Sameer Patel of Kahuna: Modern Mobile Marketing Provides Realtime Link between Insights and Interaction


Mobile marketing is much more than optimizing emails to look good on smartphones. The kind of data consumers provide just by using their mobile phones in the normal course of their lives can provide valuable context and lead to ways to create more valuable relationships with them.

Sameer Patel, CEO of Kahuna, makers of a mobile marketing/communications platform, shares how modern mobile marketing platforms can ingest signals coming from consumer devices and turn them into opportunities to engage them in a more personalized way in order optimize conversion opportunities – and extend customer relationships. He also shares how turning perishable inventories (goods, services, time, distance, etc) into timely offers can maximize profit margins, and why cross-channel communication goes beyond multichannel to increase the likelihood of meaningful engagement with today’s more sophisticated consumers.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full interview click on the video below. To hear the audio click the embedded player.

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Sameer Patel of Kahuna: Modern Mobile Marketing Provides Real Time Customer InsightSmall Business Trends: Give us some of your personal background.

Sameer Patel: I have been in enterprise software for about 20 years. And prior to that I was at SAP for four years. I joined SAP to help build out their presence in collaboration software and took that product to many millions of users.

I had a fantastic team at SAP and then moved on to another fantastic team at Kahuna, looking to bring an entirely new face to what marketing should mean to the modern marketer.

Small Business Trends: So talk about mobile marketing. How does it differ from just two years ago?

Sameer Patel: What you want to do is start really with the consumer. Our customers’ consumer because that’s what matters the most. What’s great about being in this business is that we’re all consumers. We’re all users of the product. We’ve all gotten fantastic offers and we’ve all gotten really bad offers.

If you look back five years look at the availability of real time interaction and engagement that all of us expect from the systems and people that we engage with. You’re in a place where there’s a wildly different expectation of how fast systems should be able to ingest data and make sense of it, and actually allow the conversations to happen in real time. That same consumer is expecting that brands are going to engage with them also come with the same level of sophistication when they want to engage with them, and respect the pace at which they want to adopt new technologies.

Now the conversation around email and mobile is interesting because it usually leads you to think about how you want to engage with brands on a mobile phone. How do you receive offers? How do you receive notifications and push messages? The more important, more interesting part that’s missed out is what the mobile phone tells you about the consumer without them actually doing anything. That’s the power of mobile. That’s 10x compared to just the convenience of a brand reaching you on the mobile phone.

Where you go, your availability and your ability to opt in; and your inclination to opt in on a mobile phone for what you get back in return (in the sense location awareness for example) has allowed us to completely rethink how we might engage with brands. Different conversations from the way you engage with them. This is about richer data sets that come from new delivery mechanisms. Today its email tomorrow’s bots. It’s SMS. It’s beacons on and on and on. It’s the ingesting of new signals. That’s what makes this wildly exciting.

Small Business Trends: How does Kahuna help with the challenge of interacting at the right time?

Sameer Patel: I think we have never ever before been in a position where we could truly capitalize on the notion of perishable inventory. It could literally be perishable inventory like an airline ticket or groceries. But any e-commerce inventory to some degree, or perishable in that it’s costing expense and shelf space. So if I’m about to offload it to an overstock facility in five days which means I’m going to have to sell it to them at 90 percent discounts, what can I do in a 48 hour window to make 40, 50, 60 percent margins on that? Let’s start there.

There is no facility, in my opinion, that has existed in the last 10 years, seven years, six years, five years, until the time that we live in now where real-time data technologies can begin to ingest at scale. Kahuna can ingest events within five seconds. And the way I look to talk to our team about it is the analogy I play in my own life because of the kinds of things we do at Kahuna because of the real time data infrastructure that sits underneath what we do when you apply things like machine learning to real time data.

My personal use case I’m actually pretty possessive about can come to life. I leave my house at 4:55 every morning to get to Starbucks by 5:01 – a six minute walk from my house. If I turn right from my house I get to Starbucks in six minutes. If I go left 15 minutes I can get to Peet’s. What is it that Starbucks can do to make me raise my bill from one dollar and ninety cents which is all I pay, to a $4 drink. Between what the phone knows and what the Starbucks app knows, there’s six minutes to really put something in front of me that could change my mind about what I buy and increase my ticket price? What could Peet’s do to make sure that I don’t turn right and I turn left?

