John SanGiovanni is co-founder and vice president of product design at Zumobi, a company specialized in creating innovative apps and in-app advertising for the mobile industry through its platform called ZBi (Zumobi Brand integration). John has more than 13 years of experience in mobile interface design. Prior to Zumobi he worked at Microsoft Research. In this interview he talks about Zumobi applies native advertising methods to drive brand content and awareness in the mobile space and talks about the exciting future of mobile advertising.
Sramana Mitra: John, let’s start with some of your background as well as background about Zumobi. What do you do? What kinds of customers do you cater to?
John SanGiovanni: I have a hybrid background in technology and design. Our focus has always been in the realm of mobile media and mobile publishing. Zumobi has two complementary business areas and client groups: we work with major media companies and publishers, and we create technologies to bring their content into mobile apps – iPhone, Android, iPad, Kindle Fire, and other places. We have a publishing platform that powers the apps for NBC News, the “Today Show,” Popular Science, Motor Trend, Xbox and many others. The other side of our business is that we also have a technology that powers the advertising and brand experiences inside those apps. Those two businesses are complementary because the journey of publishing apps in a collaborative joint venture way has given us a nice perspective on how to do advertising the right and the wrong way, and it has lead us to a product suite that thinks about next-generation mobile advertising.
SM: Let’s double click down on that. Walk us through some of your customers and case studies. What kinds of apps are you developing, and what kinds of ad campaigns are effective for those apps and why?
JS: We have been active for more than six years. We did some of the first branded content apps in the app store, when the iOS App Store first opened. One of the things we learned very early on with some of our major publishing partners and advertising partners is how overwhelmed everybody is with mobile banners. Mobile banners are just not working. They are underwhelming to the advertiser because users are very good at ignoring them, but also they are not great for end users, since they tend to be lowest common denominator style of ad campaign.
But what is a rising trend in the broader marketing zeitgeist is the trend of brand as publisher and creating conversational advertising or storytelling around a brand story. That really doesn’t resonate with the format of banner ads, either. One of the banner ads we published was in partnership with Motor Trend – we publish the official app for Motor Trend on the iPhone, Android and iPad. We realized very quickly that particularly automotive advertisers have such cool stories to tell. They have a cool design philosophy, they have cool technology about how they build engines, etc. They have interesting technology in the car, interesting visions on the future of transportation, etc. There are so many great stories to tell.
It turns out that that content is compelling to the end user, and it happens to be so compelling to a specific user that he has opted in to the Motor Trend app on his phone. Let me give you an example. We worked with Chevrolet, which did a six-part technology series that included articles, video, photos, etc. It was not just traditional campaign messaging about a model. In fact, they didn’t have any of that. It was much more about “Here is our philosophy for design, here is how we think about transportation.” It was great content.
Our ad platform is called ZBi (Zumobi Brand integration). ZBi is designed to seamlessly and organically blend the content from the brand with the app itself. When this Chevrolet campaign went live, rather than just serving banners for the campaign, we were able to light up a special advertising section inside the app. That was real content, enjoyable to read. But the user could drill in and read it just as if it was another article inside the app. This concept of native mobile advertising is all the rage right now. As a result, this campaign performed very well – users engaged with us very well. We had a shocking 37% overall mobile engagement with that campaign.