Rebekah Johnson: Welcome to Tuesday Talks, a live discussion series where we bring truth and shed light across the brand identity and communications industry. I'm Rebekah Johnson, Founder and CEO of Numeracle, and I'll be co-hosting hosting today's session with Anis Jaffer, Chief Product Officer at Numeracle. Anis, it's so good to have you again.
Anis Jaffer: Glad to be here again, I'm looking forward to today's topic.
Rebekah Johnson: Today's topic is branded calling. What more could be said when we've said so much? Up to this point, we've talked a lot about what branded calling is and the various different forms in which the industry is supporting it. Now it's time to switch over to looking at branded calling from the perspective of what the values and the challenges that come with branded calling are? We have some lessons learned. We've been out there and we've been trying it.
As one of the latest disruptive technologies in the telecom space, branded calling is, essentially, still one of the least understood new features. This technology is powered by what we call RCD, or rich call data, allowing the company's brand name and/or logo. Brand name and/or logo. There's a reason why I'm emphasizing that and we'll cover that later. But what it allows is for is that information to be displayed to wireless subscribers on an incoming call screen.
When successfully implemented, RCD will empower consumers with more call information so they can make the right choices in the moment of an incoming call and also have the trust to answer the calls that are important to them. But there are a lot of considerations to understand before you can make the judgment call of whether or not this technology is right for your business right now.
So Anis, let's start off by reviewing the current state of affairs and exploring the options around implementing branded calling. We're going to take a look at what the distribution options for the solution are, the market challenges, how to manage the solution, and how the solution addresses the market need for control over brand identity.
Anis Jaffer: There are currently multiple options available, however, they're all tied to one provider on a particular carrier or the other. There is not one single option that's available across all carriers. That's one data point that we should be aware of. And the other thing is, this is not the RCD PASSporT on STIR/SHAKEN, there's still a long way to go before we get there.
Ideally, that would be the right solution across carriers where you can attach a logo and a name, ideally to a STIR/SHAKEN certificate where the call gets signed with it, and then whoever receives the call can then display that name, call reason, and logo. That would be your end state, but we are not there yet.
While those discussions are taking place and standards are getting implemented, what we have today as branded calling, there are multiple solutions. One is on the carriers, each one has its own providers. For example, T-Mobile uses First Orion, Verizon uses TNS, AT&T has Hiya, and all these providers have their offering of a branded calling solution. Then you have another solution that's across the carriers, there is one small solution which is Verified Calls by Google, which is provided by Google, but that is only effective on Google Pixel phones or pure Android devices.
Now, there is a slight difference in each of how they offer the solution. For example, Google includes a logo and a call reason, but first First Orion and TNS have a caller name only. First Orion has another product called ENGAGE which could include a logo, but it's still not widely used or adopted, and then Hiya includes a caller name and a logo, depending on which end-user device and options are enabled on that device. That's the current landscape of what it looks like. I don't know if it's a little too much, but we can unpack that a little bit as we talk.
Rebekah Johnson: I think what you covered is the point that I was making in the distinction, and we're going to repeat this a lot, that rich call data comes in the form of a name only and/or a name and logo. A lot of times people come to us and there's a lot of marketing and promotions of this beautiful, rich experience with the logo and it looks super fancy, but it's not the reality of how your call is going to be displayed.
There's still value in having control over the name, but it's important for enterprises to be very knowledgeable when looking at branding and understand and be accepting of the fact that you can't get your logo everywhere. There are limitations at devices, which we have covered in previous podcast episodes, consumer choices, and it comes down to iOS versus Android. It's way more complex to be able to distribute at the logo level, but at least at the name level, that has a much greater reach, at least from the consumer perspective.
So Anis, let's look specifically at the solutions that are being offered and how they differ, and how they are alike? There is an important underlying theme where they all provide a name and a logo, but how you interact with these solutions is not the same.
