Our interviews with founders and leaders of data-driven start-ups continue with this fascinating insight into the work and ambitions of mobile and location-based marketing company, Bubbl. Jo Eckersley, Bubbl’s founder and CEO, shares her experiences of growing a young company in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic and adapting to a rapidly-changing environment. Jo also reflects on the challenges facing the digital marketing sector in terms of protecting personal privacy and the opportunities presented by AI and machine learning (ML) for making marketing messages more relevant to consumers.
Since running the school shop at 14, Jo has been a serial entrepreneur. Her passion for great customer service led to Bubbl, a new award-winning mobile customer engagement tool that is disrupting the world of mobile advertising and marketing. This ground-breaking technology supercharges existing mobile apps with geofencing and rich media location-based content. Her business development and management credentials come from a long career as an innovation consultant to technology start-ups, and as a PR and marketing expert across multiple brands. Jo was named one of 5 Rising Stars in Computer Weekly’s Most Influential Women in Tech Awards 2019. She is also passionate about leading with heart which reflects the company culture that emanates from Bubbl.
Martin: When was Bubbl founded and what inspired you to start the company?
Jo: Bubbl was founded in 2016 and was originally a project within my London based tech innovation consultancy, ThinkInnovate. I ended up setting it up as a company in its own right, because it seemed to offer a great solution to some of the issues emerging in the AdTech space relating to use of data and mobile engagement….and I was getting really fed up of the way the advertising industry was heading, with cookies and ad networks, and pushing unsolicited and interruptive ads appearing in apps on my phone. I believed there was a better way of using mobile and that it was possible to build an engaging content based solution that could generate positive brand experiences, retain mobile app users and eliminate a lot of the data mis-management, fraud and transparency issues that were emerging in the AdTech space.
Martin: What are Bubbl’s core offerings and what types of companies are customers?
Jo: Bubbl is a mobile marketing technology company with revolutionary mobile app plug-ins, API’s and an enterprise level mobile marketing platform, offering location-based mobile marketing technology with a fast plug and play implementation. The tech enables any app-owning business to attain substantial customer engagement through their app – delivering immediate, relevant and attributable, location-aware app marketing opportunities to their clients. It basically turns your app into a sophisticated channel to engage with your customers, using content formats in a really dynamic and relevant way.
Martin: How does Bubbl differ from other geo targeting marketing solutions?
Jo: We have been very focused on providing solutions to the three key issues marketing teams face when looking for geotargeting solutions, firstly to provide value and growth to their business; secondly a lack of transparency and lastly the real ability to ensure end-user engagement.
Transparency within the marketing and advertising industry has long been accepted as absent and unmanageable. It’s the bugbear of global executives that the data collected, upon which they base most marketing decisions, will almost always be flawed in one way or another. A CMO Council study revealed 78% of brands believe associations with inappropriate content have negatively impacted their image.
The complexity of the industry as a whole and lack of transparency in ad placement also enables ad fraud to flourish; with estimates suggesting a cost to brands at $30bn per year. In searching for solutions large parts of the industry brought key aspects of the process in house, in a bid to improve the transparency of value and manage the engagement path for their consumers.
Along with transparency, brands are rarely able to control how or where their adverts or content is placed from both a location and targeting perspective – especially when dealing with third parties who use complex technology to manage the advertising process, especially concerning mobile devices. On top of that it is almost impossible to measure return on investment and maintain retention of app users.
Bubbl comes at the mobile engagement and geo targeting market from a totally different position. We aim to make the location a critical part of the reason for engagement, making interactions engaging and relevant, with 5G and emerging space tech allowing us to reach a precision with tools to distribute a diverse range of content formats that elevate an app into a really effective channel tool for retaining and engaging with a community.
Martin: What types of data does your plugin allow customers to collect?
Jo: Our plug ins, API’s and dashboard allow our customers to collect a combination of physical and digital data reflecting contextual, footfall, attribution, relational and impact data points. We also, through our survey and conversational features enable the collection of first party data and direct survey responses, all of which are visible in real time. We are very careful to ensure data is permission-based and make sure we comply with GDPR in all aspects of our tech build and data processing. We only work with completely anonymous or first party data which very much sets us apart from others in an industry built on third party data and cookies.
