Category Archives: Mobile

The Local Angle to Virtual Reality: NYT Launches with Google Cardboard

IMG_3252 (1)

What is the role of virtual reality as a local or vertical marketing channel? It’s an important question for the industry.

What we know is that 360 degree video and other precursor technologies are now being applied for local verticals such as real estate, auto, retail and travel. It is fairly commonplace to get a view of new car interiors by mousing over them . But as processing capabilities improve, video costs decline, hardware production scales, and major companies invest, we’ll see full blown virtual reality being presented as a brand new channel for locally targeted brands. There may also be applications by local governments and others.

We also know that interest levels and industry investment levels in VR are high. A report that includes a consumer survey and industry analysis from Greenlight VR, a new VR consulting firm I am advising, shows that VR has high awareness among men and women (but especially men); there is high interest in VR among all age groups (but especially Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X); and consumers anticipate using VR for a wide range of activities, including gaming, travel, entertainment and training.

In anticipation of a breakthrough, companies such as Facebook, Google, Sony, Samsung , VG and Mattel have invested billions of dollars. In fact, Greenlight VR reports there are 160 U.S VR companies now, up from 120 in 2014. But it’s still a greenfield opportunity with no clear leaders at this point. On the processing front, we’ve also seen major support from Intel, NVIDIA and AMD.

Media companies are just beginning to weigh in as well, seeing a potential growth avenue and, possibly, a new way into video. This weekend, The New York Times launched its NYT VR app for iOS and Android, and delivered free Google Cardboard viewers (each normally priced at $24.95) to nearly 1.15 million Sunday print subscribers.

The inaugural VR programming on the Times app – a Mini Cooper promo and a moving, 10 minute warzone documentary produced with VRSE, a VR storytelling firm — was shot with multiple cameras and let consumers take a 360 degree view of various landscapes with studio quality sound (if using headphones.)

Relying on the inexpensive, Viewmaster-like Google Cardboard reader rather than high end computing platforms (expected to cost $300+,) the NYT programs aren’t offering much more than a self-directed, 360 degree view. You won’t see head tracking tech with this.

But it gets the app and reader into the hands of its early adopter, high- end readership. Its importance can’t be under-estimated. To us, it is a major step for both the NYT and Google, as they strive in their own ways to be immersive, comprehensive media and commerce providers. One wonders how a CBS or ABC affiliate, or a local newspaper, will compete against a Google, Facebook and/or NYT that offers virtual reality options, video, listings, commerce, social media and other open loop/closed loop channels.

Fast Company profiled Greenlight VR’s new report. Here is the link to Greenlight’s purchase page.

From Wired Goodness

Money2020: Payments and The Internet of Things


The Internet of Things is all about connectivity; it is especially conducive to the world of payments. Branching out from prepaid information on transit cards (i.e. London’s Oyster Card), financial entities have sought to add efficiency, security, reliability and safety to micropayments via Internet of Things tech.

At Money2020 in Las Vegas this week, the demos were alive with iOT. MasterCard and Visa, especially, showcased a wide range of truly useful applications.

Over at MasterCard, contactless card gas pumps, vending machines and coinless washer/dryer machines were highlighted. Regarding the latter, a member of MasterCard’s St. Louis based labs unit noted they had done their homework, interviewing multi-unit apartment owners, who have found it a costly burden to collect coins from machines, prevent coin box break-ins and know when they were needing repair.

Gas pumps, meanwhile – a mainstay of Digital Out of Home applications – were not only seen as logical candidates for contactless payments, but also to manage loyalty points and print out targeted offers to mobile phones. (yes, DooH is made old hat by iOT.) Excentus’ Fuel Rewards – a loyalty program — is a likely beneficiary of such efforts. In 36 months, Fuel Rewards has attracted six million members, who made 22 million transactions.

Visa’s demo highlighted contactless cars, vending machines and coffee stands. Key to the latter: payments were made by contactlessly waving a hand under a scanner. The unique hand data (finger prints etc.) is suggested as a superior alternative to thumb ID. It isn’t seamless, yet. My large hands required several do-overs to get them properly filed. Eye scanners from Eye Verify that measure the whites of your eyes and retinas were also highlighted at the show.


Money2020: The Payment Leaders and Their Itch to Get into Marketplaces


The march towards a new generation of marketplaces was clearly in evidence this week in Las Vegas, as the 4th edition of Money2020 attracted a huge, 10,000+ person ecosystem of financial players that all want a piece of the new world of marketing, commerce and logistics.

In the new era, marked by mobile-based services, Uber and Apple Pay have shown the way for new payment processes: the former by tying together geolocation and an e wallet; the latter by signing up thousands of merchants to accept simplified payments on iPhones.

