EXCLUSIVE: Where’s The "M" In CPM? Millennial Media VP Talks About Targeting, Reach & Mobile Search

Continuing with our mobile advertising podcast series, we take a look at Millennial Media, the cross-platform mobile advertising company that covers all the bases and then some. I’m thinking here of its broad offer that includes Millennial Motion (encompassing animation and allowing brands to combine audio, video and interactivity) and Decktrade, a performance-based auction service and marketplace for advertisers and publishers. The company has been on my radar since it raised a $6.3 million first round from Bessemer Venture Partners, Columbia Capital, and Acta Wireless in January. Another eye-opener was the partnership with CBS which we covered here. (The four-way tie-up also involves AdMob, Rhythm NewMedia and Third Screen Media.)

I caught up with Eric Eller, Senior Vice President of Products and Marketing, to talk about Millennial’s roadmap, as well as the roadblocks that have so far kept spending and conversions down to such modest levels. Sure, Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts worldwide spending on mobile advertising could reach more than $11 billion annually by 2011 but a lot has to happen first. Eric identified three things that have to change fast.

Reach More people have to use the mobile Internet. “It s about forty million uniques in the world today, versus 180 to 190 million online, so we re still 20 to 25% of online reach and that has to increase.”

Standardization “The mobile experience varies greatly from carrier to carrier, from platform to platform, and even though companies like ours address that layer for the brand and agencies, there still is a huge difference in the consumer s experience.”

Metrics – “The more data that we can get, the better .And more effective programs can be developed to really achieve the targeting and the results that the brands want.”

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The dream team: It’s all about CPM but without the proper measurement it’s an empty victory. Against this backdrop, it’s the measurement companies so the likes of M:Metrics and Telephia that can fill the gap and deliver the analytics that can move the market forward. “Clicks are a good metric but, you know, what people in the online space have found is that clicks aren t necessarily indicative of brand impact or of conversion response so we ll have to learn in the mobile space what the correlations are between those different metrics .But I think they re all measurable and they ll become more measurable over time.”

Beyond our reach: The ability to target ads is a few years off but that’s no reason to neglect undertaking the detailed research that is a prerequisite for successful campaigns. “We [as an industry] need to aggregate reach; we need to definitely partner with the companies that are going to ask those questions to that broad reach of people and start building that dataset and understanding what the audience makeup is of the different types of publisher inventory, of the different types of carrier subscribers, of the different types of people that have common behaviours. Then we ll get much closer to being able to offer the different levels of targeting that most advertisers want to buy.

The numbers game: Conversion is always a sticky issue, but Eric offered more detail than most. His insights: “We certainly have seen campaigns where the click through rate is 5 percent and then 50 percent of those convert to buy and that might be for a promotional type conversion right. So, if you need to sign up for a chance to win something, those conversion rates are always very high because the consumer in some cases is incentivized to get those low level conversions so that they can be marketed to in the future. I think it s reasonable to expect that s a relatively low value conversion and it s easy to obtain. A higher value conversion, having someone subscribe to a $10 a month subscription, is a little bit more difficult and then, kind of at the higher end kind of following at the mobile commerce side, if you want someone to download an $80 smartphone application, that s a bigger conversion yet. I think the range of click-through rates is anywhere from 0.5 percent to 5 or 6 percent, depending on how well targeted the campaign is to the audience and the conversion rates can vary from 2 to 10 percent, or up to 50 percent for a promotional type conversion.”

Coming together: Mobile search and mobile advertising are a perfect match, but Eric doesn’t just state the obvious; he gives us a blueprint for how this might work in practical terms. As he sees it, the industry is in a testing phase and search isn’t really about search, it’s about tracking. “Since we re crossing multiple advertising mediums already through applications, through SMS, the search space can be considered a different medium, a different way to reach an audience.” In this context, “we may have a service or solution that allows an agency to buy through us and reach audiences in applications, audiences on search traffic, so in some ways you might look at that as a search engine marketing company in the online space. But there might also be some more automated hooks that allow us to deliver a combined campaign across as multi-medium including search.” (BTW: Yes, I asked. No mobile search company is a suitor for Millennial yet and so far the company is unaffected by the run on mobile ad companies and inventory.)

Motion matters: It’s all about banner and text links now, but Millennial’s Motion product, which enables advertisers to deliver animation, is gaining traction. It’s all about engaging audiences and vector animation is rising up to be part of the marketing mix. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from agencies on the richness of the environment that can be achieved when a user clicks on a [graphic] and goes to a motion environment where it s very similar to a web-based animation . Advertising becomes entertainment that can be interactive menus, a virtual showroom, streaming video .It’s almost like having DVD extras [in the content bundle], so that s very exciting.”

What’s next?: Predictably, Eric skirted around the specifics, but he did outline the areas that figure most prominently in Millennial’s roadmap. The focus for the rest of this year is “growth and scale.” So we can expect to see more publisher partnerships like CBS. The other objective: “An aggressive role out of the Millennial Motion product because it s primarily geared towards application inventory. We ve had a number of developers that are kind of in the process with that today and expect to see that inventory growing rapidly towards the end of the year.”

Peggy Anne Salz

VisionMobile teams up with Peggy at Msearchgroove – the premiere thinking-space at the intersection of content and context – to present this in-depth series of exclusive audio interviews.

TOMORROW: The mobile advertising podcast series continues with Omar Hamoui, CEO of AdMob, a company that serves a whopping one billion ads per month. More on the company’s future plans and a fact-packed cheat sheet for mobile publishers – so watch this space!

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