Tagged: Mobile

What a RIoT!

RIoT3bevlineThis post originally appeared on WRALTechWire.

DURHAM, N.C. – We held the third NC RIoT last night. That’s the North Carolina Regional Internet of Things meetup, co-hosted by the Wireless Research Center of NC and StepLeader. Over 200 hundred people packed into the swanky PNC Triangle Club at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Billed as the 2015 IoT Kickoff Extravaganza, the festivities included 11 companies displaying their hands-on Internet of Things (IoT) products, five speakers, and a giant, portable 106’ radio tower, welcoming attendees as they entered the ballpark.

The background of who attends a RIoT falls into two broad categories. The people that have been working the space for years, and those that are getting started and eager to learn more, with a common connection between both groups. There’s a palpable sense and a shared belief that we’re at the very beginning of something important. That sentiment held true across the RTP based companies, as well as the teams traveling from Charlotte and Smithfield.

The evening began with presentations by Thingovation and Advanced Compliance Solutions covering a high-level overview of the IoT market and it’s opportunities and challenges. Companies Bright Wolf and MiPayWay shared their own case-study of moving from idea to product to market with the help of the local startup and IoT communities. I finished off the formal pitches with “The State of IoT in NC”, sharing the past, present, and future of what’s happening here in our state. The presentations are available for download at ncriot.org/meetups.

As an organizer, the most exciting part of the event was quietly witnessing so many “aha” moments throughout the night. People swarmed the demo tables to see, touch, and feel IoT in action. They saw inventory tracking solutions from Entigral Systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones) by PrecisionHawk, connected medical devices from K4Connect and PharmAssist. They experienced behind-the-scenes peeks at the hardware and software powering the technology from Telit, Connected Development, Device Solutions, Logical Advantage, and many more. They unabashedly asked for introductions to companies and individuals they wanted to meet. They had a “light bulb” moment realizing that this is a growing community of over 500 people and over 150 companies in our state.

At the end of the evening we tasked the audience to “start something”. The consensus is that we are starting something and indeed after the same goal: to help each other make our state a global hub for IoT innovation. That’s no simple task, but we’re on the way. Let’s see what we’ve started and what all these like-minded members of the RIoT community will start.

Time to Test Beacons

This post originally appeared on NetNewsCheck.com

beaconfireLast week, NetNewsCheck published an article encouraging publishers to explore beacons in 2015.  Being app developers ourselves, we pay close attention to anything that presents opportunity in mobile.

If you’re new to the concept, a beacon is a small device that broadcasts a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signal. That signal contains the beacon’s unique identifiers, called a UUID, and a few other data points about it.  Beacons don’t record data, store information or send push alerts. All of that happens through an app.

A real-world example: I’ve previously downloaded the Lord & Taylor app, and decide to shop through their beaconified store for a new Christmas sweater. The L&T app recognizes the beacon signal and “bing!” the app sends me a push alert welcoming me to the store with a 10% discount.

For a smartphone to be able to detect and make use of a beacon, it must meet four criteria. One, the end user must have an app installed that recognizes beacons. Two, the device must be Bluetooth enabled. Three, the user must opt-in to share location with the app. Four, the device must be running iOS 7 or higher or Android 4.3 or higher.

Across our network of apps, here’s how StepLeader’s audience stacks up: 93.6% of iOS users run iOS 7 or higher; 89.7% of Android users run 4.3 or higher; 54.2% enable location and 29.7% enable Bluetooth.

The initial lure and marketing hype around beacons centers on real-time notifications. Within seconds or less of detecting a beacon, the app decodes the signal and delivers a push alert to the device: “Welcome to Sears. Free Socks. Today Only!”

So here are a few “real-time” ideas to bat around the next coffee break.

Perhaps you’re taking the family to Disney’s “Frozen on Ice” tour. The app detects a beacon at the venue, then serves up content relevant to that context. The user opens the app and sees “Best Places To Eat in Downtown” in the news feed.

Alternatively, the app delivers ads for nearby advertisers into your existing mobile ad formats. Back to the “Frozen” example, local merchants near the venue run campaigns in your app to draw visitors to their establishments after the show.

Finally, the app sends push notifications alerting you to content relevant to your current location, or nearby advertisers. This more active approach builds upon the first two examples, but uses a combination of beacon technology and push notifications to prompt action from the user.

There is also merit exploring how beacons add value to mobile publishers over extended periods of time.

As more retailers around the globe deploy beacons, we end up with a network of physical places that each have their own digital bookmark. A beacon gives a location its own real-world “URL,” or a way to identify and connect the physical and digital realms.

Knowing this digital footprint of locations empowers publishers to understand how an opted-in audience navigates through the world. Where do they shop? How often? When do they typically visit? Can we prove that someone saw an auto ad and then visited the dealer a few days later?

