with Tesco in whatever way best suits them – physically or digitally, transactionally or non-transactionally. In an age where customers have more choice than ever in how to shop and who to shop with, loyalty is harder to come by, and easier to lose, than it ever has been.”

Mobile is a supremely personal channel and when used correctly it can help build a much better customer experience. In an age where ‘customer is king’, it’s important to incorporate this mantra into marketing communications. Use a targeted and personalised approach that understands the user as an individual rather that a number on a target list. This will lead to greater success in the short term and long term as consumers’ opinions and needs are recognised. Catching out customers with pop-ups and banners just won’t cut it anymore; for brands today it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.