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How Weve opens up 15 million mobile customers to advertisers

October 5, 2013

(Published in TTG 03.04.13)

Weve, a new coalition created by the UK’s major mobile network operators, is now giving brands the chance to access 15 million customers via rich video messaging as well as multi-dimensional marketing

There’s been a lot of secrecy about Weve, the new company formed by Vodafone, O2 and 4G-specialist EE (T-Mobile and Orange). At first, it was codenamed “Project Oscar”, as the usually fiercely competitive rivals met to discuss joining forces to provide a “single front door” to advertisers wanting to access their customers. But after six months of legal wrangling, to get the green light from the European Commission, and tens of millions of pounds spent by the network operators doing some “heavy lifting” to combine their data, last week saw the three chief executives (O2’s Ronan Dunne, Vodafone’s Guy Laurence and EE’s Olaf Swantee) as well as new Weve chief executive David Sear, come together to present to the public.

Weve’s web
“It’s not easy for the competition to get together and create something special. It can be challenging even to sit in the same room, especially without a lawyer,” joked Sear at the Weve “Leadership Breakfast” at London’s Ronnie Scott’s last month. However, the three seemed at ease when discussing how they were now able to offer this newfound access to millions of their customers, straight to their mobile phones. The operators’ combined customer database equals 80% of the total market, and Weve is inviting other operators, such as Three and Virgin Mobile, to also join in. Sear emphasised that 15 million customers had all opted in to receive marketing messages, and as a result now created a precious part of the marketing mix, citing recent research that, daily, people spend two hours looking at a mobile device – more than at a PC.

However, the challenge is now for brands to get creative and Weve has been set up specifically to work with companies on developing innovative ways to connect with customers. While it can now offer a standardised platform, and make it easy for brands, its “product” has yet to be defined. Loyalty will be key going forward, and Sear told the audience he did not like adverts, but liked value, rewards and incentives. About 30% of mobile users are currently frustrated by the mobile experience, Sear added, which “must be additive, not subtractive”. Vodafone’s Laurence said: “If you’re a chief marketing officer, you’ve got challenges. But we have 15 million users, and it’s an industrial solution. Come on in, the water’s lovely.”

What are the options?
While Sear asked the delegates at the breakfast, which formed part of the inaugural Advertising Week Europe, what defined a good product – calling on brands to tell Weve “what looks good” – he did cite SMS video and “multi-dimensional marketing” as key areas. “There’s been a massive response rate from small SMS video,” he said. “Video is changing. It’s about rich messaging. We want to do intelligent advertising. The year 2012 was about marketing videos that lasted seconds. This year it’s about minutes”.

EE’s Swantee said its 4G customers were doubling the amount of data and internet access compared with 3G users, and it was all based around TV and video. “The amount of data really surprised us,” he said, with the panel urging advertisers to ensure videos were created specifically for mobiles, as there was nothing worse than a video with fonts that were too small to read on a mobile screen.

And with UK workers commuting an average of 77 minutes each day, he said, there’s a captive audience waiting to be reached. The challenge for brands is to bring the brand to life via video, and Laurence added that customer behaviour was going to change when more 4G coverage was introduced. Spam, however, could also pose a greater threat, delegates heard, perhaps opening the door to more PPI or accident claims- related SMS messages, and Sear admitted there was still a risk out there. “Spammers are always burning a piece of the market. But we want authentic – and billable – relationships,” he said.

Yet for now, with clients including British Airways, Hotels.com, Lastminute.com, Gatwick airport, Hotwire and Expedia already on the roster, Sear told TTG he was looking to expand travel. “The travel industry is an incredibly important industry for Weve and one that already understands the importance, immediacy and potential of mobile,” he said. “Being able to combine mobile with online and location means that engaging with consumers directly through their mobile, while they are travelling or at critical seasonal times, prompts consumer choice and ultimate purchase. We already have some great working relationships, but are hoping to work with agents too.” When three fierce competitors put aside their rivalry to work on something together, you can bet it’s going to be big – as big as The Beatles, Laurence predicted, telling marketers: “You don’t want to be that person who didn’t sign The Beatles.”

How Weve works
While most marketers will think mobile means location-based display advertising, John Finlayson, Weve’s brand and partnerships manager, told TTG it’s not just location, but “multi-dimensional”. Weve data can include the customers’ preferences, contact lists, browsing history and location – all opted-in, albeit anonymous. In travel, one use could be for a Thomas Cook rival to target those people on the high street that were walking close to a Cook store that had been recently closed – prompting them to visit their own shop in the nearby area.
Meanwhile, Weve can even target mobile users based on temperature. If the temperature plummets, mobile phone users could be alerted to suggest they walk into their nearest agency to book a holiday somewhere hot, if in the vicinity of a store. Another hypothetical situation could see a company such as Eurostar sending SMS alerts to Weve customers in the London area, should strikes or another emergency suddenly ground flights at airports.

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