MSG mobile search research (the profiles and analysis I share on MSG, and the new-release white paper assessing search, which I co-created with my esteemed colleague Peggy Albright) has attracted the attention of a growing community of readers and influencers across a variety of online destinations and industry organizations.
I am pleased to report this work has also sparked interest at Eyefor Travel Research, a business intelligence firm known as the “leading voice of online travel.” Andrew Merrie, research analyst and Headmaster of the School for Mobile (the firm’s initiative for educating the travel and tourism industries on opportunities in mobile), reached out to me earlier today to collaborate on the firm’s series of free reports (which are essential reads chock-full of case studies, key statistics, and best practice) focused on mobile technology and solutions.
There is a special emphasis on mobile search (which we agree is the linchpin of a range of effective strategies to deliver mobile advertising, commerce, and CRM). By way of background, the Eyefor Travel report series consists of Vol.1 Mobile Technology in Travel: The Introduction, and Vol 2, Mobile Technology in Travel Report: The Detail. Vol 3 Mobile Technology in Travel Report: Consumer Insight is work in progress, but you can sign up here for an alert when it is released later in June.
A trend that stands out is the new popularity of SMS search schemes as a sure-fire way to reach a mass market. As Andrew puts it: “SMS search is a tool that 99 percent of customers know how to use. In a consumer-focused industry such as ours, it [SMS search] represents a good first step in how companies need to move forward.” Another advantage beyond intuitive usability: Proven monetization models around the delivery of related text links and advertising.
This point came through loud and clear in this week’s AdAge article, which outlines the advantages of SMS search, and takes a look at the companies (notably 4INFO, which MSG profiled here, and ChaCha) cashing in on its newfound popularity among users and advertisers.
Rita Chang, who wrote the piece, contacted me for the article, and has since arranged a follow-up call to discuss the mobile search competitive landscape. The intention is to write a comprehensive feature on the models and companies I think set the bar. I gladly support her in this work, and welcome other journalists to reach out to me for comments or just a few company contacts.
The increasing excitement around SMS search isn’t limited to the U.S. (the focus of Rita’s AdAge article). It’s also going full-steam in Asia, where Mobile Content Networks (MCN) – a provider of mobile search and revenue solutions that deliver people connections to content, not links to content, on their mobile phones – has chalked up an impressive list of operator customers for its SMS search, which emphasizes content discovery instead of answers to specific search queries.
Today marks the company’s official launch of Smart Search (aptly named) in partnership with Smart Communications, the Philippines’ leading mobile operator with 36.9 million subscribers. The MCN-powered search service (an SMS triggered search service that lets people use a shortcode to text queries for their favorite downloadable music) complements MCN’s WAP search solution for the SMART Music Store, which launched in 2008 and offers subscribers real-time access to a growing catalog of ringtones and music tracks from local content providers.
Stephen Burke, MCN SVP Sales and Marketing, who pre-briefed me on the news announcement yesterday, also kindly agreed to a spontaneous Skype chat interview to connect the dots in MCN’s evolving search strategy. I produce an excerpt of it below, and will circle back for a more in-depth discussion once MCN formally announces a key customer win later in the summer.
Q: The news is Smart Search. What else is in the pipeline?
A: We will also be adding new WAP and SMS content channels with Smart this month and next, and are seeing steady and healthy traffic growth.
Q: What can you share about traffic and usage?
A: For the Smart WAP Music search, we have seen page views and queries double in the second quarter calendar. We add [the content categories] Games in mid-June and Video in late June, which is projected to increase traffic about 3x.
Q: SMS activity?
A: SMS Search [is] reaching all the non-WAP users in the world’s most active SMS market.We will be ramping advertising in Q3. In emerging markets, the first step is to help build the Mobile Ad ecosystem, which is happening now.
Q: Do they [Smart mobile operator] use allwords [MCN's own PPC mobile content promotion program]?
A: No, not yet. The Philippines’ carrier revshare/ecosystem issues aren’t quite in place yet.
Q: And what can you report elsewhere across your partners/customers?
A: AIS in Thailand, FYI has also tripled traffic as they’ve added our Search to almost every page on the portal in their preparations to launch 3G services. These “emerging markets” are catching fire. Basically, we are seeing growth in all markets (Scandinavia, Turkey, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, etc).
Q: SMS search is certainly on the upswing.
A: In markets where WAP penetration/3G penetration is still lower (than Europe or U.S. or Japan), a transaction oriented, content and personalization oriented SMS service is an important addition. And it’s [SMS search] being specced into RFPs we are seeing elsewhere in S. Asia and Latin America.
My take: SMS search is a case of been-there-done-that? No way! It may be a rather un-sexy category of mobile search, but there is nothing unexciting about the demand for it across markets (and the increasing interest among advertisers). Indeed, comScore reports that SMS ads average a 16 percent response rate, outperforming typical 1-3 percent click-through rates for mobile display ads. While we may be enamored of the iPhone and the pivotal role this device has played in shifting mobile models (and the complete mobile business ecosystem) in the direction of mobile computing (as opposed to mobile communications), we should remember that the mobile device is about connecting us to the people and stuff (information, answers, content, and advertising – because it is content) that matters to us most. What works is what works. As Alex Meisl – Chairman of Sponge, a mobile marketing agency, and Co-Chair of the Mobile Marketing Association – pointed out in a phone interview yesterday, he is not bullish about bells and whistles in mobile. Most of his company’s campaigns harness text and messaging mechanisms people understand. Another advantage of text is the dialog it encourages between people and brands. This level of interaction can also bring a new dimension to mobile search, turning a search query into much more of a search conversation we can all understand.
Disclaimer: ChaCha has sponsored an MSG white paper; MCN has been an MSG supporter.