After months when they were barely allowed in the same building together because of the politicking and legal barriers of the 4G auction, the CEOs of EE, O2 and Vodafone took the stage of Ronnie Scott’s legendary jazz club in Soho. Singing was mercifully off the agenda, although O2’s Ronan Dunne remarked the three stool layout made it look like a Westlife performance.
Instead, the three CEOs were talking about the future of mobile payments and marketing in a round table interview. Each was in ebullient form – in addition to several references to The Beatles, Vodafone’s Guy Laurence spoke of how mobile had killed the camera market off. Dunne warned regulators should not be allowed to ‘f*** up’ mobile marketing’s potential.
Weve CEO David Sear noted the one-off nature of the joint venture. He said: ‘It’s not easy for people who are normally competitors to create something that is really precious. It’s very challenging for them to sit in the same room without a lawyer present.’ However, Ronan Dunne said: ‘As an industry we have been here before with text messaging. When it first launched we worked out very quickly that our customers wanted to message other people’s customers so we introduced interoperability.’
This need for scale has led the operators to cooperate and bring their customer base together in Weve, meaning advertisers can approach one point of contact to target 15 million customers. Laurence half-joked that he would defy an ad agency to find 15 million urinals with the same level of visibility but added: ‘There are very few new media channels that come on stream with the scale and the breadth of this one. You should try it and I would be astonished if you find it to be a bad decision: 15 million customers from day one on a unique device that’s personal to every single individual – you only have to look at your own behaviour to realise the value of that so come on in, the water’s lovely.’
However, Weve’s base of 15 million is considerably behind the 70 million mobile base of the three operators. The joint venture argued it is the quality of those involved, rather than pure numbers that is important. Sear said: ‘What I value is different to what you value… I don’t like advertising. I like value, entertainment and reward.’
The three operators have said they have spent tens of millions of pounds in getting to this point. For this to pay off, they implored advertising agencies to jump in with them, or someone else will. O2’s Dunne said: ‘Operators are prepared to do the heavy lifting. If you are not prepared to engage your customers, someone else will.’ Vodafone’s Laurence added: ‘We took over the camera industry and it will now happen in the marketing industry. If you want to be the CMO who didn’t sign the Beatles, ignore everything that you heard today.’
Weve: Mobile payments 'a tough nut to crack'
It could be 2014 by the time each of Britain’s operators are providing a viable mainstream mobile payments proposition, Weve’s CEO has warned.
While the bulk of the CEO round table was devoted to the potential around marketing and advertising on handsets, the operators were more gloomy about using handsets to make payments. There is a welter of different app-based services on offer that can be used with NFC phones, with Visa preloading its payWave app onto the Galaxy S 4 being the most recent example. Operators have been slower to follow, with Orange’s Quick Tap the only NFC service available. EE is expected to build upon its relationship with Mastercard with a new service later this year, as is Vodafone. O2 is expected to bring NFC to its Wallet.
Weve’s David Sear (pictured, right) described NFC as ‘the mother of all chicken and egg situations’, with retailers not keen to invest in contactless terminals if there is no-one to use them, and consumers unlikely to use the service if there is nowhere to do so. He said: ‘There’s a multitude of different operators, devices, schemes and security standards. There’s an opportunity to get some standard capability that will enable consumers to do something they have wanted to do for some time.’
Given Weve’s initial focus on mobile marketing, Sear said it would likely take until 2014 before these schemes are up and running.
Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence said it was merchant providers who were holding the process back. He said: ‘All the industry levers are now in place from our side so the [NFC] technology is ready to go. Given this, any merchant services or loyalty company that does not want to be part of this will get left behind – it will be the equivalent of not signing the Beatles.’
Author: Graeme Neill