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Rana Sobhany of Medialets interviewed on The Hopkinson Report Podcast from Jim Hopkinson on Vimeo.

Rana Sobhany is Vice-President of Marketing for Medialets, an analytics provider and ad network for mobile devices such as the Apple iPhone and Google’s Android phone. She sat down for an interview with Wired’s Marketing Guy Jim Hopkinson on The Hopkinson Report podcast.

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Interview transcript:

Intro:
You’re listening to the Hopkinson Report. And now, here’s your host Jim Hopkinson.
Hi. This is Jim Hopkinson, Wired’s marketing guy, bringing you the marketing trends that matter.
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Jim Hopkinson: Welcome.
I’m excited today to talk to Rana Sobhany, Vice President of Marketing of Medialets. We’re going to talk about the ad model around the next generation of mobile devices.
Welcome to the show Rana! We met through Wired’s PR person, Jenna Landry, at the kick-off of the Wired Store and it killed me when you talked about how your company gave away Girl Talk tickets ’cause anyone that listens to this podcast knows that I’m a huge fan of the band Girl Talk.
Rana Sobhany: Yeah, I love Jenna and it was so good to be able to meet you. We are big Girl Talk fans at Medialets, too and something that we were considering is the, sort of the parallel between innovating around the music model, both in terms of distributing music and promoting music and the parallels between the ad model and iPhone and Android so we thought it would be a good idea to give those tickets away and, had I known what a big Girl Talk fan you are I would’ve been happy to bring you with us.

Medialets - ad network and analytics for the iPhone and Google Android

JH: So let’s start off quickly. Give me a quick, brief, overview of Medialets and then we’ll get into it a little bit deeper. What’s the company like?

RS: Sure! So we are an analytics platform and premium ad network for native mobile applications on the next generation of mobile devices.

So that means devices like iPhone and Android, these are run on sort of like mini-computers. There’s software that you download from a store, whether it’s iPhone App Store or Android Market you get these on your phone and they run natively on the device.

And so these developers that create these applications have been creating mobile apps for years and years, but there’s never been a place for them to have like discoverability, download, payments, all of these things wrapped into one.

Apple iPhone

Apple has been training millions of people how to download songs onto their iPods and downloading software from the iPhone App Store is exactly the same model, so we enable software developers to insert ads into their applications in very relevant context and in very beautiful designs that then enable them to give those applications away for free.

So then they’re able to remove the barrier of entry and anyone can just download that application and then they make, in the long-run, more money through ads than they would if they had the price point at say $4.99.

JH: So take me through your path. How did you end up at Medialets? How did start your career? How did you get into the mobile technology business?

RS: Sure! So, unlike many people who are doing this now, I have not been a mobile technologist my whole life. I got started working in politics, I did political strategy in D.C. and I’ve been a lifelong musician.

So I realized that the path down the political road was not necessarily exactly what I wanted to do the rest of my life and I switched over to the entertainment world.

I worked for a number of record labels and very large artists, uh, helping them with promotions and, in essence, ran one of the first social media marketing agencies that was out-source from the record labels and the agencies to me to then handle all of these promotions.

And I really enjoyed doing that, but what I recognized was that I was more in love with the technology that was powering what I was doing at my, at my agency than necessarily the music business.

So I transferred those skills in technology and to early stage companies and advised early stage companies on positioning and branding and that’s how I met Eric Litman, who’s the CEO of Medialets, and I was, I actually took a job working at his fund, uh, running marketing and promotions across all the portfolio companies. I believe there were about thirteen.

And we were sitting at a coffee shop, and this was, uh, in, in June, so we’re actually a relatively young company and, you know, he told me the idea and I was blown away. It seemed like the perfect convergence between, uh, you know, the technology, advertising, uh, the, the, you know, the internet, all these things converged into this one device, handheld computer and was very fascinated to learn more so, within four days we had launched the company and it has just been taking off since then.

JH: So Eric has a unique background and he’s been kind of a serial entrepreneur, the second you meet him you’re like “alright, this guy, he’s got his finger on the pulse and he’s been in the VC world …,” so with seeing so many things he just instantly knew “this is going to be the next big thing,” and you had a company founded four days later?