The end goal is audience understanding, curated over time, to improve mobile advertising and to build more relevant mobile products. This may take the form of retargeting mobile devices based upon previous location visits. With the “Frozen” example, this could mean creating campaigns to reach consumers who have been to specific events with offers to draw them back to upcoming shows.

Local media can create targeted audience segments built to outperform the ad impression carpet bombing techniques common to share-of-voice and sponsorship campaigns. Think business travelers, technology enthusiasts, mobile mothers, immobile fathers, frequent shoppers… all are rife with possibilities for beacons.

What about truly attributable, results-driven campaigns? Place beacons in your advertiser’s locations, with their permission, and see how many people actually show up as a result of your campaigns. The disruptive potential is profound.

Now that they know enough to be dangerous, publishers should approach beacons with both optimism and skepticism.

The skeptic focuses on how real-time notifications add value to a publisher’s audience. In apps, content is king. With beacon driven notifications, context is king.

Should your news or weather app send real-time push alerts for nearby advertisers? No. Don’t do it. Your audience will revolt. This is wildly out-of-context. Besides, Apple doesn’t allow advertising driven push notifications unless it fits the context of your app. If you’ve got a stand-alone coupon app, blast away.

The skeptic demands you pay attention to audience scale and the rate at which beacons are being deployed. Retailers will install tens of thousands of beacons in the next few years, but should you wait to test until then? High performing audience segments work great as long as they deliver meaningful impression volume, higher CPMs or both.

The skeptic believes that not every company, advertiser or retail establishment needs their own app to deliver beacon-powered push alerts. Despite my own crush on the app economy, mobile websites work best for most businesses. Does the regional auto-dealer really need its own white-label app and location aware push alerts? No; they need an easy-to-use mobile website and people greeting customers when they walk through the door.

Finally, the skeptic realizes that we need more transparency than ever on what data is being collected and why. A simple “sunshine test” makes this easy. If you’re not comfortable sharing and explaining your data practices in public, then don’t do it. If someone wishes to opt out, that needs to be a simple process.

Like my mother father (he corrected me!) always says, no matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides.

The optimist knows that testing and innovating with beacons is absolutely worth pursuing in 2015. She’s competing with Facebook, Twitter, Google and every other major app for audiences and ad dollars, and those guys already know more about their audience than you do.

She knows that bridging the mobile revenue gap is her top priority, and requires new tactics and audience understanding. Beacons offer potential solutions to both.

New, innovative real-time campaigns will immediately attract advertiser interest. Just don’t screw up the execution and freak out your audience.

Data built over time is key to unlocking valuable audience understanding, and then publishers must use that knowledge to improve local, regional and national sales. Better audience data equals better products, happier users, more engagement, more effective campaigns, happier advertisers, higher CPMs and ultimately more revenue opportunity.

We are still very early in the life cycle of beacons. They present technology, privacy and implementation hurdles. Nevertheless, it’s time to start testing.


Marketing Double Whammy – Guest Post & Meetup

This post originally appeared on ExitEvent.com, the southeast’s startup focused news site.  I’m including it here and sharing as “startup marketing” for two reasons.

  1. This guest post serves as an example of building relationships ahead of time with publications to spread the word about your updates.
  2. We’re hosting an event that provides no direct sales & revenue benefit to StepLeader. Instead, we’re hoping to build a community that can learn from and support each other in a very new industry. In Seth Godin’s “circles of marketing“, building a tribe and your story becomes a key component of startup marketing.



Internet of Things Enthusiasts Unite & RIoT

I’m incredibly lucky to work at a company that isn’t afraid to try new things. Ever sinceStepLeader started building apps for the old school clamshell phones back in 2004, we experimented with new mobile tech.

The drive behind this experimentation is a belief that mobile should be easy, relevant and incredibly personal. Isn’t that the promised-land of mobile? The computer in your pocket, on your wrist, or stuck on your face gives you exactly what you need, when you need it most. Right?

We’re not there yet. Nobody is.

The easy + relevant + personal equation is ridiculously hard to solve. Here are a few paths one might take to begin solving it:

*Serve personalized content based upon past behavior and location by collecting, storing and analyzing a shit-ton of data.

*Wear your mobile device to gather information about you and your physical surroundings.

*Make the offline world more digitally connected to the online and mobile world.

This last bullet is where our latest round of experimentation begins—using beacon technology (StepLeader’s test gadget pictured above). Apple branded its approach to this as iBeacon. iKid you not.

The concept is simple. Stick a little bluetooth low energy [BLE] device—or beacon—on something. It broadcasts a signal. Your phone receives that signal, and through an app, tells your phone to do something.

Here are a few examples to illustrate the concept:

Walk into a grocery store and the store’s app loads your pre-built list. It tells you the fastest route to grab your milk, bread, Tostitos and Dale’s Pale Ale.

Visit a new home for sale and receive expanded information beyond the single-page, printed brochure.

