Kahuna thinks better push notifications can help brands and customers live together happily ever after

By James Robinson , written on February 27, 2014

From The News Desk

At the end of most romantic comedies, two lovebirds ride off into the metaphorical sunset and the audience is left feeling warm inside, assuming that everything will work out happily ever after. But examined pragmatically, with half of all marriages ending in divorce it is a false reality.

Mobile marketing faces the same disconnect. Companies put all the effort into acquiring users, but 90 percent of them are eventually lost. More than a quarter of downloaded apps are only used once.

Which is where Kahuna wants to insert itself into the equation. It bills itself as the “world’s first mobile engagement engine.” Which, in English, means that it wants to take companies past the happily ever after moment and help them engage with the customer base they've paid to build up.

Kahuna launched last Fall and has picked up Yahoo, the New England Patriots and 1-800 Flowers as clients in the intervening months. The company announced yesterday that it has closed an $11 million, Sequoia Capital-led funding round.

“We want to help companies understand every person across web and mobile,” says Adam Marchick, Kahuna’s CEO and Founder.

Marchick says Kahuna’s backend is modeled off sales tools like SugarCRM or Salesforce. Each customer has all of their submitted information, be it Twitter handle, Facebook account or email addresses paired in a unique profile with their web browsing history, behavior and preferences within the app.

From this, Kahuna then allows companies to personalize push notifications, test out five different versions to a control group to see which worked best and give them detailed analytics on the message they sent out.

“A mobile marketer walks in and wants to set up a rule. They can target people that have browsed on their app, but not purchased a certain item. They can send a push notification out with something relevant, that knows that customer’s clothing and brand affinity. It’s personalization at scale,” Marchick says.

The applications of this go beyond commerce. Using the example of Yahoo sports, Marchick says that Kahuna can track a user’s favorite sport, team and player without them having to directly spell it out. Yahoo can then push notifications out about articles on specific players that it knows someone has an interest in, rather than broad headlines that go right over someone’s head.

Kahuna’s works on the correct but often ignored assumption that we’re browsing on mobile, desktop and tablets. It creates anonymous profile IDs for behavior it can’t match to a specific email address or username. If you have the Yahoo sports app, but browse Yahoo on the web without logging in, it will encourage you to sign in on the web and as soon as you do, it will roll up all of your web behavior with your app activity into one improved profile.

Push notifications have proven an enticing, but tough tool to master. They promise a direct line into a customer’s home screen but are used in thoughtless, scattergun fashion. Marchick boasts that through early tests with Kahuna, he’s seen engagement rates with push notifications explode from two to 21 percent.

“We look to know people with 100 percent certainty,” Marchick says. The amount of users it can target correctly will depend on the brand. “With a company like Dropbox, 90 percent of the activity on its app is registered. With Yahoo, it is much less.”

Sequoia’s investment in Kahuna was led by new partner Omar Hamoui, the founder of an original market leader in the ad tech space AdMob. Hamoui joined Sequoia last year and will now take a seat on the Kahuna board.

Hamoui says he was drawn to Kahuna, because it fills in part of the marketing equation that AdMob had completely overlooked. “I didn’t really appreciate the difference between marketing and advertising before this,” he says.

“Kahuna is about re-engagement. It’s part two, what brands do after they’ve spent their money.”

A lot of companies could be doing this but not a lot are, Hamoui says. Kahuna is the first company in the space and the barriers to competing against them are high. Brands haven’t had good tools to retain and engage their customers yet.” he says.

For Marchick with Kahuna, he wants to help brands to listen to customers and engage with them in a more relevant dialog for the sake of a more longterm relationship. It’s a worthwhile, potentially lucrative goal. But the first order of business will be reversing the crumbling image of push notifications. He’s trying to make useful a method of reaching people that has become a source of clutter and annoyance, which has been drifting ever closer to junk mail. Many people go as far as disabling push notifications entirely. If Kahuna can get us to a time where our eyes don’t glaze over at the sight of a cluttered home screen, the company’s future could be bright.

[Image via Wikimedia]