These companies plus Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Groupon, eBay, Twitter, Living Social and Foursquare have been among the dotcom and tech giants exploring the utilization of payments as part of a new breed of “transaction marketing.” Loyalty based plays such as Cardlytics, Edo Interactive, FiveStars, Belly and MOGL are also vying for a piece of the action.

What can be said is that everyone is evolving towards becoming some type of marketing integrators or platform. And services that are geared towards millennials need to get there quicker: millennials won’t do anything that isn’t geared around their phones.

Behind the scenes, billing and payment tech has actually been underpinning advances in business and social processes and lifestyles for generations – perhaps, in modern time, since Amex transformed from a pony express delivery company to a traveler’s cheque company. As recently as the 1980s, we saw how MCI’s revolutionary Friends and Family plan transformed MCI into a long distance giant.

The new generation of mobile-based, wallet-oriented payment services — combined with Internet of Things connectivity and biorhythm user authentication — will be triggering on demand services, promotions, loyalty, credit, loans, delivery/pickup, social media/reviews and back office features such as payroll.

As a show, Money2020’s growth has been spectacular. But in its 4th year, some wondered whether the Money2020 ecosystem has grown too fast too soon, and that “winter is coming” after a year that culminated in the launch of Apple Pay; the expected rollout of two IPOs; and major buy-ins from the dot com giants.

In truth, the industry’s not an overnight success – and the technology still needs to catch up (i.e. phone batteries that can stay powered up). Apple Pay and other mobile payment services have had modest growth in actual usage; First Data’s IPO was smaller than expected; and the loyalty programs have had trouble scaling merchants. In fact, there is real pessimism about Square’s upcoming IPS; and there’s been some retreat by the dotcoms, many of whom have realized that their role is less in banking and payments than in big data and marketing analytics.

Bain Capital Ventures Managing Director Matt Harris noted that all this talk of the “winter” amount to “nothing.” The opportunities are as rich as they’ve ever been conceived, he said.

In fact, everyone should hurry to assume their parts in the ecosystem. All the trends point to 2016 as the mobile payment industry’s probable tipping point. eMarketer’s Bryan Yeager suggests that mobile payments will grow 3x over 2015 – from $8.7 billion to $27.1 billion.

Banks, of course, are widely assumed to be the most vulnerable to disruption in the new environment. But at Money2020, they showed that they plan to fight back, while leveraging an enormous volume of customers that give them a headstart. Chase, for instance, has 94 million debit/credit card accounts. CEO Gordon Smith, in a keynote, said he’ll be able to preload all these accounts by mid -2016 with Chase Pay: a comprehensive new platform that lets customers pay for goods in store, online, over the air, or with a camera in app.

Capital One, similarly, has come out with Spark Business, a new SMB platform that takes an agnostic approach towards single source banking as it builds in analytic services, management features such as accountings, payroll and benefits. “Banks (only) solve banking problems,” noted Cap One’s Keri Gohman, head of Capital One’s Small Business Bank. “They aren’t developing for SMBs, they are going up from consumers, or down from corporate.” The new platform is “more powerful for adding more connections and partners,” she said.

The POS leaders also intend to fight back against the new breed of cloud-based providers. They’ll leverage their existing customer base – VeriFone, for instance, has 90,000 taxi and gas station screens around the world. Taxi passengers in Las Vegas, for instance, can opt to pay $3 to make a credit card payment, and receive local promotions at the same time.

But VeriFone will also work to add new capabilities, and open app stores that give them a new revenue stream for every kind of service. Its rivals in the POS terminal business – namely First Data’s Clover and Poynt – are also building App stores.

“The industry is on the cusp of something historic,” noted PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, who notes that PayPal has 107 million account holders around the world. “We can take basic transactions and make them faster, easier, more secure and most importantly, less expensive. We can truly democratize money. (We can) rethink what financial services can be in world of mobile and software. It is not (just) about tapping a phone or swiping a card. It is much more profound than that.”

TSYS Survey: Mobile Apps Drive The New Payments Environment

Mobile apps geared towards wallets and collections of offers – but not necessarily making purchases –are a major driver of the new payments environment, according to TSYS’ 5th Annual U.S. consumer payment survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers who have both debit and credit cards. TSYS is a leading payments processor.

It is a grouping that probably favors the over-banked compared to the under-banked. Yet we look to the TSYS survey for signs of new influences on marketing and the relative clout of players such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and eBay in a new payments environment that will impact shopping and buying behaviors for both local services and retail goods.

According to the survey, Amazon has the most downloaded mobile app, with 57 percent of respondents downloading. It is the second most used app, with 38 percent using it at least several times a month. Banking apps have been downloaded by 50 percent of respondent, and are used the most frequently by this survey’s respondents at 39 percent. Paypal follows at 52 percent downloaded/32 percent frequently used; eBay comes in at 48 percent/22 percent and Starbucks is at 29 percent/15 percent. As a category, Daily deal apps such as Groupon and Living Social are also widely disseminated, with 37 percent/19 percent.

