Archives for posts with tag: apps


Photo from Behance Network.

We saw it all before: the portal gold rush, the microsite gold rush, the Social Media gold rush. They all ended at one point and gave way to a more mature way of utilizing these new tools and tactics. In the early days, we saw a few lucky pioneers strike gold with novelty apps. There were a handful of independent developers and Fortune 500 brands that invested in user experience and captured the high end of the market.

As it goes with most gold rushes, the usual targets were depleted within a few months. New entrants to the apps world, find a very cluttered market, filled with competition and not many new mountains to conquer. While people have often hundreds of apps on their phone or tablet, the bulk of them are rarely used. And, let’s not forget that smartphones are not yet ubiquitous. You’re more likely to reach more people with an SMS message, even though it’s not as sexy as sparkly app.

At this point, does it still make sense to jump on the app bandwagon?

For the majorities of companies, the answer is no. A good app needs a lot of investment in design, user experience, content and marketing. Companies that don’t have a site compatible to mobile browsers, should not even think about an app. (And don’t get started with companies that create apps as a near-carbon copy of their website.)

Futurist John Smart, founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, looks beyond 2020 and sees apps as merely a passing phase in Internet evolution. “Apps are a great intermediate play, a way to scale up functionality of a primitive Web,” he said, “but over time they get outcompeted for all but the most complex platforms by simpler and standardized alternatives. What will get complex will be the ‘artificial immune systems’ on local machines. What will get increasingly transparent and standardized will be the limited number of open Web platforms and protocols that all the leading desktop and mobile hardware and their immune systems will agree to use. The rest of the apps and their code will reside in the long tail of vertical and niche uses.”

This doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t invest in apps, we just have to end the gold rush mentality. Not every advertising campaigns needs an app, not every brands needs one. There’s still some gold in the hills and mines but it’s going to be harder to find and much more expensive to extract. That’s a good thing. Enough of the bubbles and gold rushes.


A few weeks ago, Digiday published a story titled “Mobile’s inventory glut grows”.

“(…) only 18 percent of impressions were filled by the top 20 U.S. mobile ad networks, representing a decline from the 19 percent of ad slot they filled between April and June. Worldwide the issue is even more pronounced. The average fill rate stood at 10 percent in the third quarter, representing an 8 percent decline from the previous three months, based on the 70 ad networks, connected to the Smaato’s platform.”

Gresham’s Law of the Web

Unlimited inventory, combined with an anachronistic understanding of advertising as “space” causes cheap ads to drive out the good.

This has clearly destroyed the design of content web sites, and is about to kill the content apps on mobile devices.

There are two solutions for this problem that has gripped the digital marketing industry since its inception:

– We need to reduce the number of ad positions dramatically.

– Publishers have to charge more for ads.

We have to get away from the ad network model (Ad exchange, DSP – whatever you want to call it) and, instead, create sponsor relationships with customized packages. To drive real engagement (not some imagined engagement) a package has to be interactive and fully integrated with the content. Why do I need to leave an app when I want to engage deeper with an ad? I’m there to access content and an advertiser finds a way to engage me deeply: Keep me in the initial experience, don’t just give me the option to leave the experience and end up on a brand page. Forcing me to restart the app or go back to the initial web site is a problem. Not a solution.

Responsive adaptability

There is no ad network or other company that serves desktop, mobile and tablet web ads at the same time, with the same insertion order.  Just go to the major publications (NY Times, WSJ, etc.) and see that all the ads are different on various  platforms. Some ads I can swipe away, some have close buttons, some are little bugs. And don’t get me started if I want to experience the sites on my smart phone. Ads are unreadable unless I zoom in. And, who does that? No cohesive experience, nothing really to keep me interested. It feels like litter and not the interactive experience customers expect.

The whole industry has to work together to develop a responsive adaptability model for digital marketing. What does this mean? It’s a model that adjusts the layout while staying on a grid, adjustable to any screen size. Since the industry moves slowly, the first order of business should be adaptability. Let’s worry about responsiveness a bit later.

Disconnect between publishing and advertising

Digital Marketing has followed the print CPM model: audience and impressions trump good design and reader engagement. Because that static litter didn’t work well, we created another artifact: Rich Media. Attention-grabbing, colorful and moving litter that was completely disconnected from the new design of sites (simple, direct, user-focused) that creates connection with customers. Just like Flash is fading away, we will see this litter discarded for CPM prices for 1/1000 of $1.

