White Paper Preview: Phone Calls: The New Ad Currency of the Smartphone Era

For the last few months, you may have noticed an increase in the conversation on this blog and elsewhere about call monetizaton. Sometimes referred to as Pay-per-call (a branch of call monetization), this includes charging businesses for inbound phone leads.

Like search marketing in its early days, call monetization is picking up fast. And in a lots of ways, it’s branching out from search. In fact, Google’s efforts with call monetization are characterizing and validating the opportunity to the broader market.

The reason this is culminating now is the growth in smartphone and resulting growth in mobile search. As we keep saying, mobile search carries a great deal of commercial intent from users. And don’t forget the mobile device is also a phone.

So the result is a flood of calls being driven to small businesses, and a greater appreciation for the value of these calls. Our SMB survey data shows that businesses very much want the phone to ring. So roll it all together and this is a huge opportunity.

We’ve tackled it with lots of webinars, analyst roundtables and blog posts. This comes together in a big white paper I’ve been working on for the last couple months. There’s lots of research, data, case studies and insights from the top players in the space.

Aside from “Pay-per-call” — the aspect that most people know call monetization for — there is are growing sub sectors supporting the field. This includes all kinds of things like call tracking, analytics, routing and even fighting nefarious areas like “call fraud.”

The exec summary for the paper is below and the full version will publish next week. It will be available for BIA/Kelsey clients and for purchase. Email me (mbolandATbiakelsey.com) if you’d like to talk about other ways to be involved, especially if you’re a startup in the space. Stay tuned.

Executive Summary

We’re seeing a shift underway in tech and media worlds: the tighter embrace of phone calls as a lead form for paying advertisers. Clicks and impressions, despite a sexier image and a decade of media adoration, aren’t as highly valued by many businesses as a ringing phone.

These are key reasons behind BIA/Kelsey’s estimate that $64.6 billion is spent annually across media on localized ads to generate calls to businesses. BIA/Kelsey data also indicate that 66 percent of small businesses consider phone calls the most valuable form of incoming leads.

As a result, we’ve seen a movement towards more tangible lead forms such as foot traffic and phone calls. BIA/Kelsey data indicate this is especially true in high-value verticals such as professional services, home services, and any business that typically closes sales over the phone.

This notion of calls as currency has also accelerated in the smartphone era, which has fused search with a phone. Calling a business post-engagement is intuitive for mobile users, who possess greater levels of immediacy and commercial intent than desktop counterparts.

For these reasons and more, BIA/Kelsey predicts an explosion in commercially-oriented call volume to businesses. Mobile search alone will drive 73 billion calls per year by 2018. This blessing and curse means a flood of inbound leads, but also dire need to manage them.

Therefore, businesses that get in front of consumers with the right messaging and calls to action (e.g., mobile click-to-call) can drive high quality leads and achieve high return on ad spend. Tech and media companies that can help them get there are likewise well positioned.

That translates to an opportunity for any ad tech or local media companies that already sell marketing services. Positioning advertisers to more effectively capture high value phone leads, and see clear ROI from them, will be a hugely opportune area in the coming years.

Beyond marketing, managing exploding call volumes will be vital for operational efficiencies. Given that 19 percent of inbound calls are quality leads according to BIA/Kelsey, optimizing those calls (e.g., sending to the best reps) and re-routing the rest will be critical.

This all relates to a renaissance in mobile advertising underway: The art of attribution[1]. Calls will be a vital part of all of this; to measure ad effectiveness and optimize campaigns accordingly. The suite will include call tracking and analytics to granularly determine ROI.

These call monetization components continue to develop in many ways, including location targeted ad placements, call recording, keyword tracking, sentiment analysis and identifying “call fraud.” These will be ripe areas for development in the near term.

This report examines the gravity of the call monetization opportunity, and what is being done today to capture it. What are best practices? What’s still missing? And where will value be unlocked in the coming months? The phone call is the new click.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Chris MacDonald

    As one of the earliest and most manic champions of call-based performance advertising for local media companies, I fully agree with your predictions regarding call volume management and the riddle of attribution, but it’s your proclamation of “calls” as the new “click” that is not quite as simple as it seems.
    I know this because I’ve been shouting that mantra from the rooftops for many months. In that time, I’ve come to realize that calls are the new click in some ways: calls will replace clicks as the definitive response metric that we sell to local advertisers but, unlike clicks, the road from a call to a conversion is short driveway compared to the winding, sometimes “you can’t get there from here” road that might lead from a click to a website through to a conversion.

    Local advertisers have been spending their hard earned marketing budgets (often borrowed from the Mortgage Budget”) on search campaigns for more than a decade. As an industry, we’ve conditioned local advertisers to jump for joy when their ads were blessed with a click; taught them that this was the purpose of our marketing efforts and when clicks were in abundance, it was a sign that we had succeeded in spending their marketing dollars wisely.

    Unfortunately those clicks often led to scanned restaurant menus or nephew-built websites with no contact information. They might have been a step towards a conversion, but most likely the first step of a long and winding journey that consumers rarely followed to the end.

    In our new mobile world, employing a call-based performance advertising model, the click IS the conversion. It’s a massive move in the right direction, a model that could actually yield positive ROI for local advertisers and start to revitalize Main Street business.

    You’ve been on top of this revolution for some time, Mike. Please keep it up and thanks for all of the insight

    Chris MacDonald
    President / Founder
    UpRing LLC

  2. Mike Boland

    Thanks Chris. Good to hear from you and good comments. We should do a briefing on this topic to catch up.

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