Most Downloaded Financially Oriented Mobile Apps (Selection)
1. Amazon (38%)
2. Banking Apps (35%)
3. PayPal (32%)
4. eBay (22%)
6. Daily Deal Apps (19%)
12. Starbucks (15%)

A free report summarizing the survey notes that consumers typically look for an incentive when choosing one payment option over another. Fifty-eight percent said that they have a rewards program attached to their most preferred payment type.

WorkWave: Tackling ‘Last Mile’ Marketing for Local Services

A lot of attention has been paid to “last mile” delivery, marketing and management issues for businesses. Most of it has been focused on retail solutions (i.e. Walmart, Amazon, Google and eBay).

But what about last mile issues for local services that take products from distribution centers and deliver them to homes and businesses? Can these efforts boost business via better ordering processes and creating more efficiencies? Can they move the needle on more impulse buying?

That’s the challenge being addressed by WorkWave, a 200 person, New Jersey-based fleet management company that launched in 1984. The company has recently rebranded from Marathon Data Systems to address broader marketing issues, including the ability to use cloud-based, mobile features to track prospects, leads, schedules, routing solutions – and provide the analytics that come with that.

The company works with more than 8,000 customers. According to CEO Chris Sullens, its largest verticals include janitorial, pest control, lawn and landscape, heating and plumbing, and cleaning.

As part of the rebranding, WorkWave has acquired two businesses: RefGo, a business reviews and marketing automation preduct launched by former Local Corp. exec Malcolm Lewis; and Contact Us, a provider of online marketing tools. Features from both companies become part of the new ContactUs suite of SMB marketing solutions. Three tiers of services are currently priced from $20 to $150 a month, although Sullens says the pricing will be adjusted.

Lewis, in a statement, notes that “the beauty of our reviews product is that it provides insight into customer perception and service levels while helping clients increase lead volume and quality.”

Centro: Boost Demand Side Ads With Full Program, Not Just Programmatic

Chicago-based Centro, which helps provide targeted ad solutions to 13,000 publishers – 4,000 at any given time — says it is refocusing on providing publishers with complete Demand Side solutions that integrate first party data targeting, hyperlocal mobile tools, digital extensions and cross-channel capabilities.

Publishers increasingly want to provide greater reach for their advertisers than they can provide from their own-and-operated (O&O) properties, said Centro SVP Katie Risch and VP John Hyland in a discussion with BIA/Kelsey. “O & O solutions are becoming a smaller share of the mix.”

Centro DSP for Publishers, the new product offering, provides a wide range of mobile, display, video and social campaigns directly through Centro’s platform. An increasing amount of these efforts are automated. “Revenue is going towards self -serve,” said Risch and Hyland. “People don’t go back after they start with self-serve.”

To be sure, programmatic – an automated process of planning and placing ads on the platform – represents a big part of Centro’s evolution. Centro has committed 18 buyers specifically to support programmatic. But programmatic needs to be supported with other pieces.

“We are in an early iteration of programmatic,” said Risch and Hyland. It helps to “close the loop.” But “it doesn’t do enough to support the demand side of the business, which is critical for local targeting. The biggest challenge is how to drive demand. There has to be a human layer; a set of KPIs.”

Centro’s Brand Exchange, for instance, has enlisted 1,400 publishers. It allows auto dealers and other SMBs to call on the company to meet their needs for local inventory. With such services, “we are providing a cohesive media strategy, along with first party data.”

On Demand is New Focus for Some Home Service Providers

Competition in the home services leads space has been heating up – and so are the tensions. Just this week, Angie’s List has filed suit against Amazon, contending that Amazon Home Services has been egregiously signing up for the member’s- only service around the U.S., and grabbing proprietary service recommendations.

On Demand home services is something that several of the companies are hoping to differentiate themselves with. We saw it with HomeJoy at our LODE event a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. Home Advisor has also been rolling out its Instant Booking on demand service.

Mizamin, an Israeli Startup with international ambitions, also hopes to get ahead with on demand home services. Its mobile app has gotten 200,000 downloads in Israel, mostly generated from a small social media ad campaign and word of mouth. CEO Yuval Aronov told us that providing home services on an on demand basis has some quirks to it. Many home pros resist keeping to real schedules and are eager to take jobs as they come up. On the other hand, certain types of jobs, such as pest control, need to be scheduled in advance.

Mizamin has built an App that enables multiple providers to receive queries in real time. When a plumbing assignment goes out to Mizamin’s roster of 40 plumbers in Tel Aviv, three-to-six usually answer, he says. The biggest channel for most plumbers have been SMS. “Some don’t use their smartphones professionally,” he says. “They are afraid to drop them in the toilet.”