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Mobile Measurement is Facing Multiple Challenges

If you’re like many CMOs out there, you are working on a mobile strategy.

A successful mobile campaign depends on reliable metrics to provide guidance towards accurate messaging and delivery. According to the IAB, the state of mobile measurement is challenged by a host of “serious methodological and technological limitations”.

The IAB says “consumer mobile usage is capable of generating an incredible amount of intelligence around behavior and engagement with content, advertising, and real-world locations.” So they collaborated with Radar Research to uncover the State of Mobile Measurement in 2011.

We took a look at the report which states there are “significant barriers to stable measurement standards”. The wireless space has grown exponentially since 2007. The CTIA-The Wireless Association reports there were 303 million U.S. wireless connections as of late 2010. And the Pew Internet & American Life Project claims that over 1/3 of American adults now own a smart phone.

Accordingly, mobile ad spending has risen from $416 million in 2009 to an estimated $1.1 billion in 2011.

So what are the barriers that exist that prevent so much money from being unreliably spent? The report shows several inhibitors to accurate data collection: a lack of standards, technological reporting challenges, a complex ecosystem and an ambiguous regulatory environment.

The research group expresses a need for greater transparency and improved methodologies for collecting data. First, the industry must adopt a commonly-accepted “currency” in order to establish benchmarks. Along with minimal data collection standards, the group found there is a lack of standards regarding technology platforms and advertising specifications.


Respondents to the survey of marketing and mobile management executives indicated two primary standards that must be set:

  • Audience measurement – Including metrics such as total audience, demographics, downloading, registration, transactions, and time spent
  • Ad effectiveness – Including metrics such as awareness, affinity, consideration, purchase intent, clicks, and conversions

But the current configuration of the mobile space prevents such standards from being easily captured.

The study reports a need for multi point measurement across various platforms. With access points through mobile apps, web and SMS (short message service) or MMS (multimedia messaging service) channels, there is no easy way to organize analytics according to platform. Additionally, the multiple operating systems that are used present an even broader challenge to assembling a measurement framework.

Despite the rapid increase in spending, mobile advertising could falter without a common technological foundation. The study found three issues that prevent a mobile reporting framework from being erected:

1.       Cookies are unreliable. Javascript and HTTP cookies are unreliable for mobile Web use. Device memory often requires deletion following a session close.

2.       Server logs are stymied. Server log parsing and discrete IPs fail to count properly for mobile users because wireless network HTTP requests are masked by the gateway IPs of the carrier networks.

3.       Discrpancies between data sources. There can be discrepancies of over 50% of the time for third-party ad servers.

The mobile ecosystem is a fragmented universe with competing stakeholders, technologies and platforms. There are OEMs, carriers, publishers, ad networks and retailers all contributing to a lack of cohesiveness in measurement standards. Add to that the evolving landscape, including tech buys by giants Google and Apple, and it is clear that the present environment presents challenges to establishing a framework.

Cross-media measurement is next to impossible, with a diaspora of ad network measurement tools used to calculate response. The report states “both publishers and advertisers are unable to describe the mobile audience in terms of unique visitors.”

Finally, privacy issues in the mobile space are expected hinder the evolution of an accurate measurement system. Government regulation will likely restrict the quality and type of information that can be collected. Although technologically feasible – for instance the smartphone unique device identifier (UDID) is available – data such as subject location is currently considered taboo in the mobile space.

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