We've all heard the numbers. More than half of the mobile phones in the U.S. today are smartphones. And according to a recent MIT study, tablets have already penetrated 10 percent of the market in less than three years. That's a faster adoption rate than we saw with smartphones -- or any other technology, for that matter.
Digital marketers are sprinting to catch up with this rapid rate of smartphone and tablet adoption. Industry observers predict that mobile advertising will grow from an estimated $5 billion today to $18 billion by 2015. And not surprisingly, scores of companies are emerging to help marketers decide where and how to allocate those dollars.
It's the Wild West out there in the mobile landscape. So which companies really deserve your attention (and, consequently, your marketing dollars)? To helps marketers cut through the clutter, iMedia is hosting the 2nd annual Next Wave Start-Up Challenge and Showcase. From a pool of 27 nominated companies, 11 of the best mobile startups in the media and marketing landscape have been selected, via iMedia community voting, to pitch to more than 300 digital marketing elites at the iMedia Breakthrough Summit. Mobile innovation experts and advisors from top-tier brands, agency incubators, and the venture community will vote on site to determine the Next Wave winner.
The 11 presenting finalists were selected within three categories: mobile campaign management and analysis, mobile entertainment, and mobile shopping and commerce. Let's take a look at the value they hold for marketers.
Mobile campaign management and analysis
Hungry? Appsnack creates and delivers in-app rich media campaigns for advertisers, publishers, and app developers. Based in Emeryville, Calif., the company develops mini-app creative units that launch from one-touch expanding banners and full-screen experiences on consumers' mobile phones and tablets.
Importantly, Appsnack's bite-sized creative units aren't served up willy-nilly. As a division of Exponential Interactive, Appsnack leverages Exponential's e-X Advertising Intelligence platform to provide insight into consumers' mobile context, behavior, and location. The result is a brand advertising solution that delivers relevant, high-impact advertising at the opportune moment.
In addition, Appsnack allows publishers and app developers to better monetize the display ads in mobile apps. The company provides direct access to brand advertising budgets through the delivery of mini-app brand experiences, launched directly through the existing inventory of publishers and app developers.
Marketers across the board have felt it: Consumers are now shopping on multiple devices and in so many channels, how do they make marketing relevant to each individual? One evening, Eric Brown and Elizabeth Zalman, chewing over this issue at dinner, decided to do something about it and created Media Armor.
Boston-based Media Armor allows brands to drive cross-channel revenue though relevant cross-channel display advertising based on who consumers are and what they are doing, anywhere. Media Armor claims, "It is the first company to unify consumer-level data across any channel (online, in-store, catalog, mobile), effectively translating CRM strategies to online, smartphone, and tablet display advertising."
For example, a consumer's smartphone, tablet, laptop, and in-store activity become linked to drive messaging. If the consumer has never engaged with a brand but "looks like" their best customers, they will see an acquisition message on any internet-enabled device. If they visit a store and purchase, a retention message is sent on any of their devices. If they visit the online site at work, they will receive remarketing instead. Because Media Armor tracks actions after messaging, the company knows exactly what message to send next, based upon past actions. As consumer behavior shifts, so should advertiser's messaging strategy. Media Armor opens the door to flexible cross-channel marketing, providing a shield of protection against irrelevant, untimely messages. According to Zalman, the platform's co-founder, Media Armor offers "the holy grail of marketing: cross-channel relevance, cross-channel revenue, consumer-level conversations."
Put simply, Placed shows advertisers the businesses where individuals are consuming their mobile content. Need a company to sift through the noisy location data created by the wide-spread adoption of smartphones? Placed analyzes location data and presents it in a clear, actionable format for advertisers, publishers, and developers.
With Placed Analytics, marketers can see the places where users are interacting with their app. For instance, as founder and CEO David Shim explains, "In less than four clicks, Placed enables marketers to understand that 14 percent of site visits occurred while a user was nearby a Starbucks, 23 percent of app sessions occurred nearby electronic retailers, and 38 percent of mobile coupons were accessed at either Walmart or Target."
With Placed, marketers are able to identify opportunities to enhance their product by understanding the locations where their content is consumed. For example, if 55 percent of an app's use occurs while users are in transit, a marketer can implement voice controls within the app to encourage safe use.
