Inside: Ubiquity

Back in 2012, Gartner predicted that CMOs will spend more than CIOs on IT by 2017 but Auckland-based company Ubiquity banks on the fact that marketers don’t code. When they are prodding people with personalised emails, or firing out push notifications, managing director Nathalie Morris says they don’t really want to be thinking about how that actually works – code and back-end stuff be damned, they just want it to happen.

In an age of Big Data and growth of digital media, Ubiquity has established itself as the “technical muscle” and works both with agencies and directly with clients to sort out customer communication, including email, text, surveys, lifecycle programmes, marketing automation and customer relationship programmes. Its clients are many and include the likes of the AA, Fairfax media, TVNZ, State, Vodafone and World Vision.

Recently it worked with Lotto NZ to increase 1:1 marketing, with a mobile app that can check tickets. Using Ubiquity’s software Engage to push messages to the app, Lotto NZ can get data on how people are interacting with app versus online, and can profile its customers.

So as well as enabling campaigns, the Engage software brings lots of separate pools of data together – billing systems, core customer records, e-commerce site transaction info, how customers interact with emails or mobile apps or websites – and with this, builds a picture of the customer, says Morris. 

“Then we find out what groups customers you have, and use that to target the group, for example increase their spend, or increase their engagement if there’s lots of churn,” she says. “People pigeonhole us, think of email marketing, but we do a whole lot more.”

Guy Bibby and Nathalie Morris

When now-CTO Guy Bibby built a website in 1997 for Haines Recruitment Advertising (the website was NZ Jobs, which eventually sold to Seek) he met Morris there. The two decided to start a business together doing general back-end website and application development.

Ubiquity was started in 2000 just before the dotcom crash (great timing) and Bibby and Morris were left scratching their heads and wondering how to win business. But they soon realised that marketing agencies need other people to build the smarts that ran underneath, like the automation, databases and smart communications via email and TXT, and Ubiquity could fill that gap.

They started on one-to-one personalised communication and pulled off some complex email surveys, which led to a light bulb moment in 2002: they should be focusing on building software platforms rather than custom-building for clients.

“This allowed us to partner with the largest agencies in Auckland and we worked in partnership on large accounts; banks, airlines etc,” says Morris.

They developed their first marketing platform and called it U-suite. It went okay, but they decided to rebuild using what they’d learnt in the interim, and in 2010 they launched Engage. Owing to this platform, in the past 18 months staff numbers have doubled to 40 (Morris wouldn’t divulge revenue figures but it has grown by 50 percent in the past year).

“We’ve brought on a large number of new clients in the last two to three years, which has fuelled that growth.”

Ubiquity has 15 developers on its team and has a product development philosophy revolving around two things: 1) Usability and 2) constant innovation. 

“Our vision is that our software should enable marketers to focus on marketing side of things – the content and message, and not the mechanics,” says Morris.

She says marketers don’t want to have to worry about the technology. Rather, the technology should be an enabler that allows marketers to focus on the messaging and the targeting of the audience. Then it should give insightful reporting that allows the marketers to understand how a campaign is performing and how to make it better.

“So our vision is that software should become something they don’t even have to think about. And I think too often that’s not the case,” she says.

Since marketing, technology and consumer behaviour are all moving so quickly, Morris says from a marketing software point of view it’s very important to be constantly innovating.

“If you go back four years, social media was behind where it is now, and people using their smartphones to go online was non-existent, but now people navigate the world on their smartphone,” she says.

Keeping on top of innovation means keeping a good eye on trends: monitoring key trends in consumer behaviour in the online space, looking at overseas innovations of platforms, and keeping a very close eye on its own clients to determine what they need.

“We take international trends and overlay them with what our clients need and what the New Zealand market needs, and use that to determine how product should work. We also make sure that feedback is coming through from clients back to staff and we actively ask clients for their ideas,” says Morris.

With some clients Ubiquity has regular quarterly meetings to present what it’s considering building from those trends, asking whether it’s something the client would like, and so it becomes a co-creation process.

“It means we’re really close to what market really wants, but also outward-looking to other markets.”

She says the New Zealand market is different in terms of consumer behaviour and adoption of technologies. For example, with only three telcos it’s easier to do business here as there are fewer parties to talk to, but the scale is quite different. “If you have 100 million people on a database, you can afford to do a whole lot more. Here, we have to be clever about how we do things. Our software allows New Zealand businesses to achieve the things overseas organisations are doing but at a smaller scale.”

She says “data and personalisation” has replaced ‘social media’ as the marketing buzzwords.

“People struggle with data. Our system takes data from multiple silos and aggregates it together so we can create a profile for a customer, across a range of interactions.”

The other main theme is the rise of the mobile device: “Now, we use them to go online. We cover everything from email communications working well in a mobile environment, to mobile messaging – that is, SMS, push messaging to apps, and integrating app data back into Engage,” Morris says.

When Ubiquity launched Engage, there was another Kiwi company in that niche who was already number one. Just like Avis’s classic campaign “we try harder”, Morris said Ubiquity too aimed to be number two – “there’s always got to be a number two and it’s an okay position to have”. 

“We created a culture where we’re very focused around needs of our clients and quality of our customer service, and quality of our product and the constant innovation. We’ve now overtaken our competitor in terms of that market position. It’s that focus on excellence we’ve had to have because we were coming from position where we had a less well-known, new product. The reason we’ve got to where we are today – with people switching to us – is we have had to work harder and focus on that excellence.”

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