RS: Absolutely! And I have to say, it’s very much an honor to be able to work with someone with so much vision. And that really makes everything so much easier. And he’s, he’s got such an incredible background that it’s very conducive to making this, really, such a forward thinking company.

And other people will try and get into mobile advertising, obviously there are other players in the space, but, as it pertains to iPhone, I think that the perspective that he brings, based on his background, is just phenomenal in positioning us and, and enabling us to really, sort of, the standards around what people are going to expect form these devices.

And I, I think, definitely, he’s someone very incredible and, and worth knowing.

JH: Of course Wired prides itself on being on the, on the front line of innovation and we actually just launched a new product reviews app for the iPhone, very proud of that. Go to wired.com/iPhone to download it.

But I’m following it from the marketing side. I’m working on a lot of projects and I was really happy to be a part of the iPhone launch for Wired, but I’m not truly immersed in it like you are.

But just from the marketing buzz that I’m seeing in being part of it feels to me like this is the rush to the internet, like it was in the nineties. That the iPhone is new land to grab. That everyone is going into that … would you agree with that, or is that an overstatement?

RS: I would agree with that, but I think that this is actually a little bit different than the internet. I listened to Chris Anderson give a great talk at the Wired store and I love the idea of the free model. And we actually, we have sort of an internal mantra at Medialets that we basically believe that “Free is better.”

And that pertains to iPhone apps, but obviously this can be just sort of a wide analysis of how things are going, but in terms sort the land-grab scenario:

I think the difference here is that with the internet for instance there really, it was such a new concept; people really didn’t understand what was going to happen with this content, who owns it, who owns the internet, and all these things. Just very, very different problems we were facing.

With software on a mobile device, I think it’s the same scenario where it’s very exciting and exhilarating to get into it, but there’s a lot more definition around what it means to have this content.

So, additionally, I would say that the software developers, as I mentioned earlier, have been so interested in, in furthering the model of interaction on your mobile device and, obviously, this idea of mobile couponing. You walk by a Starbucks and it gives you a coupon, and it’s so, you know, it’s so personal.

This is the only device that you have with you at all times. You don’t necessarily, even though your laptop is portable, it’s not necessarily on and connected to, you now, the internet, so it’s, you know, the relevance is somewhat diminished by the fact that it not always connected. Your mobile phone is a very different device.

So I think that these developers who have always been hungry to have a way to get their applications out to the wild and into consumers hands, and onto their phones, they had never had a centralized place to have these downloads, these applications live.

And I think that that is the difference with iPhone now is that developers have a very viable opportunity to get these applications out and to get a lot of benefit, both monetary, both attention … I mean Wired is going to be considered such an innovator, as you said, because you’ve actually moved into this, you’ve got a great application, I’ve used it, it’s fantastic.

So this has sort of become the benchmark and I think a lot of people will compare this, sort of to social networking and Facebook, I think it’s very different. A widget on social networking site somewhere is not the same a well designed, very robust iPhone application.

JH: And the way it’s going to come down is to the report and the tracking on it. ‘Cause, clearly the numbers are there. 300+ million app downloads from the Apple Store at this point. Seven million iPhones sold in just the fourth quarter, up to 13 million total.

So at the initial stage with something new like this everyone … it’s just good enough to be on there, so we can pitch it to advertisers and say “Oh, uh, hey.” You know, they can bring it back to the board or the media buying agency “Hey, I got you on the iPhone app!”

It’s a really cool thing, but very quickly after that you have to get into the reporting: “Ok what is the ROI on this? How are we making money? Yeah, it’s cool to be on there, but we need analytics.”

And that’s pretty specifically what Medialets does.

RS: Right. And actually, I should give you short of a background on what we do, because we are absolutely the leader in iPhone analytics. We truly believe that if a developer knows what’s going on within their app, that they can create a better app for consumers.