Anis Jaffer: So, how are they different? Google is slightly different than the rest because Google Verified uses what is called an out-of-band methodology to transfer data. From a technology perspective, Google Verified is different than the other three solutions that are out there. First Orion, TNS, and Hiya all use what is called a static methodology where you input the data, like an enterprise name, what numbers they use, logos, and call reasons, and that gets stored in a database and they use that information at termination for providing the branded display.
From a technology perspective, that's the big difference. Google Verified is out-of-band where you would have to use an API to push the data, whereas other solutions like First Orion, TNS, and Hiya use static data. First Orion also has something called First Orion ENGAGE, which is similar to Google, but that's not fully adopted yet, it's still early from a product perspective.
Rebekah Johnson: I do think that it's moving in the right direction though, because it does provide more security around it, and we can touch on that later. One thing that is alike is that branding is only available through one avenue for each of the wireless carriers, that's the current state. As you mentioned Anis, if you want to get to the T-Mobile network, you got to go through First Orion, if you want to get to the AT&T network, you've got to go through Hiya, if you want to get to the Verizon network, you've got to go through TNS. There's really no single avenue where you can define branding across the carrier.
What's interesting though, is that we are seeing, I would say, the wireless carriers are at least coming together to try and figure out how to turn on branding with a broader scope. How can they offer more access? That's what we're starting to see in the media and in press releases, with regards to the CTIA and T-Mobile who had a press release around best practices. It is positive that at least the carriers are looking to, hopefully, streamline but I know their focus is definitely more on the trust of the information that is being presented to the consumers.
This is a really hard one for the terminating carrier to know that the information that is being provided, if it is Numeracle calling, then it is Numeracle's logo and it's not somebody posing to be somebody else. The mass adoption side of branding is not quite there yet because we still have some areas that we need to focus on for the security side of it, which is it makes sense that each of the wireless carriers is focused on one avenue into their network. It allows for a little bit more control over who is accessing and delivering data.
But with that, there comes an approval process and an onboarding process, so it can take quite a while. Don't think that, if you want branding, you sign a contract and your calls are instantly branded. There is a process and it can take a while. Anis, I know you have got experience with managing Numeracle's branded solution through each of these providers, do you have some light you can shed on that?
Anis Jaffer: As I said, it involves some effort and what we've seen is that the timeline varies. For example, our existing clients who already use reputation management with their identities verified and with number profiles in our system with numbers attached, that first heavy lifting is done, then we push the data when we enable some of these numbers for branded calling. Typically, it takes about 2-4 days but it could vary slightly depending on where they are, the number of numbers that we have, and what kind of profiles we are pushing. It may take 2-4 days if everything beforehand is done.
If the first part of verification is not done, then that adds a little bit more time. However, we are also seeing that the processes on the provider side are also evolving. We are noticing that, in certain cases, it could take longer to finalize. The whole setup takes a while before they get internal approvals, set up the systems, and then update their algorithms.
With Google, in addition to the branding provider setup that needs to be done, there is also a verification step that Google does on their own where you, typically, have emails that you have to accept and then once that is done, the program is set up. But then you need to still do the API integration on the client side. Before you make a call you will have to call an API and that involves some programming. Depending on where the client is, or who originating the call is, where their developer resources are, and what their timeline looks like, that could also take some time. You have to consider that as well as part of setting this up.
Rebekah Johnson: That's a good point, even on what we'll refer to as the static ones (that's First Orion, TNS, and Hiya), the gain is that the turnaround time for verification is shorter. For Verified Calls by Google, the verification is quite simple but it's the integration of the API that can drag out an enterprise's ability to leverage this tool. We have experience in knowing that there are some dialer platforms where this just doesn't work or it's really challenging so you have to pull in the resources, whereas to get up and running with First Orion, TNS, and Hiya is a bit simpler to be able to go live.
But the gain you get with Google Verified is that it is a verified call. There is this registration process, which we've covered in a previous podcast episode, but it does add additional security. So, it's really going to beg the question that there are gains to be had with more security and there are also losses to be had with more security when it comes to efficiency and turnaround time.
