5 Questions with Mobilewalla

September 22, 2016 — by MediaMath    

We recently partnered with Mobilewalla, a mobile audience provider with a rare focus on APAC markets with full US coverage as well. I was fortunate to be introduced to their CEO and Founder, Anindya Dutta, via our Singapore office a few months ago, and we have not looked back since. From making their standard and custom audiences readily available to us via our Lotame integration to participating in our Q4 holiday seasonal promotions, Mobilewalla has rapidly come up to speed to become one of our preferred mobile audience targeting partners. I recently had a chance to chat with Anindya on some of the recent trends in mobile targeting, why the APAC market may be emerging as a leader in mobile and how he and his company are uniquely differentiated in this niche marketplace.

  1. You say on your website that Mobilewalla has created an entirely new class of data science techniques to enable marketers to achieve 1-to-1 addressability of consumers on mobile. Can you share a bit of what has gone into these techniques and how they make your platform so powerful?

A consumer’s mobile smart device has substantially more insight and discernment into the owner’s lifestyle and behavior than any other digital device. It is privy to their movements and is co-located with the individual at his/her home, workplace, shopping/entertainment locations and when they drop their kids at school. A smartphone also knows what the owner’s favorite music and video apps are and even has valuable insights into their voting preferences. Marketers increasingly regard mobile as the medium of choice to engage consumers through contextually-served, individualized content—the holy grail of 1-to-1 marketing.

Yet, there are a number of technical impediments that prevent this goal from being realized, making mobile consumers even harder to identify and address than those on desktop. Two noteworthy issues are:

  1. On desktops, consumers are identified and tracked based on cookies. In the industry, cookie-based addressing is well understood. In mobile environments, cookies largely don’t work when consumers use apps and websites on their smartphones and tablets. On apps, the notion of cookies doesn’t exist. On the mobile web, major browsers (such as Safari Mobile) do not support third-party cookies. The result is that consumer identification strategies need to be re-thought on mobile.
  2. Observing and analyzing signals from consumer devices form the basis of consumer modeling. The mobile scenario is no different—a variety of signals continuously emerge from smartphones (ad requests and cell tower handshakes, for example) that embed information-rich data elements useful in understanding the consumer behind the signal. However, there are key differences between signals from mobile vs. those from fixed-line digital devices, such as desktops.
    • First, the sheer volume of signal data from mobile devices dwarfs data sourced from desktops. Consider ad requests, a widely recognized source of valuable consumer data. Just in the US alone, over 12 billion ad requests are observed daily, accounting for almost 50 PB of raw data. For longitudinal analysis, simply accumulating a month’s worth of ad requests requires 1.5 exabytes of storage. Clearly, this is infeasible to do on an economical basis.
    • Second, the individual data fields available in mobile signals, such as ad supply, are noisy. Take, for instance, two of the most information-rich attributes that enable understanding of the consumer: the media source of the ad request and device location. Both of these fields are messy, with the media source often being blinded and the device location rerouted often misleading.

These are just some of the issues that render the mobile consumer harder to understand and model than traditional digital users. Mobilewalla has made key technical breakthroughs that address these issues and enable mobile consumer addressability in a cookie-less environment.

  1. You come from the world of academia. How has this past experience influenced your time at Mobilewalla?

Two clear examples come to mind. First, as a practicing computer scientist, I was motivated to solve interesting, hard problems whose solutions had practical applications. I started Mobilewalla with the same mindset—the mobile landscape offered a rich trove of hard data problems that needed to be addressed in order for the medium to achieve its potential. In many ways, Mobilewalla was more driven by my love of interesting data problems than by a clear focus to solve a specific business challenge. However, I knew that if we could address some core issues (like how to store massive amounts of mobile data), the applications would be manifold. A second way my academic past has influenced Mobilewalla is in recruitment. The initial engineers, who now represent a large part of the key technical team, are my students from my prior life. Universities offer perhaps the best selection of bright engineers in a single location, and I doubt I could have been able to put together a powerful technical team as quickly as we did without that connection. And, without the right team, Mobilewalla could not have traveled the distance it has.

  1. It’s estimated that APAC will become the leader in mobile ad spend globally by 2017, according to eMarketer. How do marketers best take advantage of the opportunity in this region?  

Because of the relatively significant population segment outside of the purview of fixed line telephony in the most populated countries in Asia (China, India and Indonesia, for example) mobile devices have become the ubiquitous form of communication, contributing to media consumption and ad spend. To take advantage of this, marketers should employ best practices from the industry, while accounting for special characteristics of consumers in their local markets. There is widespread agreement that APAC marketers should consider the following:

  • Deeper understanding of consumer needs
  • Smarter use of location technology
  • Programmatic techniques
  • Video content

It is interesting to note that a common thread running across all of the above is data. It is important that APAC marketers become attuned to data-driven marketing to address the needs of the geographically and culturally diverse continent.

  1. According to a just-released Google report, Asian consumers are far more likely than those in the US to make quicker purchasing decisions because of online research. How do marketers in APAC capitalize on this tendency in smart, data-driven ways?

This is a great question. Perhaps the most defining aspect of online commerce in Asia is that a vast majority of it is on mobile-web, as PC-centric broadband connections are either absent or unaffordable by a majority of the populace (and smartphone penetration, while increasing, is still small in large markets like India and China).  With mobile devices, all of a sudden, hundreds of millions of potential customers are within reach of online merchandisers. While on one hand this is great, on the other, it gives rise to challenges that marketers must address to exploit the opportunity. It turns out that the science of acquiring, retaining and marketing to customers online is well-understood and is dependent on the ability of merchandisers to identify customers in and across online visits. In the desktop world, these occur based on cookies, but in the mobile world, cookies don’t work. In order to fulfill the massive potential of m-commerce in Asia, marketers must look into and deploy techniques of mobile consumer identification and tracking, which are based on innovative data science techniques.

  1. It’s often said that despite how much increasing budget is being put towards mobile advertising, marketers by and large have yet to “get mobile right.” What do you think are next steps marketers need to take to harness the power of mobile?

This is a nuanced, complex question. One way to look at it is to recognize that mobile marketers are, for the large part, desktop experts in their prior lives. Digital activities in advertisers, agencies and publishers have traditionally been desktop-driven, and desktop experts are the ones who are fashioning mobile strategies for these organizations. It follows, therefore, that the mobile marketing strategies of today are heavily influenced by the best practices of traditional digital (aka desktop) strategies. Yet, as we discussed in our answer to Question 1 above, the mobile medium, in some fundamental ways, is different from desktop—the core mechanisms to identify consumers in desktop don’t work on mobile, for example. By extension, given the importance of consumer data forms in digital marketing, “getting mobile right” will be heavily dependent upon marketers’ willingness to understand the differences of the mobile medium from traditional desktop and appreciate and address the concomitant complexities manifested in mobile consumer data. In particular, understanding mobile consumer identification strategies (and their nuances), understanding what can and cannot be done with location data available in mobile and understanding mobile consumer addressability contexts (time, place, event) will greatly aid the flourishing of mobile marketing.