The Seattle-based company's goal is to "connect the digital and physical worlds to deliver location insights to the masses." As a result, Placed has made its solution available to marketers and app developers for free.
Have you heard of situational targeting? At ThinkNear, it's the bread and butter of operations. Rather than hit people with irrelevant ads, ThinkNear leverages situational targeting to help advertisers connect with consumers based on location, behavior, and context. The Los Angeles-based company pairs precise location targeting capabilities with a variety of real-time data, such as weather, traffic, and events, to engage customers when they are ready on mobile apps and optimized websites.
According to ThinkNear's CEO and co-founder, Eli Portnoy, the company "focuses all of its time on and excels at providing the most precise location targeting available, which in turn enables an incredible amount of campaign types that were never before possible." For example, when consumers face weather delays at an airport, hotel advertisers can reach stranded users with messages regarding overnight stays.
Also, with ThinkNear, advertisers can access billions of location-enabled impressions, targetable within 100 meters, and every impression is bought individually, in real time. Meaning, advertisers pay only for the impressions that work.
So, does the company face any challenges? As Portnoy told iMedia, "One of the things holding everyone back is that the [mobile] ecosystem feels like the Wild West. This is somewhat common in the early days of a new medium." However, Portnoy remains optimistic and expects "that the leaders will emerge, and the space will become a bit easier to navigate in the not-too-distant future."
Available for iPhone, iPad, and Android, iMediaShare is a cloud-based mobile media discovery and control technology designed for the connected home. iMediaShare makes it easy for users to stream media from their mobile phone to internet-enabled TVs, game consoles, and other connected devices with no cables, syncing, or complicated set-up.
Users simply open the app, choose a connected device, enter their Wi-Fi password, and share their videos, pictures, and music with others. In addition, the app delivers thousands of on-demand options for consumers -- from popular shows to breaking news -- and media automatically adapts to the best suitable format for the screen of choice (i.e., HD, 3D, etc.).
iMediaShare's distribution technology makes it easier for content providers to be everywhere for their customers, and it enables media companies to engage millions of viewers on multiple connected devices. In addition, the company offers digital marketers an outlet for highly segmented, accurately placed ads.
For centuries, bulletin boards have served as valuable surfaces for posting messages and connecting with one's community. With the rapid rise of connectivity and smartphone adoption, South Africa-based Mimiboard has taken the bulletin board and made it virtual.
Mimiboard allows users to upload announcements (texts, tweets, or shout-outs like traffic reports); news (real citizen journalism in action); and advertisements (local ads placed by the community on the board -- things for sale, services, etc.) to engage and trade with one another. Anyone can create a Mimiboard, give it a name, assign categories to it, and get the community to pin notes onto the board. Once this begins, the board can be added to the user's website, mobile site, Facebook page, or blog.
By serving as a virtual hub of social engagement, Mimiboard has great potential to solve every publisher's problem: maintaining an engaged community of followers. A digital board that is updated with local, relevant content in real time might be a strong solution.
SeeMail is a photo-sharing app that adds something new to photos -- voice. Inspired by the short notes written on the back of old photos, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based SeeMail was created to add context to images, allowing the story behind the photo to travel along with it. The company claims it is "the first and only app to combine images, voice, captions, and location in a mobile peer-to-peer photo-sharing experience."
By adding human voice, SeeMail attaches a greater level of emotion and feeling to digital picture sharing, something that can be lost online as pictures are shared without context.
From a digital marketing perspective, SeeMail's value is in providing brands with the opportunity to personalize their offerings with voice. Brands are now able to communicate their stories on a much deeper level by showing consumers the people behind the products (or, as SeeMail might say, the story behind the photo).
Mobile shopping and commerce
Based in Melrose, Mass., good2gether helps businesses that do good advertise by connecting them with consumers who care and the local causes they both support. Retailers, restaurants, businesses, and more can use good2gether to inform consumers about their positive impact in the local community.
How does it work? A business attaches a "DoGood" badge to a wall or window that is embedded with information such as the causes it supports and special offers the company is making to benefit nonprofit organizations. When a consumer taps the badge with an NFC-enabled mobile device, information associated with the good the business does is delivered through the "DoGood" mobile app. Users can then check in, learn ways to get involved, find deals that benefit both the consumer and local causes, or donate directly. If consumers don't have an NFC-enabled device, they can simply launch the app and a list of socially responsible businesses appears on the screen.
