ARF Re:Think 2017: 5 Trends to Rethink This Year

Last week’s ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) Re:Think 2017 conference welcomed dozens of notable US and international companies to discuss key topics in advertising research, from both the client and vendor sides.

This year, I noticed five major topics that dominated the conference agenda:

  • Real-time: As the advertising world becomes more real-time, more actionable and tactical insights are needed. Many mobile-native companies, such as game publishers, are already conducting A/B testing with near-real-time data available. However, most decisions around advertising, including mix modeling, campaign planning, media buying, and measurement activities, are still conducted over a timeframe of weeks or months, rather than hours or days. However, we should not underestimate the market demand for more real-time insights. In fact, Verto’s daily cross-device audience ratings data in various markets has been positively received.
  • Always-on: Today’s audiences not only use multiple channels and devices to follow sports, or enjoy Disney content, but consumption occurs on an increasingly 24/7 basis. Mobile devices have mitigated the significance of specific locations for media consumption or advertising, and consumers are increasingly tied to a multitude of screens to keep themselves connected to friends, colleagues, entertainment, gaming, news, etc. And Verto’s data confirms that mobile devices are playing an increasingly central role in consumer behaviors: our latest research shows that the average consumer unlocks their smartphone more than 50 times a day.
  • Big data: The industry seems attracted to the rise of new services and platforms that promise “big data”, rather than panel- or sample-based research frameworks on the premise that “the more data, the better.” And while many analytics tools and census approaches can crawl massive data sets or provide tracking of all of the users of a given app, the downside is that these solutions do not provide independence or complete coverage. For example, you can never fully compare your mobile app’s performance versus that of Facebook, because Facebook simply does not give their data to analytics solution providers. Moreover, some of the most successful long-term audience measurement solutions, like Nielsen’s TV ratings, are based on the 10,000-20,000 households that are part of Nielsen’s TV measurement panel. While this sample size provides numbers that are stable and credible for the industry, we think there is room for both. Naturally, the granularity of media consumption, traffic acquisition models, and programmatic advertising are leading to a world where more big data will help.
  • Programmatic: This remains a contentious topic. Media buying is moving increasingly towards a more automated and programmable direction, with new solutions to direct and educate buying activity, measure performance, and provide feedback loops that lead to self-learning models. And while programmatic has already increased in terms of the market share of digital advertising, we will be now likely see a bigger share of programmatic advertising for TV, too – either via second screen targeting, or smarter IP-based TV sets.
  • Mobile: This has also been been a recurring topic at ARF events. Back in 2012, I gave a presentation at ARF Audience Measurement conference about the importance of measuring mobile in a comparable way to other screens, and that same year, I provided related mobile insights to the Mobile Marketing Association’s annual summit in NYC.  I am glad to see that the sophistication of mobile audience measurement has been increasing ever since, and that more people and companies are trying to solve relevant industry problems.

The Takeaway: What Are the Next Steps for Advertisers in an Increasingly Mobile World?

Brands and marketers need to understand where the attention of the consumer is today. How do new user interfaces intersect with emerging consumer behaviors like multitasking? What is the role and relevancy of apps in today’s clickstreams? And how can these insights be distilled to make the right decisions for campaign planning or advertising creative design? And the responsibility doesn’t lie with just with brands and marketers; app publishers also need to be able to highlight the unique and comparable metrics of their users’ behavior to offer a more detailed view of their audience for advertisers.

At Re:Think, I presented Verto’s new framework to measure mobile-related clickstreams, and discussed new metrics that help measure the influence of specific, individual apps on the consumer’s digital journey. For brands and advertisers, there are some specific applications for our framework, based on key insights around consumer mobile behavior that we have observed:

  • Mobile is grabbing a bigger and bigger share of consumer attention: For people who use multiple devices today in the U.S., mobile screen time already far exceeds the time spent on PC screens.
  • Apps drive mobile usage: Over the past 8 months, mobile web sites have seen an increase of total 100 million monthly minutes of consumer engagement, while mobile apps have seen an increase of 1 billion monthly minutes.
  • As an industry, we cannot simply replicate old audience metrics for mobile: Consumers are engaging with mobile screens in new ways: for example, voice-guided user interfaces are becoming more popular, and an increasing amount of content, such as music streaming or navigation apps, takes place largely as background activity. We are interested in tracking these type of behaviors, too, and must develop new ways of doing so.
  • Cross-device is the new reality: In the traditional desktop world, consumers simply clicked links when they wanted to visit new sites. It was a click-to-click journey, and tracking these clickstreams was a sufficient way for advertisers and digital publishers to measure their audiences. Today, consumers use apps across multiple mobile devices: a single consumer might use Google Maps on their smartphone to find a restaurant, launch the Open Table app on a tablet to book a table, and use the Uber app on their smartphone to order a ride there. It you want to track the consumer, you need to track the movements across both apps and devices. This opportunity is something that motivated our work in this area.

Understanding consumer behavior is increasingly complex: Verto’s data shows that consumers not only own more devices than ever before, but they engage in multitasking – switching between apps and devices in single sessions and returning to certain apps that have been optimized for this multitasking behavior. Consumers now engage in dozens of multitasking sessions per day, and understanding the interaction and cooperative dynamics between apps—and the evolution of in-app usage — will become increasingly critical for brands, marketers, and app publishers who want to drive growth and monetization. The value of all this for brands is huge. You need to think about choices like should you build and operate your own, or partner with others. Which apps influence, and how much, consumers’ decision making?

Interested in learning more about our insights on consumer behavior? Download our latest report, Multitasking and Mobile Apps: New Ways to Measure Consumer Behavior.