Where's the Standardization in Mobile Marketing?

The mobile marketing industry lacks reporting metrics and data standardization. As a result, end users (app developers and mobile marketers) are forced to build their own version of an internal standard for reporting.

Industry bodies failed a couple of times

In the mobile user acquisition space, analytics companies and ad networks tried “standardizing” their metrics and reporting APIs several times with the intent to make end users’ and customers’ lives easier. At Tapjoy, in late 2011 and early 2012, I was involved in a group that Kontagent (now Upsight) assembled to standardize the way mobile ad networks report ad spend and ad revenue metrics through APIs. The initiative was called the Mobile Acquisition Transparency Alliance (MATA). MATA focused on getting ad networks to build their reporting APIs based on a standardized API schema. At the time MATA was formed, each of the networks had their own way to calculate metrics and reporting schemas returned data differently. This meant additional work for the ad network to reconfigure its reporting APIs. While at Tapjoy, we thought this was a great idea for our customers. What end user doesn’t want an easy way to integrate a new ad network API that’s standardized?

Fast forward a few years and we concluded that MATA didn’t work well in practice. Yes, MATA made a lot of sense -- app developers and ad networks would have a standard that everyone would understand, but after attending many meetings for MATA, alongside the 50+ competing ad networks, it slowly became obvious that nothing was changing. Ad networks didn’t have an incentive to build anything new or change the way they were doing things. Advertisers still spent money on networks that didn’t adhere to the standard that MATA proposed and MATA shut down a year later.

MATA revealed a number of painful truths about the industry: until a majority of end users can agree on an affordable standard AND enforce it amongst their corporate providers through meaningful incentives, it’s difficult to get adoption of any standard.

The nice part about this is that corporate providers’ and end users’ incentives are fairly straightforward.

  • Corporations care about building or protecting profits. So prioritizing any corporate work around standardization comes with alignment with profits (or the protection of profits) for the company.
  • End users want a standard that solves their problem in a fair, holistic, and cost effective way.

Therefore, cases where standards won’t get adopted are: (1) Companies can build/protect profit, but end users don’t find it globally useful or affordable, (2) End users find it useful but companies don’t find any profit in doing anything about adopting it, (3) End users don’t find the standard useful and companies don’t build/protect profitable value.

MATA failed for a few of these reasons -- if not all of them. Although basic end users found MATA useful and affordable, ad networks gave some advertisers “special data access” (more data than a basic MATA user got). This undermined the standard for the basic end user. If some people get more functionality than others, then what’s the point? Additionally, requiring an ad network to build a standard didn’t have any meaningful profit protection for the corporation. End users wouldn’t withdraw budgets (profit protection) if the standard didn’t exist.

Complete transparency is the standard a company needs to be built on

At the founding of Tenjin, my co-founder and I realized that app developers could not count on their tool providers to give them all the data they wanted, or standardize it in a way that was universally consistent. Networks will always have incentives for making “special deals”. As a result Tenjin was founded on the principle of FULL transparency and that's what end users will ultimately pay us for.

As MATA failed at getting end users to incentivize the ad networks, our mission became to serve full transparency which solves for the end user and also for our company. Building a company around transparency would make it possible to create standards that any end user can use or build on their own. You could say that transparency is our standard.

Looking at Tenjin’s DataVault, we’re not just exposing the metrics we produce, but also the data we use to produce it. That way it’s possible for any app developer to build and interpret the data in the way they find most desireable.

An example of this is attribution. There are “standards” for processing types of attribution like last click. For these “standards,” most end users choose a provider and operate under the assumption that their provider did everything correctly. They adhere to the company’s “standard” without being able to check any of the work -- or verify that it works for them. All too often, the end user operates in a black box when verifying data that comes from an attribution provider.

Now imagine where data for attribution calculations are exposed and transparent. The end user can check the math and verify their version of the truth. They can also build their own attribution models if they need to.

Another example is fraud prevention. In my opinion, you can't standardize against fraud. It doesn’t make sense. From the perspective of the fraudster, the moment someone builds fraud detection against me I'm not going to use that method of defrauding anymore. Sure the company has a standard in that fraudsters using that old method will be filtered, but that does not ensure the future protection of the app developer. As a result, to protect against fraud, an app developer needs to become unique in its protection methods. The only way to fight unique behavior is through transparency.

Standards are a tricky thing to introduce into a growing industry with every company wanting their software to be “the standard” for end users. Until end users can find a way to incentivize corporations to come up with something universal for all of their customers, the best bet is to go for transparency.

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Save Money on your Mobile Marketing. Seriously.

Christopher Farm

Love building products people want. Working on tenjin.io - a mobile marketing infrastructure and platform for app developers

San Francisco http://tenjin.io

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