The Changes Mobile Publishers Must Make during the Economic Recovery

As we modify stay-at-home orders, the news is mixed for mobile publishers. Content consumption during quarantine rose as much as 80%. But advertising has suffered — 38% of advertisers halted all advertising, while 45% paused mid-campaign. It’s an ugly paradox — consumers value their mobile devices more than ever, but publishers are struggling to monetize that value.

Here’s how mobile publishers should prepare for the uncertain road ahead.

Retooling is underway

The good news is we’re starting to see some brands return to advertising to educate consumers about what to expect in this new normal. True, the current demand isn’t comparable to pre-pandemic levels, but it has been strong enough to stabilize CPMs that continue to slowly rise, allowing mobile publishers to continue creating content that informs, entertains, and when necessary, explains the new normal in a given vertical. 

As advertisers retool, mobile publishers must continue to meet this demand. But they don’t have to take a leap of faith here. In fact, there’s strong evidence consumers expect advertisers to keep advertising during the pandemic. According to eMarketer, 77% of consumers said they wanted advertising to “talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life,” while 75% of consumers said ads should “inform about [the brand’s] efforts to face the situation.”

Understand the new seasonality 

In normal times, publishers and advertisers work from tentpole events: Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, dads and grads, back-to-school, holidays, etc. The new seasonality isn’t as conclusive. As public health orders are modified, the new seasonality will reflect geographic variations, vertical-specific considerations, and new consumer attitudes. Here, mobile publishers have a key advantage with hyper-targeting. The content we consume on our phones, the places we go, and the things we buy via mobile reveal our changing consumer priorities. 

Already, we’ve seen consumers embrace apps for meal and grocery delivery services, as well as virtual meetings and gaming. But we’ve also seen some non-obvious mobile trends. Dating apps have flourished amid the pandemic, even if real-life dates aren’t happening. TikTok added 12 million subscribers in March and saw its watch time metrics surge. In Los Angeles, local health officials struck a deal with Headspace to give free premium access to the popular meditation and mindfulness app for the rest of the year. Across the globe, governments have turned to mobile carrier data to determine whether people are staying home. 

Some of these trends may turn out to be passing fads, while others point to a new normal. But right now, it really doesn’t matter which is which because nobody knows how long this pandemic will last or what the future will look like. What’s important to understand is that the new seasonality will reveal itself on our mobile devices.

Just as importantly, mobile publishers can leverage that new seasonality by putting a laser focus on audience data. For example, a given locality may lift its stay-at-home order, but aggregated data from mobile carriers and usage of mobile gaming and entertainment apps can shed enormous light on whether people feel safe venturing out of their homes. In turn, those insights will tell us a great deal about what mobile publishers and marketers can expect as they think about the rest of the 2020 calendar.

Lean into yield, and drive new outcomes

With advertising rates taking such a hit in Q2, a lot of publishers are wisely taking a fresh look at yield optimization and should use this as a time to test new products and solutions. It is also a good time to prepare for some upcoming changes like the death of the cookie and unified auctions in-app that will inevitably replace the waterfall soon. But there’s a bigger issue than simply modernizing targeting and auction tech. As we become a mobile-first, socially distanced world, marketers will put a greater emphasis on performance, and mobile publishers must prepare to meet the expectations of advertisers by providing new ways to provide value to their advertising partners. 

Things like mobile payments, in-app purchases, and in-store as well as curbside pickup will no longer be “nice-to-have” engagements for certain audience segments of early adopters. In fact, many consumers now consider those features to be “must-haves,” even if the tools are still a work in progress. Just think about your most recent trip to the store. In the middle of a pandemic, the ability to shop on your mobile phone, arrange curbside pickup and pay without handing over your credit card is priceless. But after the pandemic subsides, does anyone really think consumers will return to a less convenient shopping experience?  

That’s why increasing yield, over the long term, will be a function of delivering mobile, end-to-end, frictionless, contactless experiences. Big-box stores have already taken the lead here, but it’s not too late for mobile publishers, app developers, and marketers to create interesting products and services that facilitate commerce in our interesting new world. In fact, consumers are hungry for these kinds of mobile solutions, and right now they’re on their phones searching for publishers and brands that are ready to deliver.

Kurt Donnell is President and CEO of Freestar.

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