Marketing doesn’t have to be all about ads – at least, that’s according to Brian Wong, the co-founder and CEO of Kiip, a mobile rewards network.

Instead of serving up ads, the startup is premised upon the concept of gamification, rewarding users with products from recognizable brands for completing different activities. That buoys users’ loyalty towards those brands, while making it easy for brands to ensure they’re targeting the right audience.

Wong was 19 when he first raised $300,000 in preliminary venture capital for Kiip about three years ago. Last year, he upped the take to about $11 million in a Series B round, and this year the company hit a few more major milestones, like expanding its international presence by integrating with Yahoo Japan. Kiip is now about 60 employees strong, integrated with about 1,500 apps, and registering about 500 million moments every month.

We caught up with Wong for a phone chat on Sept. 28, just after he gave a talk at the MasterCard NXT Developer Challenge at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. He shared with us some thoughts on marketing, the often-fraught relationship between marketer and consumer, and the changing face of advertising.

1. Building customer loyalty and advertising a product don’t have to be two separate things.

Although Kiip is centred around building brand loyalty, a big part of its ethos is rewarding consumers for their allegiance through giving them products, Wong says.

“The modern consumer is looking to be appreciated in the moment and not necessarily at the end of the month. The funny thing about Kiip is that our rewards are not meant to be stacked or accumulated or saved for a rainy day or saved for aspirational stuff,” Wong says. For example, when users finish a run and log it on Kiip, they can be rewarded with a bottle of Gatorade right away.

“At the same time as you’re building loyalty, you can actually market your product. It’s almost like through the actual reward itself, people begin to feel appreciated and understand what your product can do for them … So you’re combining the two, instead of leaving them completely separate.”

So by pairing rewards – like discounts or gifts – with advertisements, it may be easier for marketers to cultivate a real relationship with their customer base, Wong says.

2. Don’t get hung up on impressions – think about targeting customers’ best moments instead.

For Wong, chasing impressions is meaningless because they only indicate a customer has seen an ad. However, they don’t guarantee consumers have really engaged with that ad, or have felt it has had any impact on them.

“Impressions are very mindless. They’re just seeing stuff. It’s like me walking around with my eyes open, it doesn’t mean I’m feeling anything, it just means my eyes are open,” he says.

So instead of focusing on impressions, Wong says he feels advertisers should zero in on what he calls ‘moments.’ He lists those as anything consumers feel strongly about, like games, music, food, or activities that build on productivity.

“Moments for us mean a moment in time with some sort of emotion behind it. It’s something that happened and you feel something, that’s the person being engaged and they’ve processed it, and it actually affected them in some way,” he says.

Kiip has latched onto the moment by associating its brand with giving customers something, right as they log a moment that’s important to them. Not only does Kiip’s brand get a boost, but so do the companies they’ve partnered with. Kiip counts heavyweights like The Walt Disney Company, Amazon.com Inc., Pepsi Co., MasterCard Inc., and McDonald’s Corp. among them.

Focusing on moments – rather than impressions – is just one way to foster goodwill between marketers and consumers, Wong says. For marketers, it may be a lot more effective than bombarding customers with messages and then hoping they’ll pay attention.

3. Don’t try to change customer behaviour. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

While it’s great news when people like your page on Facebook or start following you on Twitter, those aren’t really natural behaviours. In some ways, you may be losing people by forcing them to do certain things to reach your brand, Wong says. Instead, marketers should go where their customers are already going, and try integrating the brands they represent into their customers’ lives.

“Consumers have their existing behaviour patterns today. You’re going to use your phone the way you want to,” he says. “That’s when you should reach them, in natural moments, when they do something organically, instead of making them do something new.”

For example, Kiip originally launched in 2010 as an in-game rewards app, partnering with mobile apps to reward players for finishing levels or winning a certain number of rounds. However, last year Kiip expanded to integrate with fitness apps, giving users rewards for finishing workouts or runs.

“We don’t want to get rid of ads … as long as we have eyeballs, those things will still be there. But what we’re saying is this is a new way to reengage, and if we can make that part of a marketer’s regular arsenal of tools, then we win,” Wong says.

“Advertising, at the end of the day, is just to create a connection between a consumer and a marketer. And that connection can be fostered and grown through loyalty, customer relationship management, and data, and social … For us, the initial advertising piece is almost like the gateway drug. But everything else beyond that has to be explored.”

He added social media, data analytics, and other tools can all have a vital part to play in boosting marketers’ efforts, and their impact can be a lot more meaningful than just deploying banner ads. So with all of the new tools out there for today’s marketers, it may be worth considering going to where the consumers are – and giving them something better.

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