Steve Caldwell had a mobile software development shop in Vicksburg, Miss., doing mainly government and military contract work, when his wife bought him a Pebble smartwatch for Christmas in 2013. It changed his life, and might change marketing.
"Being a geek at heart, I started writing apps for it," he said, which led to "thinking through things like app monetization for wearable developers and ad networks for wearables."
Within months, he and his software-development partners had formed Strap and been accepted into Cincinnati's marketing-focused accelerator The Brandery. They made a big impression on investors during a demo day. By late last year, they'd attracted $1.25 million in venture funding. Mr. Caldwell still can't name most clients behind actual projects, but by August, Mondelez publicly awarded Strap a pilot with Trident gum and the Kum & Go convenience store chain, which expects the result to be running in the chain's app within 30 days.
"Wearable technology is becoming the next mobile, and it's important for us as a brand to understand how we can best leverage it," said Mindy Rickert, associate director-shopper marketing for small-format stores at Mondelez.
The basic premise behind Strap is "you are what you do," as opposed to "you are what you tweet or post," said Strap co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Henshaw. That means programs to "personalize our world with all the things that we're doing, using human data collected passively that's not tainted by our social atmosphere or the face we're trying to have inside social media."
That philosophy meant moving beyond focusing strictly on smartwatches or fitness trackers to all the data captured by smartphones. For example, iPhones have been tracking or calculating such things as steps, calorie burn and sleep via HealthKit since iOs8 was launched last year, he said.
Beyond marketers giving people rewards for meeting daily step goals, Mr. Caldwell said there's a far broader world where biometric data could shape marketing, all using anonymized databases and opt-in programs.
"Studies show emails sitting there in your inbox first thing in the morning typically get the most attention," Mr. Caldwell said. "If you know when someone usually wakes up, you can send them a message 10 minutes before so it's the first thing they see."
For people logging calories, restaurants could send an offer for a 180-calorie parfait rather than a cheeseburger to someone who's already consumed 1,800 calories from a 2,000-calorie daily budget, Mr. Henshaw said. Or retailers who know people are logging calories can help them calculate values for dishes made from ingredients bought in their stores.
Since May, Strap has operated out of the Cincinnati headquarters of Kroger Co.'s database-marketing firm 84.51° as part of an entrepreneur-in-residence program, where the unit's CEO Stuart Aitken has personally served as a mentor (though Strap declines to say if Kroger is a customer.)
While working in the shadow of Procter & Gamble Co., Strap was invited by P&G rival Kimberly-Clark Corp. to do a demo at CES in January, and Unilever's Foundry named Strap a finalist for a "Scale-Up of the Year" competition in March. But likewise Strap executives declined to say if they're working on projects for those marketers.