The print model for digital marketing is bankrupt. And, it’s time to destroy it. The fluidity of current digital design is battling with the fixed and standard sizes of web ads. It’s a legacy of a single-size page design, and the idea that a web page is “space” we carve up like an old newspaper. The value of homepage ads has peaked a long time ago when we moved from a digital portal economy to a digital link economy. A real sponsorship of content has more value and is more intriguing because it’s part of the overall content, no matter where I engage with it. And, that’s what we all want: Connection with the reader.

How to solve the digital inventory problem

We need to reduce the number of ad positions

Do I really have to explain this? Do you remember the 8 ads on Yahoo’s homepage? Or the 11 ads on NYT’s homepage?

We need to charge more for ads

That’s a tough one. Sometimes it feels as if the whole digital marketing industry has signed a Grover Norquist-like pledge never to increase prices. Cheaper, faster, less effective has been the mantra of our industry. We need to change it to “Pricier, more engaging and effective”.

Publishers need to focus again on sponsorships and stop littering their content with network junk. I’d be willing to pay more for exclusive sponsorships and positions through cross-platforms and supported by insightful analytics.

It comes down to good content and great stories. We have to rethink what worked in print and develop a new business model for the digital marketing community.

From hoarder to minimalist.

Good advertising is interesting and looks intriguing. Litter is never interesting and doesn’t look intriguing.


Wired called it last year: “The Web is dead. Long life the Internet.” Sounded a bit silly at that time but facts speak louder than an attention-grabbing headline: Flurry just released a study indicating that people spend more time on mobile apps than on the web.

Mashable reports:

“Flurry compared its mobile data to stats from comScore and Alexa, and found that in June, consumers spent 81 minutes per day using mobile apps, compared to 74 minutes of web surfing. The shift comes as combined table and smartphone shipments eclipsed those of desktops and notebooks for the first time (…) Flurry found consumers spend 9% more time, on average, using mobile apps. The report found that the growth in mobile app usage came mostly from more sessions per user, rather than longer sessions overall.

Those sessions, by and large, are consumed by the use of games and social media apps, which took 47% and 32% of the total amount of time used for such apps.”

Are marketers prepared for this tidal wave?

You’re not serious are you?

Our industry is busy to predict that by 2015 display advertising will account for 28% of all U.S. ad spending, overtaking search in 4 years. (Our own Jack Myers disagrees with this view sharply.) Agencies are knee-deep into developing ad exchanges and new ways to display customers to death while Google buys a platform.

Stop it right there. The web is on the decline while the industry is focusing on the growth of a dead platform?

Radio will be around in 10 years. Just like the Web.

Both won’t ever be as influential and profitable as they used to be. Let’s face it, we helped ruining the Web. We cluttered it with billions of ads, sometimes 20 banners on one page. We treated it like a gang member tagging the house of a rival gang member: Disrespectful, loud and obnoxious. No wonder people are retreating rather quickly and want to experience the more inviting environment of an app.

This is not a fluke.

Apple releases iOS 5 with this nifty feature: “Safari Reader is a new browser feature that will strip out distractions and present the text of a webpage with no other excess content.” (aka display ads…)

Will display advertising overtake search in 4 years?

Only if you look at the present through a rearview mirror, marching backwards into the future.

Looking forward, display advertising as we know it is not the answer. It never was. It was a temporary band-aid, nothing else. Cluttering apps with more display ads is not the answer either.

Here are a few pointers how to survive while apps start to strangle the Web:

· Understand how people are engaging with and consuming content in the mobile world. Understand how your message can be valuable and NOT annoying/intrusive.

· Put the user in control, let them control the interaction with the ad. Stop holding people hostage, keeping them captive. Let them free.

· Design for the medium. Let’s not repeat the Web mistakes we made: commercials became online videos, print ads transformed into display ads. Show respect to the medium.

· Have a strong value proposition and an even more intriguing Call -to-Action. Don’t ask for email addresses or other CRM tactics. Not in apps. Give people something valuable, something tangible, make it worth their while.

This change is not about to happen. It’s happening now. You need to develop strategies NOW to succeed in the future.

Unless you want your brand to go on life support.


Almost every day I have chats with colleagues or friends about technology. Apps are being shared and soon the typical talk start that this thing or the other thing will change the world. You will change the way you communicate, interact with the world, become a more evolved species.

