Diversifying Mobile: A Conversation With 4INFO

Today I caught up with 4INFO CEO Zaw Thet, who walked me through the advertiser, publisher and user facing aspects of its mobile network. Though it’s often thought of an SMS ad network, the company continues to diversify ad formats, targeting methods and ways to serve mobile advertisers and publishers.

Overall, the company handles about 25 percent of the U.S. mobile short code traffic. This includes a vast publisher network — the top 250 of which (i.e., Yahoo, NBA, Comcast, Zynga) use its white-labeled msgHaven platform to manage their own SMS delivery. This was launched last year and currently accounts for about 40 percent of revenues.

“We wanted to get the platform good enough that we felt comfortable charging for it,” says Thet. “Now it’s a nice recurring monthly revenue stream that we don’t have to think about. These are usually two-year deals.”

A Smarter Pipe

On the advertiser side, Thet likes to think of its corresponding adHaven product as the DoubleClick of SMS. It offers publisher partners the first right to sell their inventory, but also acts as an ad network to sell for them. About 70 percent of its network inventory falls into the latter bucket, he says.

Though SMS engagement often results from short codes placed with print media partners such as USAToday, Thet claims that about 80 percent of its 40 million active SMS users are coming from online. This includes publishers that provide online sign-ups for their content, alerts or games to be delivered via text message.

Using phone numbers as identifiers, 4INFO can begin to offer publishers and advertisers unique targeting capability for ongoing messaging and ad insertion. Demographic targeting is possible with advertisers that want to target men versus women, for example. Behavioral targeting is also possible based on prior opt-in activity associated with a given number.

“That’s one of our big strategic pushes this year, where we’re basically taking the online data segments that people are used to buying, and giving them the ability to buy in mobile across any ad unit,” says Thet, “because we can tie it all back to a unique identifier.”

Location: the New Black

Next up is further development of location-based targeting. With publisher partner Zynga, for example, users are offered Mafia Wars points as incentive to opt in for messaging from the company. Location can then be detected (variety of methods) and applied toward geotargeted retail promotions from partners or advertisers that segment by geo, such as Groupon.

With a measured eye on privacy, Thet is optimistic about the targeting that will continue to evolve with changing forms of mobile behavior and engagement. The company also has a set of APIs and data solutions that will come into play in international markets and with different smartphone platforms and ad formats that go beyond SMS.

These are deserving of separate posts, along with a set of announcements that Thet promises over the next few months. We’ll also provide a longer view and writeup of the conversation for BIA/Kelsey subscribers.

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