UK cross operator JV talks about building one app for all your payments and loyalty cards. And waking up dance fans at 8am...
Earlier this year, an audience of UK brands and agencies gathered for the launch of Weve. They'd been waiting a while.
Weve, to remind you, is the JV owned by Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere. Its mission is to give brands one destination through which they execute various mobile commerce campaigns.
The first priority is giving access to 20m strong army of opted-in UK mobile subscribers through targeted text messages.
These can be segmented by gender, handset, OS, location and even interests (when they have provided such information).
However, in time Weve will expand to serve targeted ads, mobilise loyalty cards and deliver payments.
Very ambitious stuff.
On the plus side, Weve is a neutral entity not tied to any handset or OS (as a comparable scheme by Google or Apple would be).
On the debit side, it's a consortium of fiercely competitive 'frenemies' – and history shows it's hard to make such projects work.
But the stakeholders certainly talk a good game.
At launch, Guy Laurence, UK CEO of Vodafone, told those brands and agencies that not joining Weve would be like ‘not signing The Beatles’.
It was a pretty bold thing to say. Something that could easily come back to haunt him.
Anyway, six months on, it's far too early to judge Lawrence's comments. After all, Weve has barely started work on its first album.
Let's call it 'A hard day's messaging'.
Still, the JV has lofty plans for the next 18 months. I caught up with Weve's marketing director Tony Moretta...
You're working hard on messaging campaigns at present. How is that progressing?
We've done around 400 campaigns so far. Location has been used in half of them, and marketers are starting to understand what we can add.
What's an example of a successful campaign?
We did one to promote the song Wake Me Up by Avicii. We sent out an animated MMS at just after 8am on a Sunday. The messages went to 100,000 dance fans in the style of an alarm clock.
Obviously, it used the time-targeting capability of the Weve platform to wake dance fans up. Although it's equally likely they were on their way home, I'm told!
But anyway it was very successful. The first round achieved a 9.8 per cent CTR, and got the single to number one.
What's the next stage for the Weve messaging platform?
Well, one interesting idea is to look at firms who have their own databases and see if we can merge them with ours to make their marketing more effective.
Historically, SMS lists were ring-fenced. This can turn SMS into more of a broadcast channel.
So, if you take a bank for example, it might have a large database but only use it to send statements or alerts. That bank won't know anything about the other parts of that customer's life.
But if we have the same opt-ins, we can help them find out more. We might know a customer is searching for a new car, and help the bank can send them a loan offer. It's that kind of relevancy we can help with.
Is that close to launch?
Not yet. We need to tie up permissions around data matching. But it's definitely something we want to develop.
Who would be the sender of these messages?
That's one of the issues to look at. Traditionally Weve message arrive from O2 More or Vodafone Select etc. But that could change when we start to work with these firms.
You say location is a popular parameter for your clients. How are they using it?
One interesting case was a supermarket that wanted to target every user on the edge of their range. They sent a '£5 off £40 shop offer' to anyone in a three to five mile radius of their stores. So they were not looking for people who regularly shopped there.
The point is, we can add up to 100,000 geo-locations. They gave us the maps of their stores and we were able to do it.
I believe advertising will be the next project for Weve. What is your mission?
The platform is going into beta in a few months. I think the big problem for advertisers and publishers is that most ads are still untargeted. They're 'pay and spray'.
So we're looking at system that says 'what if we know the person looking at ad is male, in his 40s, is in Central London and likes cars'. We can provide that data.
The challenge is how to link our platform to that ecosystem, while still giving people the ability to opt out.
And what have you come up with?
We'll effectively become a DSP (demand side platform) and we will use the info we have to bid to serve an ad. The publisher can still work with any of the existing ad networks, but they'll be able to display better targeted campaigns.
The beta will test our ability to do this, and it will go live next year. After that we'll start testing more products like video ads and video messaging.
And after advertising, loyalty...
Yes. We think there's big opportunity around loyalty because of the physical barrier to keeping plastic cards in a wallet. Everyone has a drawer at home full of these cards. That's just a wasted opportunity for retailers.
And even when plastic cards are used, they can't tell the retailer much about you – about how much credit you have left or where you are.
Plastic is starting to feel archaic now that people are getting used to the real time feedback of mobile.
We want to create a mechanism for mobilising existing schemes, and for allowing small or new businesses to easily join in.
OK. So you have some kind of neutral 'container' for loyalty cards. What's it called? Who owns it? Where do users get it from?
All of this has to be ironed out. All I know is that consumers tell us they want one app for all of this, and they want to be able to use it for all their cards. Some brands tell us they want to be the only, say, supermarket in the app. We say no, that won't work. It has to be universal.
Now, I think that the MNOs are in a better position to deliver this than say a Google or an Apple, which would be limited by handset or OS.
Also, we would ensure that the data belonged to the partner. I'm not sure that would be the case with some of our competitors.
If it's neutral and you don't get the data, then why are you doing it?
For us it's all about driving consumer behaviour. Let's take an example. Odeon could push an offer or a video preview of a new film using Weve and the system would let a user automatically add it to their wallet. It starts to pull the whole circle together. It makes our campaigns more meaningful.
And the final part of that is payments. Weve has talked before about developing a platform for this. You seem committed to NFC, despite some negativity towards the channel...
I think contactless has struggled because the card companies knew that if they promoted it to consumers and consumers couldn't use it anywhere, it would backfire.
But if they targeted retailers and nobody ever paid with NFC, that would also backfire.
So they just issued to cards anyway, and didn't do much at first. But now that there are 30m cards out there, I think it's turned the corner.
People talk about Beacons and barcodes and all this stuff, but there are only three universal payment acceptances – mag stipe, chip and PIN and NFC. With mobile, all you're doing is changing the form factor of a system that's already built. Everything else is the same.
So I really think there's no problem with the tech or the acceptance now. What's holding mobile NFC back is the complexity, the branding and the commercial model.
How will you solve that?
No one wants a system of one bank, one handset and one operator. It doesn't work. So we're working on a single integration based on the SIM to all major MNOs, all handsets and OSs. And again, we have to make it open to all cards and to let the user set the defaults.
What do you say to those who think mobile payment should be possible from an app without the need to tap on a physical terminal?
I really believe NFC is easier than opening up app and tapping to make a payment. And also, how does the shop know you have paid? You'd probably have to tell someone, which defeats the object.
NFC doesn't require a connection either. That's pretty important. Try using QR codes in the underground.