I would also say that one of the things that we've seen through the verification and onboarding processes is that it's very different across the board. What data points are being used for qualifying information, the time frames, and the expectations of what the validation process is, can all be confusing to enterprises where they might be thinking, "I am who I am to all of you so why is this a different process each time that I want to onboard?" I think the industry is trying to answer that question and they're trying to solve that problem.
I'm hopeful 2022 is where the carriers can, at least, come together and figure out that this is a common thing amongst all of them. There is this set of data they all expect to receive as part of the validation process in exchange for giving enterprises access to be able to distribute their branded information down to consumers.
It just takes doing it and it takes having those lessons learned and sharing those lessons as an industry for us to get to that point because it is a hindrance to leveraging branding, from our perspective. What are the other challenges that you're seeing, Anis, from this perspective?
Anis Jaffer: In addition to the setup time involved, we are also looking at the metrics that we get back which are not the same across the different providers. They are all different and the data that we get is different so sometimes it's not comprehensive depending on where they are in terms of implementing the branded solution.
Some providers have more details versus others who provide very basic information. We are in the process of getting that more normalized so that enterprises can make use of it meaningfully in their contact center solutions. But that's another area that's a challenge: the metrics that we get back once branded calls have been enabled.
Rebekah Johnson: Part of why getting the metrics data is a challenge is not due to a lack on any provider's part, it's due to a restriction on the data to flow back to the enterprise because of CPNI. CPNI gets invoked onto the validation that RCD was displayed to the number that you called and then additional metrics data that you might be able to get over that with regards to the length of the call, answer rates versus hung up, whatever it may be. This is an active conversation.
I know I'm pushing on the whole concept of whether this is really CPNI. We need somebody to look into this who is an expert, I'm not an expert on it. Is it CPNI when the calling provider of the enterprise has delivered a call to a TN, so it is their customer, that telephone number belongs to their customer, they have that number, they know that they're calling that customer, at what time of day they're calling the customer, they know what the length of the call is, they know the consumer answered the call... they do get a lot of information about the call today, and it's been that way for a very long time.
So, why do we not allow the enterprise to know if that call had the presentation of rich call data? Presenting rich call data tells me nothing, absolutely nothing about the consumer. I'll challenge anyone who says otherwise. You can't tie those two together. In order for branding to really take off and be adopted with true ROI for the enterprise, they have a right to know where they're spending their money, and they have a right to know if the spend on that is bringing the company money back.
As a CEO you are not allowed to just blow money. It has to be returning something additional for every dollar I spend. So this is one of the greatest challenges, that metrics data that the enterprise can get back to truly understand what the value is. I know that there are conversations, and I'll let you speak to this, on contact rates. Well, that's not all. That's not all that's important. I want to quickly discuss how we talk about this. How does an enterprise prepare to leverage branding? I would have never said this or asked this question a year ago, but since we've been going through this branding journey with quite a few of our customers, I've learned that there's an element of preparedness that you have to have before you go down the pathway of leveraging branding and there are three main points.
The first is to view your reputation management and your branding as two separate strategies. One does not cross out the other, there is a reason for that that we will point out later. Definitely take control of your reputation management and then also bring on branding. Don't drop one for the other.
Number two, understand your current baseline of success prior to branding. That goes back to the ROI. Document how you will determine the ROI. We've learned there's no one set way to determine that, for example with contact rates. Contact rates aren't always the place that you want to look, you might not actually see any changes in your contact rates. Where you might see the improvements is on the conversion rates, the results of the call because you were able to present your name and have the consumer answer the call because they have an element of trust that they know who is calling and that's who is really on the line. They're not questioning whether or not they trust who is talking to on the call so that helps provide insight into that aspect of it.
