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Search + Personalization + Recommendation

A new market research study rightfully places emphasis on the significance of connecting consumer services with known 'interests and lifestyles'. The study was focused on mobile phone service providers, but I'd argue that these key observations are relevant to all marketers who have not yet discovered the consumer targeting benefits of 'scenario design', and 'consumer persona' profiling.

Personalized search will enable mobile service operators and content providers to most effectively generate value and monetize the long tail of hit-and-miss content, according to the latest report from Informa Telecoms & Media.

"While search is clearly critical to monetizing content, operators and content providers shouldn't short change themselves - or their users - by merely retrofitting Web search solutions for the mobile Internet," notes Peggy Anne Salz, author of the report. "Search paired with personalization, which involves matching the right content to the right users, and recommendation is a much more powerful combination."

Basic mobile search places the burden on users to know what they want and grapple with handset limitations such as screen size. However, personalized search will ensure that content matches based on information such as users profiles, preferences, click history, time of day and location, will encourage users to explore the content at their finger tips and discover content they didn't know they wanted in the first place, thus driving additional data revenues.

"Mobile search is indisputably a potent way to generate value," adds Salz. "Consumers find what they want, and marketers gain traffic by providing relevant offers and advertising and mobile operators and service providers capture more revenue from increased mobile content purchases."

However, operators increasingly fear disintermediation and bypass because of the aggressive moves of major search engine companies to own the end-user relationship. The report urges operators to consider white-label solutions, or other methods that enable them to actively engage the consumer.

"By owning search, operators will likely be positioned to retain direct advertising revenues generated by pay-per-click and pay-per-call schemes and thus protect themselves from the disintermediation that will occur when branded search engine companies move to control the click-stream," Salz says.

Against this backdrop, an increasing number of companies - as well as search engine providers - are harnessing so-called recommendation engines to match the right content to the right users. This technology - modeled on the approach of online bookseller Amazon - suggests content on the basis of the individual user's past preferences or on the basis of what a user's peers consumed, or both.

The sheer variety of personalization and recommendation solutions enables a multiplicity of business models the mobile industry is only beginning to explore. Moving forward, personalization and recommendation will be must-have features of mobile content services.

It's clearly in operators' interests to deliver effective and targeted commerce experiences to their customers. This means delivering the right content to the right users. "Recommendations based on customer information such as page views and downloads will be an important part of this strategy," Salz says. "But it may well be the recommendations from the tight-knit communities users know and trust that clinch the sale."

Salz suggests search and discovery will be about more than finding content according to key words and concepts such as music or sports. "It's going to have to help users express themselves, their interests and connect around content," Salz says. "Finding and sharing content with people who have mutual interests and lifestyles will be the next killer app."

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