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Close-Up with Jim Somers, chief marketer and strategist, Antenna Software

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Why can't business applications be as cool and fun to use as consumer apps? That's a question asked by Jim Somers, chief marketer and strategist with Antenna Software (www.antennasoftware.com), who has undertaken a major rebranding of the Jersey City, N.J.-based mobile application company. Antenna is differentiating itself from its competitors by branding itself as the app developer that “deploys happiness” to its business users, rather than appealing primarily (or only) to IT or C-suite decisions-makers. This “consumerization of the enterprise” is a bold, new move for the company, which over the past two years has doubled its size through acquisitions.

CMO Close-Up: Tell us a bit about your business and the industries it serves?

Somers: Antenna has a platform called Antenna Mobility Platform, or AMP, that helps larger enterprises, [Bloomberg Businessweek's] Global 1,000, to mobilize their businesses. In the past, most of this was useful to field service technicians, task-based workers using pagers. But recently devices have gotten faster and more powerful, and devices like the iPhone are helping make apps cool, interesting and fun. So, yes, we do provide field sales applications, such as for pharmaceutical sales reps who want to access their CRM systems to see customer information before they make a sales call, or a beer distributor who wants to know where he's being dispatched to. But we also provide mobile merchandising applications, customer-facing ones such as what an E-Trade or a Charles Schwab might provide their customers for mobile banking and brokerage. We also sell on a monthly or annual basis the enabling platform that powers those apps.

CMO Close-Up: Who are your biggest competitors and what makes you unique?

Somers: Our No. 1 competitor is internal development, companies that say, “I can do this on my own.” But when it comes down to it, there's the security, management and monitoring of all these apps, as well as the evolving nature of phone technology. We also compete against the SAPs and Oracles out there, who are looking more and more to mobilize their own software. After three major acquisitions, including acquiring our biggest competitor in the marketplace, we realized that there was a huge opportunity for us to raise awareness of Antenna and to create differentiation. And since one of our acquisitions, Vaultus [Mobile Technologies], focused on beautiful, consumer-facing apps, we saw the opportunity to extend our brand recognition beyond field service-type apps, which had become limiting.

CMO Close-Up: How did you come up with the idea of “deploying happiness” with your apps?

Somers: The value of the app is in the platform, of course, but the reality is companies also want to talk about the end-user experience. If people don't love their apps, you won't have success. So the question is, why can't business apps be as fun and easy to use as consumer apps? We write it on the wall: “Design products that people love and want to use.”

After we acquired Vaultus in March 2010 and began integrating its design expertise into Antenna, we wanted to shift the dialogue, to move it away from features and functions and more toward business transformation and efficiency. All this is really about the “wow” factor.

CMO Close-Up: How are you communicating that to your target audiences?

Somers: We're working closely with analysts to get them up to speed on our business, taking tons of time showing them case studies and videos on our YouTube channel. We've also set up a new site, MobileMastersCommunity.com, to build a community for our customers and partners to learn from each other. It's not branded as Antenna; we're just acting as facilitators to present blogs, case studies and videos to [help users] learn about best practices around mobilizing your business. About nine months ago we hired a journalist who is constantly writing on this topic every day. And we have our own employees and partners blogging as well. All this links to our LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitters sites.

CMO Close-Up: What other channels are you exploring?

Somers: Live events. We did a Mobile Masters summit last summer in Boston, and we're struggling with the idea of taking it on the road. We also exhibit at others' live events, such as Oracle OpenWorld, Research in Motion's Wireless Enterprise Symposium and CTIA, the wireless association. We also do a lot of e-mail, very segmented around our top verticals of retail, financial services, consumer goods, automotive and pharmaceuticals. In fact, we pivoted to a verticalcentric marketing model only in July.

CMO Close-Up: What's the reception been for your new “deploy happiness” messaging?

Somers: We've gotten a lot of positive feedback. Of course, you have to prove the business case but, at the same time, nobody will dispute that mobile is the next major platform. That's why we want to appeal to a broader audience, as a more approachable business. The beginning of the conversation is always around the apps. If you don't have an app that people want to use, you won't have success.

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