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Phone Calls: The Ad Currency of the Smartphone Era: A New BIA/Kelsey White Paper

By: 4 June 2014

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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. It’s the topic of our latest report.

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 report is below along with an analyst roundtable we did around the topic. The report is available to BIA/Kelsey clients or individual purchase. Email me (mbolandATbiakelsey.com) if you’d like to know more or talk about other ways to be involved.

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.



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