Urban Airship moves closer to the Holy Grail of targeted push messages with Segments, Meridian partnership

When it comes to communicating with customers, companies want to make sure that they’re getting information to folks at the most opportune time.

With the advent of push messages—which allow mobile applications to send users messages within the context of the app—companies got a little closer to the ideal. And today, Urban Airship, arguably the de facto leader in push notification services, moved one step closer to the Holy Grail of targeted messages by allowing push notifications to trigger based on what, when, and where they can be most effective.

When I first heard about this, I offered that this functionality gave push notifications that same power of segmentation that has had advertisers salivating about Facebook ads. And while it does provide far more control over when and where a user receives a push notification, the UA folks were quick to caution that it doesn’t use any personal data. In fact, amid privacy concerns, Urban Airship quickly acted to support Apple’s stance on UDID—the unique identifier for your iPhone—by removing it from their libraries.

“We will totally fail if we don’t get this right,” Scott Kveton, CEO of Urban Airship, told Mike Rogoway at The Oregonian. “We spend a lot of time thinking about privacy, about personally identifiable information.”

So what, exactly, does today’s news mean? Well, the announcement has two segments.

First, Urban Airship has fully integrated the SimpleGeo functionality they gained when acquiring the company—without asking developers to jump through hoops:

We are taking a different approach to location. One that deviates dramatically from the scenarios we hear everyday, where someone crosses an invisible line and is somehow then super receptive to whatever offer the nearest marketer wants to jam down their phone.

Urban Airship Segments builds off of what we already know, having served up more than 17 billion push messages for 60,000 apps each of which know something about its users’ interests and preferences. Now add to that the ability to know an individual’s location and context, not just where they are right now but where they are over time, with the ability to easily build on that with everything else you know about the user, and you end up with a powerful combination of insight that enables you to be much more targeted and precise in your app engagement strategies.

How important is that? Very.

“We could not have moved this quickly and got into location without SimpleGeo,” Kveton told Adam DuVander at Programmable Web. “And now we believe we’re the leaders in location.”

Second, it’s not just your outdoor location that influences the messages you receive. Interior space can be just as effective. Because now, Urban Airship is offering up push notifications based on your location indoors. All thanks to a strategic partnership with another impressive Portland mobile company, Meridian:

Oh, and we haven’t stopped there. Also announced today, we have formed a strategic partnership with Meridian for indoor location targeted mobile messaging. Combined with Urban Airship Segments, you can go from identifying audiences with certain behaviors or preferences in regions down to a neighborhood-level, to delivering pinpoint targeted messages inside buildings. So, for example, retailers could use Segments to send highly targeted offers based on audience preferences and locations, and use Meridian to direct customers to the exact aisle location, serving-up location-based special offers or content to accelerate purchase decisions.

And how is the news being received?

Rip Emerson at TechCrunch calls it a “brave new world” of push:

There are obviously privacy and battery life issues attached to this next generation of messaging, which is why the startup is providing its service strictly on an opt-in basis, and it is hoping that as segmentation and contextual identification evolves, the targeting will be such that notifications aren’t sprayed willy nilly at all customers at all times, potentially preserving battery life. This double announcement from Urban Airship today signals the brave new world mobile messaging is entering, but obviously it’s imperative that the application of these hybrid technologies improve user experience, rather than overwhelm.

And Joe Stump, the founder of SimpleGeo who left after the acquisition, had the following to say:

My discussion with Scott about a product that looked and smelled like this was the impetus for me reaching out to him about acquiring SimpleGeo. I might not be working alongside the UA folks, but I’m extremely impressed with the team’s execution on this vision.

Suffice it to say, this is huge news from Urban Airship. Even the ad folks are taking notice.

For more information, read Urban Airship’s post on the new offering.