A few of my favorite* things...

I’ve spent the past five years studying the (fairly niche) digital promotion landscape, including an intensive 20-month window when Laird and I concentrated on API integration with retail point of sale environments almost exclusively.  (PS, I like to think of this 2011-2012 period as the “free love” era of POS data swapping: when we were all just experimenting, man; different vendors trading data and playing nicely together… just trying to map it all out, have fun, build this thing… together. It was peaceful, man.)

In that time, our digital consulting unit talked to dozens of vendors, examined countless platforms, and analyzed thousands of calls amidst millions of lines of code.  If you had a solution for one of my clients (wanting to “activate” their sweet, sweet CPG budgets) and were successful enough with Marketing to get on the radar of Finance… getting the blessing from my team was usually the next step to scaling up from “cool pilot, fella” to “tapping into a national consumer promotion budget.”

Candidly, most of those cool new digital platforms still cannot deliver audits & controls on par with the good ol’ humble paper coupon. (you might have seen me talk about this before?)  But just because certain technologies haven’t yet made The Leap, been acquired or had their Hockey Stick Moment (can you feel my eyes rolling?), it doesn’t mean there isn’t nifty, innovative tech flowing around out there.  It’s in abundance, all in the lab, all still simmering. 

To honor the latest and greatest newfangled Game Changing Disruptor Industry Revoluntionizer, I’m going to spend a few posts examining five of the funkiest and most interesting digital promotion players I met or encountered over these five years.

Here’s the catch. I’m only looking at independents and pure-technology plays still out in the space today.  If you grew big and successful enough to be acquired by a big industry player (congrats Hopster and Cellfire!) I’m excluding you from this list.

And here’s Caveat Number Two, the asterisk (*) from the headline: I mean “favorite” mostly in the journalistic sense.  As in, “these guys did something cool/disruptive and I enjoyed covering it” – not necessarily a recommendation or endorsement of the platform.  The funny thing about “disruption” is that (despite sounding sexy), it’s usually controversial when it actually happens!  The ticked off retailer in the middle, sending C&D letters and demanding restitution? That’s “disruption,” gang. 

Without further ado, here are five players and platforms (listed in no particular order), still floating around, doing cool things somewhat under the radar.  We’ll explore the first today (mobeam, an hilarious yet cautionary tale about building IP that accidentally works too well), solicit nominations for others, and explore the most popular (or head-scratching) platforms in future posts.

PS, don’t expect Qples to stay on this list for long.  Their recently-announced partnership with Valassis means the whiz kids from Texas are getting their moment in the spotlight.


1.     Mobeam

Light-based emission IP allows the mobile barcode to interact with legacy barcode scanners.  No image capture (like most QR/code readers) or hardware upgrades required.

2.     Qples

Sometimes it’s good to know exactly who you are.  There are plenty of Print at Home options out there, but none better integrated with facebook than Qples. Pulling in avatars, social sharing, tracking distribution down to the individual user… Qples understood the facebook SDK early on, and better than anybody, and have the integrated platform to prove it.  If you’re executing a PAH coupon through facebook, it’s not a bad idea to give Jay and Brandi a call first.

3.     RevTrax

The only agency on this list.  I tease a LOT of shopper marketing and activation agencies for not really understanding the space (let’s be honest, coupons are not their favorite things, and let’s just say promotion settlement mechanics are just a wee bit out of their wheelhouse), so it’s important to call out the smart shops when you find them.  JT, Seth and rest of the Cornell kids actually took the time to learn about coupons: print at home distribution, load-to-card redemption, message broker calls and how to extract the most data from every waypoint.  As a result, they can stitch together campaigns & extract incredibly valuable learnings across disparate coupon media and methods.  I know this because I used to work with them, and this was what we did for our shared clients.  It was super cool. RevTrax does incredibly cool things.

4.     SnapTags

The best way to win over a client?  Win over their agency.  How to win over the agency?  Work the logo into the discovery device.  Truth be told, Laird and I giggled over this pitch for a full year – despite it being cool!  See, I’m not the world’s biggest QR fan (too clunky an experience, and this is no exception), but the genius of building a code ring around the client’s own logo (or the agency that designed it!)… it’s like promotional aikido.  Using the client’s own hubris against them.  I loved it.

5.     SnipSnap

There’s nothing I can say about Ted Mann and his merry band of developers that Jill Cataldo hasn’t said already, and better.


The Tale Of Mobeam

A little blurb won’t do the fascinating IP justice here; I may dedicate an entire upcoming post to how exactly these guys figured out how to execute the “light-based emission” aspect of the tech to make a mobile barcode work.  (e.g., how to get any phone to successfully interact with point of sale environments.) Did they commandeer your camera’s flash? Illuminate the screen like so many other apps?  NO!  They figured a devastatingly simple solution, requiring no special tech and no funky hardware mods.  Ubiquitous across all handsets and devices.  Pure genius.  I’m still surprised these guys haven’t been gobbled up or copycatted out by now.

I’ve had a fair amount of fun teasing and calling out the overpromising mobile coupon vendor (for lo, they are legion), so let me be the first to give praise when it works.  Mobeam’s tech works.  Almost a little too well!  You know the whole “wave the barcode on my phone, make the register go boo-beep” part?  Well, mobeam figured it out!  Mobile coupons were being applied at point of sale – holy cow!  Unfortunately, this phenomenon was working in LOTS of places – including retailers not set up for the CPG program.  So the customer got the discount, woo!  But the retailer didn’t get reimbursed, oops.  Not only that, his POS environment was just overridden by an outside technology he can’t control.  In 2012, my client called it “hijacking.” Today, we’d call it hacking.

So on the downside, a few retailers got a surprise hack!  But on the upside, holy cow did that breakthrough technology actually just *work*?

Would somebody please acquire mobeam and refine it work within a large retail environment (*cough*Bentonville*cough*) please?  The IP is simply too cool to be rogue and banished forever.  And this, coming from Rogue Two. 

What platform should we cover next?