Why This Mobile CMO Is Psyched About the Apple Watch

Urban Airship's Brent Hieggelke Looks Forward to More Mobile Data

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Brent Hieggelke poses with Urban Airship-branded skateboards.
Brent Hieggelke poses with Urban Airship-branded skateboards.
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At age 19, Brent Hieggelke co-founded Chicago alt-weekly New City, and helped evolve the small publishing operation into an ad network, which was a novel concept at the time.

Nearly 30 years later he remains on the cusp of advertising innovation as CMO of mobile development at Portland, Ore.-based Urban Airship, a mobile marketing and development firm. He's already helping steer clients at agencies including Saatchi and Saatchi and TBWA/Chiat/Day towards the next stage for mobile marketing: wearables.

Mr. Hieggelke is especially hyped about the highly-anticipated Apple Watch, which he says his agency clients are also buzzing about. He sees it as the next big-data collector in part because it will make consumer interaction with brands even more immediate than smartphone apps do today. For instance, a hotel client -- Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide works with Urban Airship – might consider using a smart watch app to send travelers a one-question survey requiring a simple "yes" or "no" response about their stay.

"That could mean that data collection skyrockets. If there's a brand that does that, then that sets a new bar," he said.

"In quick glances, consumers can immediately see the latest promotions and with a simple button-tap indicate which product categories are of most interest and opt-in or out of special sales."

Mr. Hieggelke wants clients to bring app marketing to a new level, recognizing that the goal of building a brand app should be more than just encouraging people to download it. The primary value of mobile apps, he said, should be "getting the permission to communicate with the customer."

Brands can encourage consumers to communicate with them by providing tools that make their lives easier or serve a utilitarian purpose, he suggested. "Digital wallets, and in particular Apple Passbook and Google Wallet, are poised to explode in 2015 as payment becomes more linked to mobile and wearable devices, and as companies realize the lightweight entry point they offer to have a persistent presence on these devices."

Mr. Hieggelke held executive marketing positions at Omniture, TouchClarity and WebTrends during the decade before joining Urban Airship three years ago. But he hasn't always been immersed strictly in the advertising scene. After attaining a BS in Economics from University of Chicago, he worked as a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley. And later, the occasional entrepreneur co-founded Facebook-based vacation rental service Second Porch, which was acquired by HomeAway in 2011.

Ad Age chatted recently with Mr. Hieggelke at Urban Airship's downtown Portland office about his approach to marketing a mobile-marketing firm, trends he expects to accelerate in 2015, and why he thinks the so-called "Silicon Forest" startup community is unique.

Ad Age: Often companies in the tech and data space speak one way when talking to clients and another when talking to consumers, particularly when it comes to sensitive topics like data privacy. How do you ensure there's a balance between the need to market to clients and have a public face? Does it matter?

Mr. Hieggelke: Mobile is different than every channel that came before, as it is our most personal, ever-present, utility-driven screen. It's also entirely opt-in driven, where consumers must first decide to download your app or digital wallet item, and then opt-in to receive notifications or share their location data.

We constantly reinforce with our customers that the consumer is in control and they need to take that to heart. Continually enhancing the ways you give consumers control over their privacy, their data and your content is critical. Less can be more on mobile, as you strive to serve consumers what they want and not what they don't. Always delivering value means they continue to allow it, and appreciate it. In addition, constantly selling to them is tiresome, so be sure to deliver a mix of valuable information that makes them appreciate your app in their lives.

Ad Age: How would you describe the tech scene in Portland -- what's unique about it?

Mr. Hieggelke: While larger tech markets can be cutthroat and full of startups self-centered on being the next big thing, Portland's tech ecosystem is both aspiring and supportive with a community that is welcoming and very collaborative.

The number of organizations and experienced executives of successful companies willing to offer their time, advice and assistance to others in order to continue to help Portland emerge from the shadows of larger tech meccas to the north and south is simply amazing and a resource you'd be hard-pressed to find in many other cities.

Ad Age: What are your mobile predictions or trend to watch for in 2015?

Mr. Hieggelke: We're seeing notifications evolve in a strategic way from historically being a tool to drive usage of apps, to the enlightened realization that having an app gives them a permission-based foundation to be able to send notifications. Reaching their most loyal customers directly on their mobile devices' home screen has massive marketing value greater than marketers have ever known. Beacons and the ability to meld digital experiences with physical environments, are an exciting new targeting and segmentation dataset that add greater context, but are only one of the drivers expected to double in adoption in the next year.

Part of this change has to do with apps and notifications being more integrated into business operations as well as the overall marketing mix. We saw this with holiday sales over the Thanksgiving-Cyber Monday weekend, where retailers doubled their notification send volume and saw nearly twice as much consumer engagement than they did last year. We're also seeing this with companies like Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which is creating an entirely new traveler experience with its Keyless entry capability.

But a larger part of this sea change is notifications themselves extending customer interactions to the home screen of mobile devices and wearables, where immediacy drives the greatest consumer response of all marketing channels. When those messages are targeted, response increases another four to seven times. Now these messages can contain action buttons extending relevant consumer controls outside of the app to learn more about what users care about most.