Imagine walking out of your local carrier outlet with a shiny new smartphone when minutes later it lights up with an MMS video that addresses you by name and outlines the rate plan you just bought into. And this personalized video relationship extends into any upgrade or change you might make in the account. “Hey, Steve, about that new data plan upgrade… .” The video is smart enough, and driven by enough first party data from the carrier to know what features you just bought and even the amount of your next bill. It is being driven by data from a live exchange you just had with a salesperson but coming to life on your phone just minutes later. Is this sort of hyper-personalized, cross-channel media establishing a relationship with the customer? Or is it a kind of robotic affair, just an updated, multimedia version of appending a name to an email greeting and subject line? Or is ir quasi-creepy?
Well whatever this sort of hyper-personalized mobile video may be, it apparently works. Or so says The Vehicle Agency, which is doing just this sort of thing for a major carrier already. “We have seen over a 300 basis point decrease in churn and an uptick in revenue,” for the client, says Vehicle Managing Director Matt Ramerman. He claims an opt-out rate from the messaging of less than one-tenth of a percent. It speaks to the ways in which first party data, applied across channels and with data-driven dynamic media creation can strive to make one-to-one connections with customers.
The platform is designed to address one of the key problems of personalization on any medium – how to achieve scale and maintain that personal feel. For this major carrier the automated video creation system is doing a heavy lift. It is crafting up to 50 seconds of hi-res MMS video on the fly out of many moving creative and data pieces. “To service the user flows we have over 200 different templates,” he says. “There is an infinite number of combinations relative to the conglomerations you can make in your account.”
A human voice delivers the personalized narrative, which is reflected in visual creative as well. It is inserting not only your name but also details about the plan and even account information like your specific billing cycle and phone model. The welcome video has been so successful for the carrier that it is extending the technology for use whenever the customer makes an account change like adding a line.
And because the channel is MMS people can reply to the video. According to Ramerman, “we have captured hundreds of thousands of responses. It is fun, because we see consumers say, ‘wow, this is magic.”
And it also outperforms every other channel. The MMS channel gives the client maximum reach, a back channel for communications from the customer, and the most direct way to deliver to the customer the most engaging of narrative forms – video.
Personally, I have never quite understood why MMS is not used more by marketers, especially in the US. Its ability to deliver TV-quality multimedia content with all of the delivery precision and efficiency of SMS seems hard to resist. It took years in the mid 2000s to iron out cross-carrier delivery in the US, but those days are behind us. On paper at least, MMS should be an irresistible platform for advertisers. And yet it is still barely used relative to other channels. Ramerman suggests that part of the problem involved poor technical execution in the past that burned or dissuaded many marketers from including MMS in their portfolio.
Of course, the carrier execution for this technology benefits from an unusual granularity of first party data on the consumer and the special relationship carriers have with their customers. Further down the relationship line, the system can use behavioral patterns like the customer’s level of data usage or whether they have family plans and multiple lines.
The challenge for other kinds of clients who are trying to acquire customers, however, is getting the data that allows the messaging to be personalized in meaningful ways. Ramerman says they have already seen impact from just using basic geo data to add a city name or the current weather in a region. The data can be gleaned from the ad networks and rendered into dynamically created pre-rolls or video interstitials in apps.
In the end, how does this automated but personalized video messaging at scale come off? As automation becomes a necessary part of scaling a more personalized kind of creative, this is the sort of accommodation our ears, eyes and sensibilities will be asked to make. The voice inserts that I experienced in demo videos were not perfectly seamless, but the hiccup when inserting dates and figures were not especially jarring either. The human voice is consistent enough to recover from the bump. The video element is also helpful in compensating for the audio burp, because the visuals are more seamlessly showing you things like the dates and amounts associated with your particular account or order. One of the things I noticed about the overall effect is that the level of personalized detail tended to override the robotic echo from its auto-generated source.
Apparently robots that actually know enough about us, get some kind of pass.