And measurement is so key on the internet that you would never create a web application and not put analytics in there and this a similar scenario in that platform developers, so someone that’s developers for the Xbox, or for a phone, they’d never had the ability to real-time measure, or at least some semblance of real-time, a mobile device here in Manhattan has very often no signal, so what we do is that analytics that we provide are cached on the device and they’re sent back across the wire once there’s connectivity. So that actually applies to iPod Touch too, which is actually very interesting because it’s not actually only the iPhone that can run these applications, it’s also the iPod Touch.

But, in terms of measurement, we believe that that measurement is the cornerstone behind our ad network, so our monetization model is around selling ads for the iPhone, but without the analytics it’s impossible to go back to your board and prove that this is actually a worthwhile investment.

So definitely the analytics are crucial.

JH: Now let’s talk about the caching. I know that one that ruins an experience is that you’re going to watch a video and it’s delayed or you have to wait for it go and I think that companies are still trying to figure out what’s the best way to show ads. Now, it’s pretty unique how you guys do it.

RS: Absolutely! And based upon the very heavy technology background of many of the people in Medialets, we have figured out that in order to solve that problem, whenever possible, we need to have a cache of ads, particularly when it comes to video ads …

And also, our premiere format, and this is something very interesting and unique, we’ve figured out how to create interactive advertisements so that they’re dynamically updated. They’re almost like applications.

They can do anything an app can do.

You can use the accelerometer so you can tilt and then there’s a microphone and everything that you can do, basically, in an application that takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to build we can do in an advertisement with just basic web technologies that someone at Wired could probably figure out with just HTML and CSS.

JH: Now the big fear, of course, is that there’s this new technology out there and “Here come the advertisers.” And they’re going to come in there and they’re going to do these obtrusive ads and what companies need to figure out is how to advertise without interrupting the user experience.

So how can they do this? It comes back to the general foundations of marketing.

One, it’s all about targeting. And we might not want to put a Microsoft Vista ad within an Apple product, although maybe we would.

Secondly, we’ve learned lesson before, when the internet started, you can’t just talk old print ads and put them on the web. And you can’t take a 30 second TV spot and just instantly run that online. And, in the same way, you can’t just take your internet banner ads and just resize them and put them on the iPhone, you have to adapt to the new platform you’re working on.

So for example, so say someone’s at a bus stop, and they’re browsing on their iPhone and they get an ad offer to watch a sneak preview of the Iron Man movie, a new movie trailer. Now, the iPhone’s a perfect platform to launch a video player and check it out for 30 seconds.

Do you have any case studies like that that you’ve been working with?

RS: Absolutely, and I’d say that one of the things that we’ve learned is that it may not be worth it for your company to create an entire web experience just to advertise a new product, it’s very worthwhile to just take that advertisement and run it on different websites where there are already eyeballs. So we’re seeing the same phenomena on iPhone and different smart phones.

We’re seeing advertisers who have movies that are coming out, instead of creating applications just to run these trailers, they are creating apps with additional content, additional functionality, that makes it very fun and engaging, but they’re taking these trailers for these movies and then running them across, for instance, our ad network, they’re able to cache these online so that if that user, instead of being at a bus stop, where they’re outside, they’re in a subway they’re still able to view those videos and that’s a very, very good way to extend a brand onto the iPhone platform.

And the beauty, I feel, about the iPhone platform is that, you know, being mobile, when you are engaged in an application, that’s what you’re doing. You’re only looking at your phone and typically, hopefully, you’re not driving, you’re not, uh, speaking with other people, you’re just focused on this content.

Uh, with television, there’s kids running around the room, you might not be focused on the ads, you might’ve already blocked them out.

On the internet, same phenomena, you know, you’ve got IM windows open, you’ve got ten tabs open in Firefox, you’re probably not focused on the advertising, whereas on a mobile device with a 480 by 320 screen, if you see a cool advertisement, you’re going to click on it. You’re curious about it. This is a new platform and people are doing very interesting things.

JH: Ok, I want to talk about Google Android for a second.

Now, it seemed to me like at launch there was a lot of buzz, as, you know, like everything Google does, but it feels like it’s scaled back. I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about it or really blogging about it. But I actually read on your site that they had 167 apps launched in the first four days, back in October and several million downloads.

