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Firms Gauge Which Mobile Tools Connect

Posted by Mort Greenberg on May 11, 2008

Article Source: http://wsj.com

New Software Aims
To Provide Better Data
On Consumers’ Habits
By AMOL SHARMA
May 9, 2008; Page B6

Marketing via cellphones is forecast to be one of the next hot trends, but many advertisers are still hesitant to empty their pockets on mobile-ad campaigns. One reason: There isn’t yet a reliable source of data that show what Web sites and features consumers are accessing on their mobile devices.

Measurement firms such as Nielsen and M:Metrics, which have relied mainly on monthly consumer surveys to gather such information, are developing electronic tracking methods that aim to provide more specific and accurate information. Nielsen, which helped pioneer the “People Meter” for television, is developing electronic metering software for mobile devices. The software, which will be installed on some users’ handsets beginning later this year, will track everything from the number of text messages they send per month to the Web sites they visit and videos they watch.

Another company, comScore, which specializes in tracking Web usage on personal computers, is working on similar technology for cellphones that it expects to launch in the second half of this year.

The tracking companies are running into some roadblocks, mainly because there are so many different types of mobile devices and operating systems, and because a small number of wireless operators such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless play such a central role in controlling Web traffic and determining which software gets into handsets. It is another example of how hard it can be to roll out any kind of wireless service — whether it is a videogame, a location-sharing application, or a tool to track usage of the handset itself.

M:Metrics, for example, hasn’t been able to put its software into a large enough cross-section of phones to make the information significantly valuable to advertisers, who generally want data on all cellphone users. So far, the software works only on high-end smart-phones, which account for just 12% of the market.

“If you think about advertisers, they don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I just want to reach people on BlackBerrys or Nokias.’ They want to reach all phones,” says M:Metrics Chief Executive Will Hodgman. Nielsen and comScore also acknowledge it will be difficult to make the software work on lower-end phones, because their basic operating systems make it harder to gather usage information.

Nielsen and others are working with Web publishers to try to get them to tag their content with code that alerts the tracking firms whenever their site is visited. Nielsen says it has rolled that out with a handful of U.S. mobile Web sites and several in Europe and Asia.

Mr. Hodgman of M:Metrics says he is focusing most of his efforts on persuading wireless carriers to provide information from their server logs on which sites and features users have accessed. While there is some momentum for that approach in the industry, carriers haven’t agreed to provide that data to an independent third party, he said, because of concerns about user privacy and other issues. An AT&T spokesman said the carrier doesn’t share such data and doesn’t plan to.

Until now, Nielsen and others have relied mainly on monthly survey data to gauge what features consumers are interested in. (Nielsen also collects data from user phone bills.) Such surveys aren’t always reliable because they sometimes don’t tap a broad enough sample of users and handsets. In other cases, consumers unwittingly answer questions incorrectly. Marketers say it is crucial that they get more detailed and accurate information about Web usage as they plan campaigns and try to track their effectiveness. “I’m a little bit lost [in mobile marketing] because I can’t get a lot of information,” says Chris Murphy, director of digital marketing for Adidas‘s U.S. region.

The company has run banner ads on mobile Web sites and some text-message campaigns through Isobar, an ad agency that is a unit of Aegis Group. As with other big marketers, Adidas still isn’t doing mobile ad campaigns on the same scale that it markets on the Web. There are other reasons marketers are cautious about plunging into mobile, including concerns about annoying users who would view cellphone ads as an invasion of privacy.

There are some tools available to help individual mobile Web publishers track who is visiting their sites so they can attract more advertising. Bango says its new mobile-analytics service, which keeps track of unique visitors and gathers demographic data on users, is being used by 2,000 Web sites so far. Omar Hamoui, the chief executive of AdMob, another company offering mobile analytics, says there is still a pressing need for aggregate data from an independent firm. “What’s still missing and is in some ways more important is independent third-party measurement of mobile Web activity,” Mr. Hamoui says.

Even with the new forms of electronic measurement, consumer surveys will still be useful for gauging consumer attitudes on such matters as privacy, pricing of services and interest in yet-to-be-launched products, the measurement companies say. “Ten years from now there will be surveys and electronic measurement coexisting,” says Jesse Goranson, senior vice president of mobile media at Nielsen. “It’s important to understand consumer perception in addition to the actual behavior.”

–Stephanie Kang contributed to this article.

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Write to Amol Sharma at amol.sharma@wsj.com

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