And, then it starts to rain. (For people leaving outside of Los Angeles: the world stops, cars don’t move, blackouts and people are severely confused and annoyed).

Just about twelve times a day, if you read the advertising press, if you sit in numbing meetings led by social media experts, etc., you hear about some technology that will change everything. Technology that will change the fundamental wiring of the human brain. Technology that will change the way the world works. Technology that will transform everything we know and love.

We live in this illusion of advanced technology equaling advanced human beings. But when we encounter elemental forces and have elemental experiences, we revert back to tools we used for hundreds of years. When a water pipe broke in our house last year, no iPhone app was available. Towels had to suffice.

The same is true for our industry. One day we might be able to utilize neuroscience and beam messages directly to our decision center in the brain.

But the technology will never beat a human story, well told.


First there were portals. AOL, Yahoo and all the other sites with names we don’t remember anymore.

Then came Google.

And now there’s Facebook.

History has shown us that early dominance doesn’t translate into long-term leadership. While Google is still a dominant player in search, they are struggling to remain relevant. Their latest move to tie bonuses to social success smells like Microsoft with a hint of Yahoo!

Facebook is as vulnerable as AOL Google.

Facebook is the dominant Social platform. No doubt about it. But just like Google, they own only part of the pie and the majority of the pie is up for grabs or still in development.

Facebook has been successful in aggregating our social graph. For most people, it’s a mess of friends, co-workers, family and weak ties. Our social graph has become a very weak social network: difficult to navigate, even more difficult to control. The truth is: we have hundreds of networks. Our work network, our employer network, our commute network, our hobby network, our family network, our local community network. There are opportunities to develop networks for sporting events, movies, any shared interest.

While I’m writing this, I’m watching the Masters. I would love to tap into a temporary network to share my viewing experience with others. Facebook is not the right platform for it.

I would love to tap into a temporary network of my office building to help with improvements or get to know other tenants better.

I would like to meet somebody within 2 miles to go out for a run. Facebook can’t help me with that.

Disposable and temporary networks

The answer could be to develop thousands of disposable and temporary networks. Many location-based apps feel that way: Foursquare is a great tool when attending massive conferences like SXSW but it’s a daily nuisance to see my friend checking in at the same Starbucks over and over again. Color has gotten a lot of attention (mostly because of its disastrous launch and $41 million investment) but it’s an interesting attempt to tap into network for a moment in time.

However, when I look at all the apps battling for attention on my iPhone, I hope there will be aggregators that can develop disposable/temporary networks based on my interest and location. And integrate new friends into a bigger network. Such a platform would make Facebook feel like Microsoft: too big to be agile.


This fabulous illustrations courtesy of Ogilvy (via Brad Hill)

I’m writing this a few hours after my return from Austin. As usual, SXSW was whirlwind of knowledge, brilliant minds, trial of new technologies and a lot of socializing.

It’s getting bigger and bigger

It was merely impossible to see 20% of the panels/keynotes I was interested in. The conference is now so spread out that you really have to limit yourself to 1-2 panels and go with the flow the rest of the day. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better but my experience was much better than last year. Maybe it was my overall attitude, my focus on networking or the conference felt more elevated and improved from last year.

With one exception, the keynotes weren’t good

Blake McCoskie, CEO and Founder of Tom’s Shoes, stole the keynote show by a huge margin. His story was inspiring and conveyed the passion he feels for his brand. I wish all keynotes would have been of that caliber but it gave me more time to network and learn by talking with fellow attendees.

SXSW’s content: It’s what you make it.

SXSW has turned into a huge farmer market. You have to walk down all the stands, try out some fruit, bite into a few sour apples until you discover something sweet. It’s up to you to do all the legwork in advance, have Plan B and C for each session in place and leave as soon as you feel the session doesn’t meet your expectations. I went to 10 or so sessions and 5 of them were fabulous.

It’s about the people

In a cab, in line, at the Allhat party, at the DraftFCB event, at a local restaurant, on the street: SXSW is about connecting with people. Replacing the Twitter avatar with a real person. Meeting strangers and parting as friends. Connecting friends with other friends. That’s the real story of SXSW.