We are at a moment in time where the applicability of real time technology can enable such delivery of offers and information in the array of time.

Small Business Trends: How important is acting in near real time today? In seemingly only having split seconds to connect?

Sameer Patel: Actually I think it’s probably a little easier than that to be honest.

You’ve known me for a long time. I’m not I’m not a speeds and feeds guy; faster is not always better. I think we can get to a place where we can do two things. One is respect the pace at which the brand believes that they want to have their customers move from channel to channel. There are certain brands that may say 50 percent of my customers who truly want e-mail 80 percent of the time, and mobile 20 percent – or 10 percent mobile and 10 percent SMS. We as an industry have to begin to respect that pace at which the consumer wants to move and traverse that journey.

The second is to understand what those windows are for you. If it is 5 p.m. and there’s a red eye that will pretty much go down to the value of zero by say midnight tonight. You can understand what the value of that is. If you are selling excess inventory of hotel rooms at a certain point this evening the value of the room is going to be worth zero.

We have to let brands adapt to that. And this is why I think some of the narratives in the industry when we’re thinking about modern marketing is almost insulting to the brand. When you read about email is dead and it’s all real time, it’s not all real time. It’s absolutely unrealistic. And it’s not how brands want to work. Right time matters.

If you want to go back into a history of marketing automation 15 years ago you had systems built for email . They were called marketing automation but it was nothing more than email delivery systems. Today you’re seeing a lot of vendors also start to look at the equivalent of that in the mobile world and say they’ll give you mobile marketing automation.

We’re saying be able to bring on dynamic delivery mechanisms. Because today it’s mobile, next year you know it’s going to be bots. And it’s going to be beacons after that and who else knows what. We have to be able to decouple that. One of the reasons why I took the role is if you look at the work the founders of this company have done for the first two years it was really building that real time data engine on which you could then apply machine learning concepts to be able to make sense of what you’re doing.

We have that capability now to have plumbing that sits underneath multiple delivery mechanisms and we can add and remove delivery mechanisms. That to me is respecting the pace at which consumers want to move their journey and not throwing them a one size fits all technology. I think the market generally is at a place where we’re doing some fun stuff with multichannel, but again multichannel means I’m going to blast Brent exactly the same message on every channel. We’re saying cross-channel, which means if I learn something about Brent that makes me much smarter because of a gesture on a mobile phone, why can’t the email to him that goes out on the weekend use that to become smarter. And as a consumer that is that is your expectation. That’s my expectation when I engage with a brand.

Small Business Trends: Are a lot of your customers thinking like this? Do they need guidance?

Sameer Patel: Someone made a really astute comment to me over lunch today and said we’ve been talking and hoping for cross-channel for a really long time. And it’s true because when I go and talk to customers, none of them are shocked with the notion of cross-channel. They just don’t believe it’s here because they’ve been told a story for many years. And we’ve got some of the leading brands out there are using the products like Hotel Tonight using it, and a bunch of customers using it where they understand that mobile has to be an equal citizen to email. So that you can allow customers to adjust and when chatbots become big, and that also has to be an equal citizen. But you can’t jam any of these individual delivery mechanisms down the consumer’s throat. That’s unacceptable.

Small Business Trends: And you can’t just use these new channels to deliver the same old thing over and over again to them.

Sameer Patel: I think the customer is saying I’ve turned on all sorts of opt-in facilities on my phone. I’m leaving bread crumbs everywhere I go. The jokes on you if you can’t adapt to that and serve me in a more palatable way. So it’s really exciting that I think we’re at a place where you know if you have not built a real time data infrastructure from the ground up this is not something you can just peanut butter on top of an old architecture. This has to be the core of what you’re doing; you can re-architect this stuff.

And so that was one of the most exciting things to me when I joined Kahuna because it’s just about making something that’s fantastic even better.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series. He is a Partner at CRM Essentials and organizer of the Social Business Atlanta conference. Brent serves on the advisory board of The University of Toronto CRM Center of Excellence, writes the Social CRM column for Inc.com's technology site, and blogs at Brent's Social CRM Blog.

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