Cheetah Digital: the value of mobile in the digital age

Andy Gladwin, Head of Mobile at Cheetah Digital, discusses the importance of mobile technology in a digital transformation strategy

As digital consumers’ needs have evolved, all-too-many brands’ approach to them have not kept pace. Modern consumers enjoy almost blanket 4G coverage, but the digital experiences they receive is oftentimes akin to dial-up. Better data sets and more sophisticated targeting has not necessarily led to better advertising, experiences or content.

Graduating from the University of St. Andrews in 2005, Andy Gladwin, Head of Mobile at Cheetah Digital began his career in mobile technology in 2006 by joining Ericsson on a graduate scheme where he worked his way up to Head of Commercial, Netsize SMS. In 2013, Gladwin left Ericsson, holding multiple leadership roles at ExactTarget, Salesforce, CLX Networks and Vodafone. “I departed Vodafone as VP Head of Sales in 2019 to join Cheetah Digital. From my time at ExactTarget, I worked under an incredibly inspiring manager called Sameer Kazi, who was the MD of the mirror at the time. He was in London and said, let's go grab a coffee. A few sips into my coffee, I realised that this wasn't just a coffee, but an opportunity, one I couldn't really refuse. The opportunity was to go and work under a visionary looking to disrupt the digital marketing space.” 

With eight out of 10 digital minutes residing on the mobile phone, and consumers picking up their device on average 96 times a day. It’s clear that a fully-fledged mobile strategy is no longer a nice to have, but the cornerstone of any digital transformation. “You are not going to find an enterprise that doesn’t want to engage with their customers in the most frictionless manner possible. Part of working out what makes the engagement frictionless is identifying where the customers exchange information and communicate. This is mobile,” states Gladwin.

“To convolute the issue, we live in an omni-channel world. Consumers interact with an average of six digital touchpoints when engaging with a brand. Whether that be content on social media, payment through wallet, news from SMS, or offers via email to name but a few. Principally however, all these touchpoints can be directly accessed through mobile. The upside to this is brands can gather vast amounts of consumer data, opt-ins, preference insights and behavioural data to no longer infer, but anticipate what its customers are likely to do next.,” commented Gladwin.As a result organisations can use this data to power more-personalised, and critically, frictionless engagement across all touchpoints. “It helped of course that SMS, as well as browser, email, apps, social and wallet are available on the vast majority of mobiles. What’s clear is that mobile should be the nucleus of any digital communication strategy,” he added.

A single, accessible view of the customer

Naturally in any modern enterprise there are a plethora of institutional challenges that make a mobile-first strategy somewhat difficult to realise. In the data economy, it’s not uncommon to hear that marketers have too much data to analyse. “53% of organisations report that they have only a few of their marketing channels connected. Each and every vertical is undergoing rapid digital transformations, however even the most modern and forward-thinking brands have headaches managing brands and data sources in different territories, time zones, and languages. Data silos are an unfortunate inevitability,” reflected Gladwin, who explains that when it comes to software centralisation is key. “Modern enterprises are awash with data, but it’s fragmented from all manner of sources and siloed in disparate systems which are not integrated, nor were designed to be. Marketers have no way of seeing the customer in a unified, single view, which is necessary to fully understand each customer and provide them with a truly-personalized experience. The opportunity to wow the customer is lost forever.”  

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Quotables

Mobile sits at the heart of digital transformation. Eight out of 10 digital minutes reside on the mobile phone

Andy Gladwin | Head of Mobile, Cheetah Digital

Explaining some of the benefits of this approach, Gladwin says, “having a centralised, single source of truth of the customer serves as a complete, up-to-date record and empowers marketers to build lasting and more meaningful relationships with customers through accurate, timely, and trustworthy data. The closer marketers can get to the utopia of a golden record, the more likely they are to interact with customers through preferred channels with preferred messages. Done fittingly, as customer preferences and/or transaction history change, the record changes with it.”

Going a step further, Gladwin further highlights that a centralised approach enables enterprises to engage with customers in a personalized, meaningful way. “Anticipating customer behavior through insight enables you to keep ahead of the competition by delivering the right experiences at the precise moment a customer engages. You can see what was the last activity and what their behaviors have been within the mobile app before you choose to send an email. This helps to assure that those things correlate to have the right level of relevance and value, as well as drive a single voice.” 

At Cheetah Digital, the company takes the data insights and processes these within its Engagement Data Platform (an evolution of a CDP). “On a software level, it's from here that enterprises are able to securely manage that data from any source and in real-time with other digital channels. We can also apply machine learning to optimise send times, as well as building propensity models that look at feedback loops and other insights to determine the likelihood of a customer following through with an associated call to action. According to McKinsey, there is a 10 to 20% incremental boost in conversion rates and customer lifetime value when coordinating messages across channels,” comments Gladwin.

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“Marketers and their customers deserve better. With the Cheetah Digital EDP, as consumers engage in mobile apps, wallet, email, social media platforms, chat applications, and other touchpoints, this data is ingested in real-time and can be acted on immediately.”

Powering personalisation with the right data

The converging forces of privacy legislation sweeping the globe, and consumers that are ever-more cognizant of privacy preserving tools, means that they are likely to only continue doing business with the brands that they trust and who tailor campaigns to them. 

Expanding on powering personalisation from the right of data, that’s gathered compliantly, Gladwin breaks down the best approach. “The future of marketing to individuals with relevance is about asking them about their interests, motivations and desires, rather than inferring or snooping on them. This is zero-party data. Forrester describes it as a class of data that is intentionally and proactively shared by the customer.”