Big brands are moving in

Samsung hosted the blogger lounge (Ironically more Apple than Samsung products inside the lounge) with interviews, book signings and a lot of Pepsi. Chevy really made an impact with their car service for attendees, test drives, charging stations, the Volt lounge and party sponsorship. Pepsi was basically everywhere, sometimes the only drink you could get was a Pepsi Max. They sponsored a lounge and a stage, sometimes manned by my friend @schneidermike. (He should just legally change his name already.) American Express partnered with Foursquare to launch a form of a loyalty program. Should be interesting to see the results. And, once again, Apple was the marketing king without spending any money on sponsorships: They opened a “pop up” store and geeks lined up for hours to get their hands on the new iPad2. Just to show them off in the next day and do the marketing work for Apple.

More importantly, more executives of large brands and enterprises were present, trying to figure out how to transform their business. I had more discussions about social business and less chat about bright, shiny tools.

Oh boy, so many apps and not enough screen real estate

Situationist, Hurricane Party, Beluga, Ditto, Yobongo, LiquidSpace. And I’m barely scratching the surface. It was fun to try them out and evaluate their worthiness to remain on my iPhone. Unlike other SXSW’s, this year there was no break-out technology. No Foursquare or Twitter. A lot of hype surrounding SMS group chat tools like Beluga and GroupMe but I didn’t experience a high adoption rate in my graph. It felt more like a new feature than an innovative  tool. The LocalMind Q&A tool looked interesting and could become quite helpful over time.

Would love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m busy deleting some of the apps I downloaded a few days ago.


Hurricane Party, Liquid Space, View, Localmind, Situationist – just some of the apps I’ve downloaded in the last few days at South by Southwest. I’m sure I missed out on tons more. And I’m glad I did. The appsphere has become unmanageable. I have around 100 on my iPhone, use maybe 5 of them regularly, 5 more on a weekly basis and a handful during special events. Foursquare is an interesting tool during events like SXSW, it helps me track people I want to connect with. Personally, I have no use for this tool when I’m back home. (I see benefits for the youth market but doubt we’ll ever see adoption throughout all segments.) The ‘dealification’ of location-based services as David Berkowitz calls it, might prove to be successful for Foursquare and Facebook Places (all others seem to fade rather quickly). But it will also transform its value from social to pure commercial. Hey, Valpak is still around and making money.

It makes sense for companies like Foursquare to cash-in as quickly as possible. When Mubarak’s regime an be swept away in 17 days, Foursquare can be forgotten with one tap of a new app. There a new apps that move location-based services into a more semantic and intention-based space. And there are apps that are more focused and useful when you’re in a certain mindset. The cold hard truth is: We have way too many apps. And it’s getting harder and harder to break through the clutter.

We need to aggregate functionalities

QR Code? I need an app. Picture sharing? App. Location? App. Intention? App. Conversation? App. Information Sharing? App.

Why? I want an app that integrates all these functionalities. How many photo sharing apps do I need? I want one app where there’s one camera button and I can choose between QR Reader, Photo (include Instagram while you’re at it), Video and, if possible, Google Goggles. Suck in my complete Social Graph and allow me to engage with them on my terms. Integrate readers (RSS/Instagram). And let me customize it. In short: help to delete 20 apps by aggregating all their functionalities. Cleaning the apps wasteland will help me clean my screen, clear my mind and give me back some time to look for real innovation.

The time of incremental innovation is over. You either aggregate or innovate. Or I delete.

Former Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, now at Kleiner Perkins, just published her newest slideshow about the rise of mobile computing.
A few observations:
  • Slide 19: 60% of time spend on smartphones is new activity for mobile users. That’s an amazing stat. Just think about how hard it is to change behavior. Not in the mobile world: Apps, Social Networking and games make people change their daily behavior. Think Foursquare. Think Yelp. The question is: How long is that window of opportunity open? When will it close?
  • Slide 22+: Mobile Advertising -growing pains but huge promise. It’s a short-term promise. Once advertisers flood the market with mobile ads, users will be turned off and tune out very quickly. We need to focus on utility, not advertising.
  • Slide 35/36: Mobile Shopping changing behavior. Once again, we need to focus on this changing behavior. How we can add more utility to this behavior, make it more valuable? NOT disrupt it with ads.
  • Slide 42: “Gamification of apps is the ultimate way to engage a new generation of audiences.” YUP!
  • Slide 50: Google, AOL, eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon are shaking in their boots. Pretty convincing slide documenting the wealth creation, destruction cycle
  • Slide 54: Pretty poignant on this day, watching the events in Cairo: “Empowerment – impact of empowering billions of people around the world with real-time connected devices has just begun.”