Martin: Do you see Bubbl’s offerings having applications beyond the marketing sector?
Jo: Absolutely. Whilst marketing of course spills across many industries, our technology can facilitate and add to customer service for a number of sectors, can easily add to many virtual tourism and experiential events and even supports recruitment, eg geofencing truck stops and nudging hard to reach lorry drivers via a truckers app or recruitment app, to apply for roles while they are on a break. It also adds a deeper layer of engagement for loyalty and m-commerce.
Martin: What role do you think artificial intelligence and machine learning may play in the geo targeting space?
Jo: AI and ML will play a significant role in the geotargeting space, particularly in relation to geofencing. The precision and flexibility of geo fencing, which means you can target multiple or individual buildings, streets, towns or whole countries, combined with clever scheduling or dynamically shared engagement and content, becomes very powerful when you incorporate other contextual factors, beyond place and time. For example, the weather, or traffic, or even incidences of crime or public health can inform intelligent Machine Learning and AI decisions regarding what content is most relevant to serve. With the emergence of 5G, it will even become possible to send different information based on which floor, or part of a building you are in without needing any hardware like beacons.
Martin: How does Bubbl use data to improve its offerings?
Jo: We are improving our data offer all the time – currently by capturing data gained from customer campaign results (click through and content engagement) and we are in the process of building new data fabric tools to assess where customers are using our platform to best effect. This is so we can build best practice data tools that can advise the user as new campaigns are being set up e.g. best format, questions, time of day in that place etc. Most importantly because the data we capture is live, and a client can see their data as it is visible in real time on the platform, impact and engagement results can be acted on really quickly enabling clients to improve their mobile marketing too, just by assessing the level of engagement they are achieving.
Martin: What have been some of the greatest challenges getting Bubbl to market?
Jo: Well this whole year has been a bit of a challenge! We fully launched in January 2020, and had significant uplift in the music, entertainment, sport and corporate events sectors back in February….. but all the festivals, events and music gigs have been put on hold so things have been very stop and start for us so far. We have seen a lot of interest from retail and councils since the summer though, so look forward to helping those sectors get back on their feet now. We are in a great position to help app owners and brands who have suffered this year, as our tech means that brands can reach people at home as well as when they are in relevant places so we are keen to do that where we can. For example, we have just plugged our tech into a domestic violence ‘well-being’ app to help them support service users over the festive period.
Martin: How do you see data-driven marketing evolving over the next several years?
Jo: Well as we all know there is a significant shift away from third party data capture which is a really positive thing – I mean who actually likes being followed around the internet? It’s like having digital stalkers! I hope that using data to focus on authentic engagement, value and service will build levels of trust between brands and increase loyalty. I hope that first party data and consumer-led preferences will dominate as opposed to making assumptions based on third party data which still seems to dominate the industry.
I also anticipate a shift from the big-name social media apps, which has become akin to promoting on national TV or radio when there is a world of blogs, vlogs, podcasts and specialist channels to use. With hundreds of thousands of apps added to app stores every month it is clear brands see this as a major part of their mobile marketing toolkit.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique shift in the reach of many brands who now look for channels to go direct to the consumer or community wherever they happen to be, rather than reliance on traditional macro social media channels. Their app is their own Channel and driving engagement with clever use of contextual, relational, impact and permission based first party data are where the industry will evolve and mature and I look forward to Bubbl being a big part of that.
Martin: What are your plans for Bubbl over the coming 2 to 3 years?
Jo: We are in the middle of a Seed funding round and plan a Series A raise towards the end of 2021 so our growth now is all about commercial validation and providing further location-based mobile services that are simply and easily plugged in to an app. We are building partner relationships and Bubbl’s long term aim is to build an international ‘Tech for Good’ company that fosters good practice both in the advertising and marketing industry and through the products we sell. Our aim is to gain recognition as an internationally leading mobile marketing technology company that enables brands and consumers to benefit from authentic connections based on truth and trust.
Martin De Saulles
Editor, Information Matters
Dr Martin De Saulles is a writer, analyst and lecturer specializing in the commercial applications of data.