First rule of personalized ads: be exciting and useful, not creepy

personalized advertising

Jennifer Kyriakakis of Matrixx Software is helping Three with contextual personalized advertising. The secret, she says, is not to be creepy about it

It’s been two years since we spoke to Matrixx Software, so we decided to catch up with founder and marketing VP Jennifer Kyriakakis. Last time we talked, the company had just announced their first major deal, with Telstra. The main reason for the deployment, in November 2014, was bill shock. The confusion about data on the bill was producing huge call volumes to customer service and negative NPS results, and there was also issues around roaming.

“What we found,” says Kyriakakis, “was that while there was real traditional telco nervousness about addressing ‘bad’ revenue, income from overage charges for instance, there was enough pressure from the top to act. What actually happened, which was jaw dropping, was that traffic to their call centers dropped 40% within three months, and the NPS score was up 23 points. The other surprise was that customers actually moved to larger plans, not smaller ones, which was the fear. ARPU went up 5%. What this does, not just from our point of view, but the industry as a whole, is prove that improving the customer experience makes huge sense financially.”

Having that early, very visible success, Telstra went on not only to implement Matrixx in their prepaid business, but also invest in the business. Telstra quickly became the “go to” reference point for the company. The telco will continue to use them in other parts of the organization, including their IoT business.

More recently, Matrixx has announced a deal with Three, the UK based operator. They are deploying the solution in their consumer business first, and will roll it out across several countries over the next few months. Their reason for engaging Matrixx is to deliver personalized advertising in the form of real-time contextual offers.

Before the cynic in us could start ranting about the problems with personalized advertising, Kyriakakis was quick to point out the difference in Three’s approach: “They want to look like a Groupon, not just an advertising platform that bombards customers. They are linking our solution with their analytics platform, and they want to market through the phone and get a cut, so it is definitely a different approach.”

Susan Buttsworth of Three, who presented use cases at Mobile World Congress, is definitely against that kind of personalized advertising and believes that her customers would hate adverts on the lock screen, for instance. Her goal is to transform the perception of mobile operators, currently less loved than the tobacco industry, into something useful, relevant and even fun.

Based on the idea that most customers will share data with their provider in some circumstances, Buttsworth presented various use cases. For instance, if your flight is delayed, you can enjoy “a free coffee on us”, or an insurance offer – one click away – is presented before your flight. Or if it is raining where you are (and presumably a weekend), then why not watch a brand new movie? Click here.

Three is obviously not able to get direct feedback from customers yet, but according to a survey they conducted, almost three quarters of respondents were either not worried about sharing data or could “see the value”.

Kyriakakis is also skeptical about personalized advertising, and of course it is a much debated issue at the moment. “Advertising, actually marketing in the real sense, needs to be exciting not creepy. Technologically it is possible to get to actual personalisation but it is vital to get the algorithms right,” says Kyriakakis, “we need to build that human touch into the system. Experiments such as the Burger King advert that talks to Google Home and gets the device in your sitting room to tell you about the Whopper make me laugh,” she says.

Kyriakakis still sees operators struggling to bring in new ideas, and sees a rise in the number of “telco within telco” guerilla-type projects that are being launched “to prove that new thinking can work. It is funny, we were talking about lending data to each other back in 2010, and people laughed at us. Now business people are asking what we can do for them so that they can differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. This is very satisfying, but it has been a slow, sometimes frustrating journey.”

The good news is that new thinking is here, and although driven by the business, operators are at last beginning to try new things, new approaches and new partnerships. This must be good for the industry, and, of course, good for companies like Matrixx.

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