From mobile app to 'creative partner'

A pivot in how it did business propelled VidMob into major social media platform relevancy

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PITTSFIELD — James Kupernik points to a video monitor set up in a suite on the second floor of the Crawford Square building. Two images are displayed — a horizontal one on the left and a vertical one on the right.

"That is the ad the clients came to us with from Toyota," Kupernik said, referring to the horizontal image.

He points to the other one.

"That's the asset we produced to help them run a vertical piece of content," he said. "We help to make it vertical, or we help to make it square, or we help make it in a variety of formats."

Kupernik is the solutions architect for VidMob, a fast-growing creative technology platform with an office in Pittsfield. VidMob, based in New York City, began four years ago as a high-tech startup building a marketplace of video editors, but has since switched to creating video ad content for social media platforms, a move that has caused company revenue to grow more than 35 times over the past two years, according to PRNewswire.

In June, VidMob closed on $25 million in a second round of financing, which brought the total amount of capital the firm has raised to $45 million.

That influx of new revenue is reflected in the company's operations in Pittsfield. Four years ago, VidMob had three employees in the Berkshires and occupied one suite on the second floor of Crawford Square. Today, 25 of VidMob's 100 total employees are based in Pittsfield — the firm's engineering staff is located here — and the company occupies five suites and an additional room on the building's second floor. A large part of that new funding will be used to hire even more employees, including several engineers, and build out the company's technology platform, work that is being done in Pittsfield, Kupernik said.

"It's been quite the ride," said Kupernik, who is from Lee and has been with VidMob since the beginning. "One of the debates we're having right now is what happens in two or three years when we have 100 people [in Pittsfield]."

VidMob's decision to create video content for social media platforms literally turbocharged the company's growth.

"The initial premise of the business, and what we launched, was a mobile app," Kupernik said. "You could take a video on your phone and then hire a video editor. We got some OK traction, some good publicity on 'The View,' but the traction wasn't necessarily there from a business standpoint. So, we built a web version of that mobile experience in the middle of 2016 to really go after a more business-base market. It was really there that we started to get traction."

An additional boost occurred later that year when VidMob began making video content for Snapchat. That material had done so well by the end of 2016 that it "really pivoted the company to be a platform for creating digital ad content, focusing on social platforms," he said.

Today, VidMob is a "creative partner" for all the major social media platforms: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google/YouTube and LinkedIn.

"When agencies come to them looking to execute on campaign strategies, VidMob is recommended as one of the platforms to help develop that creative content," Kupernik said.

VidMob's platform is known as the "Agile Creative Studio." The technology assists marketers to develop, improve and scale their digital video advertising content through first-party or creative data, according to the company. First-party data loosely is defined as information that companies, including brands and advertisers, collect from their audiences, according to retargeter.com.

"Marketers want access to their own data, and VidMob's Agile Creative Studio is helping them unleash an entirely new category of first-party data, creative data," said VidMob's CEO and founder, Alex Collmer, in a statement.

"But data without the ability to act on it is useless," Collmer said. "By coupling insights with VidMob's workflow platform and creative talent marketplace, brands are able to do what matters — use data to power a tight create-and-learn loop, and in doing so improve their creative and drive better results."

Pittsfield native Patrick Larkin, the director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Innovation Institute, said what VidMob is doing fits within the the parameters of the state's innovation economy.

"It's definitely cutting edge," Larkin said. "It's leveraging the strength of artificial intelligence to understand what the consumer is experiencing and modify the ad content in real time. It's extraordinary. It rivals the kind of video support that takes place anywhere on the globe."

Nathan Winstanley, an advertising industry consultant who ran his own ad agency, Winstanley Associates in Lenox, for several years, said the type of creative content that firms like VidMob are developing is "catching up to the platform that it's being displayed on."

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"What those guys are pitching is the ability to constantly improve the ad by using analytics, big data," he said. "The problem with social media is that there's this enormous need for content. It's a constant demand. Their ability to automate the process and have a continuous feedback loop to improve the product as you go forward is pretty significant.

"The other thing that they're doing is keeping up with the speed of all the data platforms that they're talking about," he said. "That world is constantly changing, One of the challenges that we always had was keeping up with the changes in the media industry. That drives what you can and cannot do."

Winstanley Associates created television ads, but the analytics that were used to gauge audience reaction then are old-fashioned and quaint compared with the data that is being used today, Winstanley said.

"We had analytics, but they were based on the experience of how many people watched that show last year," he said. "We would get some contemporary reporting on how our things did, but the feedback was from weeks and months [out]. Their ability to do it on the fly, it's like you're changing the propeller on the airplane."

VidMob's technology allows businesses to monitor their advertising account at the same time their ads are being run.

"One of the things we've done over the last two years, in addition to the creative development of things, is, we've built out what we call our creative data business through our creative intelligence platform," Kupernik said. "[Businesses] can connect their Facebook account where they're running their ad campaigns, and we'll do analysis on the media they've run recently and provide creative recommendations to them about how they can adapt their existing media or what types of new content they can use based on that data.

"The days of creating the 30-second Super Bowl ad that lasted the entire year are going away," he said. "You really need to create content that speaks to the individual user, and the way that all these social media platforms are targeting content needs to be varied to the audiences that you're trying to reach."

"The time to grab someone's attention is much less than 30 second these days!" said Bonnie Porter, the social media manager for Buffer, company that grows builds brands and grows businesses.

"Personalization in social is huge," stated Porter via email. "It increases engagement, grows awareness, and can generate more warm leads. With information overload, people are looking for the personal connection.

"You can personalize through retargeting campaigns; chatbots; personalized video, user-generated content; and good old fashioned person-to-person conversation."

The shift from horizontal to vertical video is part of that trend, because so many people are receiving information from mobile devices. According to a recent study by Neilsen, U.S. adults spend 10 hours and 24 minutes each day interacting with media from either watching, listening to or reading content from all their devices.

Mobile phones accounted for 65 percent of total digital usage during the second quarter of 2018, compared with 62 percent during the first quarter, according to a study done by Buffer. Buffer also found that vertical video was 68 percent less expensive than square or horizontal video in cost per view, a bidding method for video campaigns that uses analytics to count when a viewer watches 30 seconds of an advertisement.

Porter refers to vertical video as " the game changer for social ads."

"It performs better and in some cases cost less per engagement," she said. "We even did some research on this in the past."

Snapchat started the trend when it began converting horizontal content to vertical content for its users in 2015, according to Kupernik.

"That really changed the game as far as how content was created, and started to introduce all these new formats. .. All of these variations required new sets of creative to build it effectively, and that fit us really well because we were built on this idea of human video editors and human creators developing that content and adapting very, very well to the ever-changing ecosystem," he said..

"Mobile consumption is just outpacing traditional kinds of media," Kupernik said. "Our attention spans at different types of the day require different kinds of content that we're going to engage with. If we're walking down the street, we're not going to spend the time watching something that is 30 seconds long. We need something that's very quick and impactful within a few seconds. But, if we're sitting at home, we are more apt to watch something that's a more longer length.

"As a business, you need to create all of those pieces of content to have a successful marketing campaign," he said.

That's what VidMob is attempting to do.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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