How does that compare with the iPhone launch and, you know, how does that stack up?

RS: Ok, so I’ll speak to your first point about people using Android and T-Mobile’s G1 phone.

What we’ve found is very surprising, I think, much like you, uh, we at Medialets actually thought that we’d be seeing a lot of early adopters and a lot of hyper-influencers using this device, and considering that fact that there’s deep integration with Google, that this would be very enticing for someone who’s a Google fan.

What we’re finding is that the 15 to 25 year olds who are replacing their Sidekicks … T-Mobile, is not a top 2, uh, carrier, you know, the audience that they’re targeting is typically younger, it’s a lot of African-Americans, a lot of Latinos, and so what we’re finding is that it’s the younger crowd who really the idea of being able to text, they’re using this as a messenger phone, and they generally have GMail accounts, but that’s not necessarily the draw to the phone.

Uh, the second point, regarding the applications, this is something that’s actually quantitative, so yes, of course, that’s anecdotal data as to who find is using these phones, but to actually quantify that this is a very different market, with iPhone we’re actually at over 300 million downloads, we’re probably actually closer to 400 million downloads at this point, there are over 13,000 applications in the app store and the app store is only 162 days old at this point. So a very, very young market and still a ton of growth.

What we’re finding on Android is actually very different though.

Apple has been sort of criticized for having deep control over what applications are released into the app store and a lot of developers have claimed that they’re very unhappy with the process.

On the other hand Android is a very open market, it’s much like YouTube, three steps to get your application in the market and ready for users to download, and the platform itself is open source, so theoretically, there are a lot of tinkerers who are out there who could be making some really great applications.

But, as you said, 167 apps launched in the first four days? We are over a month, almost two months into Android Market and there’s only 500 applications available for download.

This is very significant and this tells me that developers aren’t necessarily focusing their efforts on Android and they’re really focusing their efforts on iPhone.

JH: Ok, so to wrap this up, what does this mean for marketers?

Well, it’s not just the buzz factor, it’s truly a new measurable platform with over tens of millions of users and the key is it’s the type of user; they’re smart, they’re educated, they’re dialed in. So if your company is trying to reach this demographic, you better have that 2009 strategy meeting you’ve been putting off and figure out how to get in the game.

And, of course, if you’re a smart marketer, you’re a smart company, you’re not only going to figure out your strategy, but build in the tools to measure this from the very beginning, to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

And that’s where a company like Medialets can help out.

So if you’re someone in that position, whether you’re a developer, or a big brand, tell us Rana, how they, how they’d some to you.

RS: Sure! So we have two main groups of people that we work with.

We have developers who are looking to monetize their applications, we’ve got big brands who have either created an application and want to measure it, or they want to put advertising into other applications on the platform.

So we understand this space better than anybody. We’ve been looking at, you know, trends and patterns since July of this year when the App store launched and we really do have a lot of information and we’re happy to help brands in understanding what they should do, how they should engage, what type of application they should make.

We’ve got a network of tons of app developers out there who can create applications for brands so that, you know, take a lot of the stress out of, finding someone, you know, that should be trusted, and figuring out what the metrics are around trying to work with somebody. We take the stress out of that.

And then additionally, we help with the media planning and buying to get brands on to this platform.

Of course, the analytics we offer are free. So that’s a big benefit.

JH: Completely free?!

RS: Completely free. And we don’t make any money off that and we never will.

Anyone that’s looking to get into this space, I welcome you to contact me.

You can either check out website out at www.Medialets.com, or you can email me directly at [email protected] and I am happy to just speak with you about this opportunity.

JH: Well, thanks for coming in today. It’s been really helpful, really informative, and I appreciate your time.

RS: Thanks so much Jim, I had a really great time. Thanks.

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Outro:

JH: This has been The Hopkinson Report Podcast. I’d like to thank my guest Rana Sobhany, Vice President of Marketing for Medialets.

Make sure to check out TheHopkinsonReport.com for links to their website, her contact info, and article she recently wrote called Where Are All the Android Apps?.
Thanks for listening.
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Follow Jim on Twitter: Twitter.com/HopkinsonReport

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