Meeting Rory Kenny from TripAdvisor is an enlightening experience. His role as Director is to establish and nurture mobile partnerships and affiliates for TripAdvisor in Europe, Middle East and Africa. That responsibility alone makes him unique, but his views on how mobile operators and digital service providers should work together should be the basis for future cooperation between the mobile and digital worlds.
The first thing Rory shoots down is the OTT (over-the-top) tag used so loosely to describe digital service providers (DSPs). “We are just trying to do our business,” he says. Connectivity is, of course, a critical issue for all DSPs but they have historically concentrated their efforts in providing unique and valuable services that consumers want rather than on the channels via which they are delivered.
But all that is about to change. Smart DSPs like TripAdvisor see developing relationships with mobile operators as a critical competitive edge moving forward, and they have some very interesting ways to make this work. His task is to grow traffic and create mutual value through external partners.
Firstly, TripAdvisor is looking to partner with global network operators because that’s the way it works – globally. Telcos have traditionally concentrated on their home markets and being the biggest and best where they grew up, but DSPs consider the whole world their market and they would very much prefer to work with mobile groups that have similar aspirations. Kenny believes the future is cross-border or even no-border expansion and he mentions Vodafone and Telefônica as the stand out players with international brand growth.
When Kenny sees a new opportunity he still has to pitch it internally and has to justify a potential deal as driving marketing impressions or awareness, generating revenue or driving new traffic to its mobile websites. The partner has to exhibit long-term value and have a high level of commitment for it to work. This could translate into direct benefits for operators realistically taking longer than they would like, more along the lines DSPs have grown and become accustomed to.
One means of getting things rolling is with TripAdvisor’s CityGuides that are stand-alone apps originally produced only in English. The relationship with Telefônica emerged after it had decided to concentrate effort as a group on travel and roaming and help dispel customer fears of roaming costs. The Telefônica/TripAdvisor partnership resulted in the launch of 90 co-branded CityGuides in Spanish, Portuguese & German – unlocking value for both players across multiple markets in both LATAM and Europe.
The combination of TripAdvisor as a ‘passion’ travel brand, as Kenny puts it, and Telefônica as a trusted enabler for a traveler has proven to be a powerful combination. The city guides as off-line apps help the traveler find what they are after and they can use their roaming capability in that city to connect, rather than having to surf the web to find what they want.
Telefônica Digital is a reflection of how it sees the future very clearly in taking both the painful and exciting steps to reorganise the company in such a way that make it able to deliver at both a local and global level by taking advantage of digital technologies. It, like many DSPs is willing to take risks even if they don’t all pay off. The coordination at all levels of the organisation made Telefônica very easy to work with. Vodafone and DoCoMo in Japan are other partners that Kenny says have been “seamless to work with.”
Kenny looks for mobile operators that have an ‘appetite’ do work with digital players like TripAdvisor, or those that have a record of working with a global digital brand because they have the experience and the internal metrics to justify the investment in the partnership.
Partnership is one word the Kenny constantly uses, but every partner has different organisational structures and issues that make them quite complex to deal with at times. Kenny is impressed with the success of DSPs like Deezer and Spotify working with mobile operators due to their long history as content providers to them.
When asked how TripAdvisor sees monetization of these new partnerships Kenny mentioned that TripAdvisor has over 280 million unique visits per month and many of those are either existing or potential roamers for mobile operators.
The TripAdvisor model directs huge amounts of highly qualified traffic to other digital travel sites that offer travel services like hotels. It has deals with over 200 online travel agents (OTAs) globally that generate revenue on a cost-per-click charge.
After the launch of the original app in 2010 TripAdvisor found a huge surge in interest in restaurants and the company has invested considerably in this sector growing the global database as well as investing in restaurant booking sites like La Fourchette in France.
“We are looking at new ways to unlock and create mutual value with mobile operators through innovative partnership products. We share the same audiences so we should be able to come up with commercially mutual objectives,” he says. “At the moment the challenge is in the seamless interlock of web and legacy carrier technologies… while we are driven by click commerce, APIs and clear attribution across the web, the carriers are still operating in a pre e-commerce age!
Kenny feels that mobile operators, for whatever reason, have not capitalized on the growth of ecommerce that has transformed the retail industry and allows for highly targeted, trackable sales of offers, particularly of digital goods. For example – why can’t we buy a data bundle or roaming offer from a mobile app in 1 or 2 taps? Wouldn’t that unlock huge value for all parties? TripAdvisor is keen to work with operators who are moving in this direction…
When asked what defines an OTT, sorry DSP, Kenny stated they know how to spot a disruptive gap and go after it. If the economics make sense, if the risk is worth taking, if the opportunity is sizable they will go after it. “We would like to partner with operators that think the same way at a global or international level.” That may be easier said than done.