Personalization is not a substitute for critical mass – from Zagme to Blyk

This may well be one of my contrarian viewpoints .. Similar to Mobile Youth is a myth .. But here goes ..

Personalization is a big word in our industry .. If you want to really understand the taxonomy of personalization in detail, then an excellent description of context / personalization is provided by one of the industry’s most respected techies .. C Enrique Ortiz. If you have not read his white paper on context, well worth a read here white paper on mobile context/ personalization

It is a (mobile) marketer’s dream/holy grail to be able to provide personalized content over the phone. To do this, we need a detailed understanding of context and the ability to personalize content based on the context ..

However, although personalization is important, it is not the traditional (i.e. non mobile) marketer’s first objective. The conventional wisdom says that the first goal of marketing is to reach critical mass(eyeballs) and only then is personalization relevant

Let’s take a step back.

From the earliest days of the mobile data industry, we have been able to personalise content.

Even that dreaded application ‘sending a text message when you pass close to a coffee shop giving 10% off your next cup of coffee’ – has always been technically possible. As early as 2002, Operators in the UK(like O2 – then called BT cellnet) were able to provide location APIs.

However, it has always been at the expense of critical mass.

And therein lies the problem

It seems that we, as an industry, take the (wishful thinking )viewpoint that because we don’t have critical mass yet .. we can somehow charge a premium for a smaller subset of the audience provided we can personalise the message to them

In my view, that’s wishful thinking – because at that point – the application is no longer cost effective and it has violated the first principle of marketing (critical mass) with the forlorn hope that it may compensate for that violation by a providing a more personalised message.

The trick is not only to manage context .. but to do so with critical mass

Managing context alone is easy! It can be done given the technology and the budget

Ironically, the biggest successes of the industry have cracked that problem by addressing critical mass first(admob, itsmy and others) and then adding personalization to that mix(not the other way round)

Some others understand this as well. Google with Android, the iPhone, Nokia with its Internet strategy among others are all aiming to get critical mass by spanning the Web and the Mobile Web and / or unifying the stack

The problem is as old as the time I have been involved in the industry .. starting with Zagme back in 2000(Now closed down, so no site exists). The Zagme model was highly personalised .. (In a nutshell – sending personalised SMS messages to kids in shopping malls) but not scaleable (because acquiring more customers meant signing up shopping malls .. a process that does not scale).

Fast forward 10 years and we have Blyk .. we all watch it with great interest and indeed it is too early to say where it will all go .. but the perennial questions still remain as raised in Blyk’s math still does not add up . On a personal note ofcouse, I want Blyk to succeed but wearing an analyst hat on – I say that the jury is still out

Having said that, there are signs that we are beginning to change .. and it’s a good thing. While I don’t know enough yet re this initiative, payforit is a step in the right direction.

Why are we obsessed with getting personalization right at the cost of critical mass?

As an engineer working on a PhD, I am not the best people to ask this question .. however .. maybe marketing as a profession has been tarred (with some justification!) with SPAM and other related ills. Maybe marketers dream of being ‘good’ – doing the right thing, engaging with the audience, entertaining the audience, sending the right messages which the audience will like to receive etc etc ..

All this is well and good ..

But can we achieve personalization at the expense of critical mass? I don’t think so!

Also See Critical mass (reach) is a prerequisite to personalization

Comments

  1. Cadarn says:

    Critical mass is indeed important, but when focusing singlemindedly on volume and numbers, we are overlooking the fact that not every development in advertising and marketing are traditional, or evolutionary so to speak.
    When we start to think in terms of Engagement instead of Disruption, we start to see that the critical mass is proportional and much smaller than that of disruption advertising. why? because companies like Yahoo, Google, Blyk, Virgin Mobile (are they still doing the Sugar mama? im not sure…) and future players in the industry collect so much more raw data from the user that looking a t a puely volume based campaign would in effect result in a extremely high, and thereofore inefficient CPM.
    Having said that, numbers can never be underestimated, and the key players in this brave new world of advertising will have to balance very carefully quality vs quantity.

  2. Cadarn says:

    Critical mass is indeed important, but when focusing singlemindedly on volume and numbers, we are overlooking the fact that not every development in advertising and marketing are traditional, or evolutionary so to speak.
    When we start to think in terms of Engagement instead of Disruption, we start to see that the critical mass is proportional and much smaller than that of disruption advertising. Why? Because companies like Yahoo, Google, Blyk, Virgin Mobile (are they still doing the Sugar mama? im not sure…) and future players in the industry collect so much more raw data from the user that looking a t a puely volume based campaign would in effect result in a extremely high, and thereofore inefficient CPM. Targeting accurately to the needs of the specific user will always have a better yeald. Why shoot with a cannon at the mosquito (aka the actual target market) wit big bucks, when you can snipe them using these new technologies you mentioned.
    Having said that, numbers can never be underestimated, and the key players in this brave new world of advertising will have to balance very carefully quality vs quantity in order to satisfy the marketplace, themselves, and most importantly the end user.