Number three is that it takes several months to formulate the right branding strategy. Yes, there is a strategy, and this is not a "set it and forget it" strategy. Understand your business before you bring on branding because there is a premium cost to it. It's a premium cost so must understand what you're doing in that space. Anis, I'll let you add to that.
Anis Jaffer: I would also look at the type of campaigns that the branded calling is being enabled for because we know that not all campaigns produce equal results. For instance, if you have a campaign running under technical support where you're reaching out to a customer scheduling a technician, that's a different type of call compared to another campaign that's making telemarketing or sales calls. Enabling branding on the first campaign would probably have a much higher rate of success because the customer is expecting the call, whereas a telemarketing sales campaign may or may not, depending on who the end customer is.
Where you want to enable this, given that there is pricing involved, there is a cost associated with this, we can choose your campaigns on where you want to enable this. Another thing we have noticed is that it's not only contact rates or answered calls that are affected, we've also seen callback rates increase for some clients. Even if the customer, when you make a branded call, doesn't pick up the first time, the fact that you're using a logo or even just a caller name that is authenticated, they call back. They know that if somebody is trying to reach them and it's a named brand, they'll call back. We've seen that happening as well.
Rebekah Johnson: That's an interesting one because that's a statistic or metric that the branding provider won't have. They don't get access to all the activity for that particular number that was called so a callback is not something you see within your branding statistics. I know that all of our providers are tired of this and would agree that this would be a great metric to add, but it's a limitation from the carriers who own that data. So there's a restriction of the data flow back down to the enterprise that says this called and calling number go together.
I think that our ROI could have a much better and easier view if we can get to that point because then they could also track it down to the callbacks. Right now, you can see that they got better but it's unclear where that ties directly to branding, for example, did it account for 80% of their callbacks? We cannot find that level of detail. Eventually, and hopefully, we will get there.
With this particular closing statement, I do want to acknowledge that all of the providers are working really hard, but we also want to level set the expectations, provide transparency around the processes and the time frames, and real business considerations. We're talking from a place of coverage to all providers.
What's interesting is there's also some entrance, there are some other providers that want to come in and bring branding at the app level. This is a market in the ecosystem that's going to continue to grow and the consumer will have a lot of choices. Understanding where the market is at is really important from that perspective.
Anis Jaffer: In the interest of time before closing, do you want to take any audience questions before we wrap it up?
Rebekah Johnson: Molly, are there any questions?
Molly Weis: We do have some questions. Let's start off here: What's the difference between CNAM and branded calling?
Rebekah Johnson: The way that I like to put it is branded calling puts the enterprise in the driver's seat with the name that is being presented and you get to choose who is going to be your presentation provider. You can choose T-Mobile, you can choose AT&T, you can choose TNS, or you can choose Google. Once you've made those choices, then you can distribute the information that you want and that is the information that will be used by each one of those providers.
With CNAM, you're basically updating a database and at the mercy of the carrier, whoever the carrier may be, they are updating or pulling from the CNAM database that you chose to update your information. It puts you in a more passive role with your identity associated with TNs. That's definitely something to think about.
It's not about cleaning up both sides or both areas, you either want to be in the driver's seat or you want to be in the back seat. Pick a spot, and that's where you're going to be. That would be my take, Anis, do you want to add anything? I'm not going to go into the technical side since we're going to be publishing a blog with a little bit more technical details so this is my high-level answer.
Anis Jaffer: Technically, CNAM is based out of a database and there are multiple CNAM databases. Depending on which service provider is receiving the call, as an enterprise, your name could have been updated or it could have a different name or wrong information. That's why you see a lot of issues with CNAM because we don't know which database the terminating provider is using.
With branded calling, specifically on wireless, CNAM is applicable across all numbers so both wireline and wireless terminating devices, but branded calling is only applicable for wireless clients because right now it's the main mobile network that's offering this through the providers. That is another difference that I would highlight.
Molly Weis: This next question is a two-parter. Part one is: Does branded calling help with not being marked as 'spam' by carrier apps or on the device (iOS or Android)? Part two: We've noticed that on iOS, you can silence unknown calls. Will calls with branding no longer be silenced with this setting?
