“You skate where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.”
That hockey analogy summarizes what’s happening in mobile adtech, according to Appfuel cofounder and ex-CEO Andrew Boos.
The Toronto-based Boos used that Canadian expression to explain to me why he thinks the recent purchase by app attribution firm Tune of his still-in-prototype Appfuel company crystallizes where mobile adtech is going.
Appfuel had developed what it called a “grow versus dough” platform. The idea was that app publishers could use straightforward controls to determine how much of their app’s ad space would be used for ads promoting other apps (“grow”) and how much would be sold to advertisers (“dough”).
Ads promoting other apps would result in reciprocal ads on those apps, thus allowing app publishers to cross-pollinate each others’ user base. If a very popular app traded ads with a less popular one, the Appfuel platform equalized it on the basis of traded impressions. Boos acknowledged that a company like the game-oriented Chartboost offers similar functionality, but said Appfuel was easier to use and was designed for any app.
His company’s platform, he noted, consolidated a link exchange with a tool for budgeting how much of your ad space inventory would be assigned to paid ads. The paid ad side then communicated with the paid ad ecosystem of networks and exchanges.
At the end of last month, Seattle-based Tune announced its purchase of the early stage Appfuel for an undisclosed amount. Boos did not accompany his former Appfuel colleagues to Tune.
At the same time it announced the Appfuel buy, Tune also launched its Tune Marketing Console. The Console, Boos pointed out, rolled up Appfuel’s trading of owned inventory, although it dropped the paid side and restricted the inventory swap to internal properties — that is, to other apps owned by the same publisher.
Paid, organic, and owned
Tune’s new Console also includes analytics and tools for organic app searches and app store visibility it got when it bought MobileDevHQ last year. Along with its existing MobileAppTracking that provides analytics of paid ad campaigns for app installs, the Console now offers analytics and tools for paid, organic, and owned promotion for apps.
This is where the puck is going, Boos said.
“We’re starting to see consolidation of not just competitors,” he told me, “but of complementary tools.” The new Console, he says, is “a single platform for mobile marketing measurement,” moving beyond Tune’s previous focus on tracking mobile ad campaigns for apps.
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Boos pointed out that, around 2012-2013, “every little thing was tried” as investment flowed into adtech startups. His company, Appfuel, started in 2012.
Then came a growth period, as some startups folded up while others got next stage funding.
Now, he said, it’s “near the end of growth” for adtech, especially mobile-oriented companies, as they begin rolling up other firms for complementary growth. He put Yahoo’s 2014 purchase of Flurry into this category. The Net giant combined the acquisition’s mobile analytics tools with its own search and ad tools to create a Mobile Development Suite.
Boos pointed to Tune’s new Console and recent purchases as indicative of this emerging trend to put a group of tools under one roof.
On Sunday, VentureBeat reported that Tune had acquired, but not yet announced, messaging company Artisan Mobile, which provides app marketing through notifications and in-app messages.
‘One SDK to rule them all’
Boos told me that the Artisan acquisition allows Tune to “set up automated workflows around re-engagement using messaging,” so it can complement its existing re-engagement tracking.
“The primary focus here,” he added, “is the visibility given a Tune customer regarding what happens after the install, [while Artisan’s] richer analytics around the user lifecycle post-install” might have been the real asset Tune was after.
As VentureBeat VP of research John Koetsier noted in the Artisan story, Boos suggests that one of the drivers here is “this mythic ‘one SDK [software development kit] to rule them all,’ whereby as many functions as possible are done through one single SDK and platform rather than many different integrations simultaneously.”
“That’s what we were working towards at Appfuel,” he said, “and what Tune is working towards with their [Console], and I’m sure what is behind this acquisition [of Artisan]. From the app developer’s perspective, each additional SDK and platform integration represents another piece of code running in their app that they need to monitor, update, maintain a billing relationship for, [and so on.]”
Tune is jockeying with AppsFlyer and other third-party measurement companies to find its place in this rapidly changing space. AppsFlyer is now expanding its repertoire with a new ROI report on Facebook ad buys, and Kochava is announcing this week new support for push notifications and in-app messaging.
“What we’re seeing,” Boos told me, “is a rollup of products to form the [emerging] winners.”