“Unfortunately it’s not merely a case of building it and they will come. Digital consumers expect to be entertained, engaged, and receive something in return for their attention and personal data. At Cheetah Digital, we have a solution - Cheetah Experiences - which enables our customers to create interactive marketing campaigns that engage with customers and collects first-party data, complemented by a raft of preference and behavioural data that customers volunteer - the key is offering a tangible value exchange.” Gladwin continues, “and it doesn’t need to be a red-letter prize, things like coupons, competitions, social kudos, or exclusive content drive value in return for data.”

When it comes to the role of mobile in the acquisition of data, Gladwin explains that there are three parts. “The first is again ensuring that the organisation is present on the relevant and preferred channels of their customers to provide access. Part two is harnessing tools such as the haptics of the mobile device to drive a value exchange that is interactive and engaging. This could be to use scratch screens to reveal a promotion or to gain customers insights as they swipe left or right to register their preferences or interests. Part three is to leverage the immediacy of mobile channels to enable enterprises to become scientific with their send time and resultantly maximise conversion by delivering the right message during the moments of relevance. With a native capability on every handset, SMS is an effective vehicle to address a large audience and engage with immediacy. 90% of messages are read within 90 seconds and unlike some alternative younger channels the technology is not a barrier, where there is the same level of familiarity to a 17 year old as a 70 year old.” 

In addition to data acquisition, mobile technology can also offer it’s own additional behavioural and contextual data insights to drive personalisation. By observing frequency and recency data from an app, enterprises can ensure that they are addressing customer needs in line with their interactivity and associated customer lifecycle placement. Location is another asset that can trigger contextual real time engagement as consumers enter or exit a geo-fence or taking it to a macro level, it could enable a retailer to review environmental conditions and promote raincoats to one customer and swimwear to another based on the weather at the time of send.”

People make the product

Cheetah Digital is an organisation rooted in driving business outcomes. To realise that it’s imperative to have people lasered on business goals rather than vanity metrics. “Whatever vertical you’re in, you need to focus on the metrics that move the needle, not just those that look good on paper.”

When it comes to the importance of its people, Gladwin explains that at Cheetah Digital the company has an in house services organisation to provide its customers with support and account management services - which is something that Gladwin believes distinguishes the company from its competition. “Our in house services organisation have a very intimate understanding - not only of the client - but with our technology. This native expertise enables them to not only consistently drive and deliver results through implementation and design, but also to enhance performance and ultimately revenue and profitability for our clients. We’re here to identify and track the right metrics, convert these into tangibles like revenue and prove ROI. Through perpetually testing and enhancing the use of mobile channels we can optimise these numbers.”

Looking at the mobile industry as a whole, Gladwin believes there are several major shifts emerging for mobile technology. “Devices have gone from being convenient to connected and through this period, content has evolved from being relatively basic to incredibly rich. The evolution of the channel ecosystem where engagement has moved from transactional to conversational gives brands more of an opportunity to engage, listen and influence customer behaviour. For too long marketing has been a decidedly one-way affair, with brands seeking to push their message louder and further into more intimate contacts. However it’s not better marketing, just better targeting. Using mobile to engage in true two-way communications with consumers through legacy and emerging channels will be the next significant paradigm shift.” 

How do enterprises consider the right mobile channel?

The relationship between consumers and enterprises is moving from physical to digital at such velocius pace and to be effective managing mobile channels and customer moments are critical for driving engagement. This has never been as important as it has been in the past year or so, as market and customer dynamics and consumer priorities are changing – as consumers are avoiding crowds, spending less time in stores and venues and increasing their online activity.

When thinking about mobile and how it connects brands, consumers and touchpoints, it is an ecosystem that offers many channels. “SMS as we discussed earlier offers ubiquity, immediacy, engagement and familiarity, and of course gives the benefit of high confidence to deliver a message to all customers with it being read in a short time. If you were to receive a fraud alert, you would want to receive it via SMS so you could act quickly rather than an email. Apps hold value driving convenience, immediacy and provide a non-restricted environment to represent a brand’s content. Having your app on a home screen is like having a prominently placed billboard and offers a streamlined pathway to gain information such as bank account details or a call-to-action where your airline seat reservation may be open to confirm. Apps also open up the opportunity to trigger real time messages based on activities such as in app behaviours or geo-location.”

“Mobile wallet is fast emerging as another convenience touchpoint for consumers, from paying for coffee or catching a train, but for marketers it provides a gateway to reward loyal customers with points or coupons.”

Clearly there’s lots to ruminate, but Gladwin is clear “above all the most important decision maker in channel choice is that of the customer and every enterprise should actively seek preferences and correspond with their communications accordingly.”

The elephant in the room: Covid-19

When discussing the impact of COVID-19 so far in the industry, Gladwin says “There has been an elevated importance during COVID to support the lack of physical customer engagement and rise of eCommerce to substitute physical relationships. For example we have a supermarket client in France who sent out a message to all of their customers in March detailing their new store opening and closing times along with their online ordering capabilities. So in terms of driving clarity in an ambiguous environment, SMS has been a great way to cut through the noise, to be able to go through a different channel that isn't suffering from buffering and other issues, to get immediate important messages across during this time.”

Recent research shows that app utilisation is up 50% and the pandemic has accelerated the enterprise digital communication strategy - on average - by about six years. “Moving companies forward in that strategy, mobile again is becoming even more key. To be successful you need to be where your customers are, and that is no longer physical engagement. With the rise of remote customers, mobile is going to be the key to success.”

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