The company's "DoGood Corporate Social Responsibility Dashboard" allows businesses to manage their DoGood badge network by understanding how many people are checking in, what causes matter to users, how information is being shared socially, etc. Put simply: The app enables and encourages social responsibility while providing a medium through which business can reach consumers.
Have you ever snuck down to better seats at a game only to be embarrassingly escorted back by an usher? Well, Pogoseat allows fans to upgrade their seats at sporting events or concerts from their smartphones -- without all the risk. The app provides a map of the stadium or venue, identifies the empty seats, and allows users to purchase upgrades. These in-game seat upgrades are priced according to the user's original seat location and time left in the game or event, and they factor in any promotional discounts applied by the team or venue.
Pogoseat is quick and easy. Users sign in with Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, or a Pogoseat user name; enter their existing ticket information; use the map to purchase seat upgrades using PayPal, Amazon, or a credit card; and present the original ticket and the electronic upgrade to the usher when they move to their new seats.
Pogoseat is currently working with several brands to offer free or discounted upgrades at events. With regard to the app's potential brand value, Pogoseat's co-founder Abel Cuskelly said, "Imagine, for example, a wireless service that wants to offer its customers a free seat upgrade at the next football game they attend. Pogoseat can identify every fan in the stadium who's a customer of that wireless service and automatically offer a free upgrade that fans and customers can redeem at any time during the game."
Based just outside of Seattle, Point Inside is a leader in mobile shopper engagement. Its Interact platform combines indoor shopper and product location technologies with shopper purchase intent data to deliver highly relevant, personalized advertising to in-store customers. With Point Inside, retailers and brands can engage with shoppers in three ways. First, by understanding shopper and product locations, the platform connects users to in-store physical assets. Second, it provides users with routes through the store while suggesting additional products along the way. Lastly, Point Inside delivers a channel for brands and retailers to reach consumers with the perfect message at the perfect time.
Discussing the service's unique value, Point Inside's CMO Todd Sherman said, "This hyper-targeted 'private ad network' has information on the shopper's current purchase intents -- through their shopping list -- as well as their purchase history and, in some cases, their location within the store (section and aisle). This deep understanding of the shopper creates the most targeted ad network for brand advertisers, where they can leverage knowledge of the shopper to determine the best combination of what, when, and how to engage and convert."
When asked about the greatest hurdle Point Inside is currently facing, Sherman explained that it's all about awareness: "The biggest hurdle had been retailers' awareness of the benefits of engaging shoppers through mobile devices. This has decreased significantly over the last 12 months." However, with platforms like Point Inside on the rise, it's hard to believe that this lack of awareness will continue much longer.
Rumgr is a mobile app that lets people buy and sell with friends and neighbors -- something Craigslist should have done years ago. When users open the app, items for sale appear in the app's image feed and are presented in order of proximity. Selling items on Rumgr is as simple as uploading a photo -- no descriptions, no tags, and no location details necessary. The result is a mobile shopping environment that encourages hyper-local purchases and excites users with the possibility of stumbling upon random, unique items -- just like a garage sale.
So, what unique value does Rumgr offer brand advertisers? As the company's marketing lead Ana Yoerg told iMedia, "Our platform is not and will not be ad-supported. However, we are open to brand involvement. For example, we can promote venues (e.g., Starbucks) by providing 'recommended' meeting points for the item exchange." In addition, Rumgr could offer a valuable service to brick and mortar stores by helping them manage their excess clearance items. "These deeply discounted items (50-80 percent off) would be eligible to list on Rumgr as part of the Rack program," Yoerg explains. "Buyers can 'follow' their local store on Rumgr to view items on the clearance rack in their feed, which pushes them into stores for those items and more."
Since the summer of 2012, Rumgr launched news tools for Facebook integration, faster communication, more control over items for sale, and transaction history. In addition, the company introduced "Groups," which are smaller marketplaces based around common locations, such as the workplace.
Kyle Montero is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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"Set of characters with a personality" image via Shutterstock.
"3d small person points to the conveyor" image via Shutterstock.