Rebekah Johnson: Good question, especially part two. I'm going to answer the first part, Anis, you think about that second part. So, does branded calling help with not being marked as spam by carrier apps? I made a point that with your branding strategy, you need to have reputation and branding. I'm going to talk to you CEO to CEO, this is business to business. Reputation management is far cheaper than branding.
You're going to find you don't need to use branding on every single call so for those calls where you're going to deliver non-branding, you definitely want to protect it from being labeled 'spam' or 'fraud.' If you do get into that realm of being labeled as 'spam,' you're at least being notified so that you can do something about it.
To answer your question of, "If I have branding will it be labeled as 'spam?', as far as I can tell it won't be labeled as 'spam.' But that's a very expensive way to address your spam problem. That shouldn't be why you're doing branding. Branding should be elevating the customer experience and focus on what those key metrics are that you want to drive within your organization. Not a good use for spam protection.
Anis, do you have some thoughts? We haven't tested this but it's a good test.
Anis Jaffer: I do know that in a recent conversation that we had, we learned about a solution provider that was bringing the two sides of the product together, which is basically the spam reputation management product and the branded calling. They are merging some of the data that they had behind the scenes and because of that, if you enable branded calling, spam labels would be initially taken off. But that doesn't mean that they're not going to run the algorithm. They would still run the algorithm and you can enable branded calling, but if you continue to make a lot of calls, they could still be treated as spam because they're not going to take that away.
To answer the first part of the question, it is possible, yes. If you enable branded calling, at least on this solution product, they mentioned that it could initially clear the label. The other providers, I'm not so sure and this would be something to check with them on. Now, the second part of the question, if I heard it correctly, the question was if you enable 'block unknown calls' would branded calling be allowed?
Rebekah Johnson: On iOS, specifically iOS, Anis, but I don't think we've tested for this. They noticed that iOS can silence unknown calls so will the calls with branding no longer be silenced? I think the answer is we don't know and we need to test that.
Anis Jaffer: I would agree, but I think if I were to guess, with Apple, unknown calls would be anything that's not in your contact list, so if you don't have this number, whether it's branded or not, if you don't have that number in the contact list, it could be treated as unknown.
Rebekah Johnson: Now that we're thinking this through and from what I know about the iOS side, they don't know if it's a branded call. They're just being presented a name, whether that name came from CNAM or that name comes from the branding, iOS does not differentiate. Where things might get a little different is with an RCD PASSporT, that's when things change.
Anis Jaffer: When you have RCD PASSporTs and verstat parameters updated, that flows down to Apple so when Apple handles that appropriately, then you would have this, but we're not there yet. The bottom line is that technology is not there yet. In the meantime, if you block unknown numbers, whether you have a caller name or not, it would still be considered 'unknown.' I haven't tested it myself but, yes, that would be my guess.
Rebekah Johnson: When we add it, let's just test it, we can do it. We're going to wrap up here with there are three main points that I wanted to share that are key takeaways. The first is, unlike mature markets and solutions, branded calling is still in a new market state and it is not fully developed. The sellers, the providers, and the buyers are all still in varying stages of readiness for mass adoption.
The second point is you should be knowledgeable of the current state of branding and how to leverage it for your business. Works smarter, not harder. If you are the one bringing branded to your internal team, be knowledgeable of where your current state is because you're going to have to prove the return on the investment.
The third point is that with this maturing market, that means that the market is defining how this is adopted. It's defining the application of the solution based on current needs. The enterprise is the market for this so you can still define, pressure, and push what you want in order for us to all leverage these services. The providers will need to bend to the market for this to truly have value for both the enterprise and the consumer.
Rebekah Johnson: With that, we'd like to thank all of you for joining us today in our interactive discussion on branded calling. We hope to see you all again in two weeks in our next episode on Tuesday, March 15th. Take care!