Verizon's Hillier discusses data privacy and the future of mobile marketing


Colson Hillier

   Colson Hillier

with Colson Hillier, Verizon Wireless' vice president of precision marketing   

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) recently formed Precision Marketing, a new division devoted to helping businesses better understand their customers' data usage. Verizon has compiled data from its millions of customers and that data, which Verizon aggregates and makes anonymous, is likely to be a powerful part of the operator's business in the future. Sue Marek, Editor-in-Chief of FierceMobileContent, recently talked with Colson Hillier, Verizon's vice president of precision marketing, about the company's inroads in mobile marketing.

FierceMobileContent: Why did Verizon decide to form the Precision Market Insights initiative?

Colson Hillier: I manage a business that we are incubating and starting now called Precision Marketing and it has three primary prongs. First, there is Precision Market Insights, which is the data analytics business, then Precision Marketing, which is our advertising and advertising support, and then finally Mobile Commerce, which is Isis [the nationwide mobile commerce network spearheaded by Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA] carrier billing and other mobile commerce plays.

Why did we get into this business? As a carrier, our consumers and brands look to us to really help them figure out mobile.  We have a lot of clients coming to us and asking us how to get more out of mobile for their consumers. 'What can I learn from you as a mobile operator to better serve my customers?' We realized that there was a market need as businesses and consumers try to figure out how the pervasiveness of mobile phones is changing advertising, marketing and mobile commerce.

We realized we had a latent asset. We have information about how customers are using their mobile phones. Whether it's making a call or using an application or browsing the web. We have always had that information but we have been very cognizant of how that information is used. We have used it when building out our network. But a year ago we started to think about how we can leverage that insight and deliver a commercial product.

About a year ago we worked with customers and advisory boards to devise a privacy policy that the company and customers were comfortable with and allowed us to take insights from the network and use technology to make that information anonymous--so none of it was personally identifiable--and create a series of tools that companies can use to better understand their consumers.

FierceMobileContent: For years, we have heard people talking about the value of carrier data and the information you have about your customers, but I've always heard third-parties saying that they want to work with carriers and take that data and use it. Instead, it sounds like you have built this in-house. Is that a fair assessment?

Hillier: There were a few ways we could have brought this product to market. We could have taken the aggregated anonymous data and said here guys we believe we have protected our customers and this is raw for you to use. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a full consultative-type business, where you take that data but deliver a full suite of services on top of it. Our initial push is to find the sweet spot between those two ends of the spectrum. 

We take those aggregate insights from that data, and we will enrich it to find specific trends that are relevant to the different verticals. We have algorithms that can find out certain types of information like location and put it together so that we can look at things like route and traffic patterns. We think delivering information is much more relevant than delivering data.

FierceMobileContent: I know you have talked about this being aggregate data.  Are you concerned with backlash from consumers who are fearful you will use their data inappropriately?

Hillier: We are definitely concerned about maintaining a trusted privacy relationship with consumers. We have a mantra that we use: transparency, choice and control for the consumer. In the case of aggregated and anonymous data, we treat that as an opt-out model for our consumers. We provide multiple forms of notification, electronically and through the mail. Customers can make privacy choices online and through our call centers. We take it very seriously.

FierceMobileContent: Give me an example of how this information is being used.

Hillier: One vertical is a venue--like a sports stadium, a college campus or ski area. When we were testing this we partnered with a professional sports team to help them better understand their audience and figure out better ways that they could deliver value to their sponsors and their consumers. 

We looked at the clusters of demographic makeup for each of their events and found out interesting things about the types of consumers that attended their events--from what type of event, the time of day, their record and other environmental conditions that were occurring in their market.

[There were] a couple of key things that we were able to deliver for this team that they used in their marketing. Customers that attended this sports team's events also attended events from other teams within a certain league, so that helped them deliver joint promotional opportunities and ticketing packages with other teams in this league.

We also could help them create the right sort of list management when they went out to drive their season ticket campaign.   We did a comparison of the demographics vs. their prior scheme, and they saw a 35 percent increase in their season ticket purchases from that list compared to how they had done it in the past.

The whole idea is to help them understand their attendees, [so that they can] drive more hard sales for their sponsors and increase their attendance.

FierceMobileContent: How are you getting the word out about this service?

Hillier: We are early in our entry to this business. We are cognizant that we want to get the right partners and proof points so that we can improve the product and price it correctly. We have specific verticals--venues, billboards and outdoor signage and retail. We have a direct sales force that we are using to share our value proposition with the property owners and marketing agencies. We are also working with agencies that can get us access to a range of brands.

FierceMobileContent: Will you be competing with other mobile marketing agencies?

Hillier: I think that it's still early days for mobile marketing. The amount of usage of mobile Web and the amount of dollars in that media, the dollars haven't followed. There is still a lot to learn about how the mobile ecosystem works. 

We will be supportive and be more of an engine and analytics framework to support the marketing agencies and brands trying to figure out mobile.

But when it comes to things like measurement of behavior, we think that by virtue of having 70 million devices that are providing us with these insights, we have much more precision from our analytics than the other things out there that are panel based or subject to bias.