Stroll through an MLB park and receive additional information about the team, special offers and stadium history.

One way to think about it: beacons assign physical locations their own URL, thus bridging the offline and the online.

Immediately after we began researching this topic, we noticed a growing community of like-minded individuals exploring the “Internet of Things”.

Wikipedia does a nice job of explaining that term’s past, present and future. My simple description is that IoT gives physical objects an Internet connection. Large companies, small ones, startups, ourselves and academia are all getting their hands dirty here. Bringing everyone together can only be good.

To accomplish that, we’ll be hosting the first Raleigh Internet of Things Meetup, which shrinks down nicely to RIoT. We’ll look to share with and learn from others in this space, to build a community of people who are cozy sitting on the bleeding edge of technology, and to continue establishing this area as a thought-leader in the tech world.

The first Meetup takes place at StepLeader’s downtown Raleigh office Wednesday, June 4th at 6pm. Official details are here.

Aside from being the best buzzword since “Big Data”, the “Internet of Things” represents a new wave of innovation, opportunity and entrepreneurship. There’s no better time than right now to start exploring.

Join us.

Mobile $$$ Is Exploding! For Six Companies

This post originally ran on NetNewsCheck.com.  Including it here today to help keep our fellow startup companies grounded in reality.  Yes, mobile is exploding.  Yes, mobile revenue is exploding.  No, you are not guaranteed a piece of that pie.  75% of the loot goes to only 6 companies.  Read on.

The latest article from eMarketer trumpets a huge surge in mobile ad spending. Great news, right? But wait …

The article elaborates that only two companies drive that growth: Google and Facebook.

What does that mean for everybody else?

eMarketerAdSpend2014The article posits: In 2013, the top six companies garnered 75% of all mobile ad spend, or $13.5 billion of $18 billion. Let that sink in for a moment. That leaves thousands of publishers competing over the remaining $4.5 billion. The overall pie will grow, and conventional wisdom has it that a rising tide lifts all boats, but that math leaves little left over for everyone else looking to grow mobile ad revenue.

This isn’t the 80/20 rule, this is a 99.998/0.002 rule.

A closer examination of the data reveals that Facebook’s mobile spend leads this growth. It grew 224% between 2012 and 2013. Its flood of mobile ad spend makes for a great “Mobile Ad Market Soars 105%” headline, but omits the downward pressure this has on banner CPMs in mobile. There’s no end in sight until demand for mobile advertising catches up with supply.

The massive scale that Google and Facebook bring make it difficult for any other publisher to compete on scale and audience. If you’re contemplating a national sales play, you’ll be sitting in the lobby waiting to present to an ad agency. The Google guy is on your left. The woman from Facebook on your right. But you’ve got a unique, super-hyperlocal audience, right? Ever built an ad on Facebook? Its targeting capabilities are about as super-hyperlocal as you can get.

If Google and Facebook perform scale and audience targeting better than anybody else, how should publishers attempt to compete and sell at the national level? Here’s what they need:

Creativity. Creativity means new mobile ad units that are unavailable anywhere else. They must be not only pleasing to the eye, but also deliver some form of emotional, physical or retail value to the end user. Dressing up the banner with rich media, spins and swirls is putting lipstick on a pig, even if we all do it.

Execution. Companies build long-lasting relationships by delivering upon their promises. The mobile advertising industry still struggles with this on many levels. Over-hyped targeting capabilities plague almost every sales presentation, while the technology to execute is still developing. Any reader who has spent time trafficking ads in mobile, managing networks and troubleshooting knows just how difficult that execution can be. The challenge we present ourselves is to execute consistently for our customers, and it’s hard, but we try harder.

Data. Just because the big dogs do data better than you ever will, this isn’t an excuse to write it off. Get smart, and fast, about your audience. Find the right tools for you, be they Google Analytics, Flurry, Chartbeat, BlueKai or something else.

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Location. Hyped as the next cookie, I’m not yet convinced. Approximately 40% of StepLeader’s customers disable location-based services. That means your audience is asking not to be targeted by location. In a survey of over 2,100 news app users, location tied for last place in advertising relevance in the eyes of the consumer. Location targeting will play a role, but a limited role until user behavior and preferences change.

Native advertising will be no savior. It is just another bow in your quiver or another product in your portfolio. Native will perform very well until everyone runs its effectiveness into the ground. We’ll then jump on the next big thing and repeat the cycle.

Upon reflection, I am reminded of a difficult lesson I learned when running a previous mobile startup. Don’t believe anyone’s numbers but your own. I believe that increasing mobile spend is much, much better than the alternative.

Google and Facebook leading the charge will expose more brands to mobile advertising more quickly. This will in turn drive more overall interest in mobile ad spend. As the 25% of mobile ad spend leftover for everyone grows from $4.5 billion to $7.8 billion, don’t wait for it to trickle down. Be laser focused on creativity, data and killer execution.