Kahuna Aims to Disrupt the Entire Marketing Industry

Tim Maytom

adam marchick kahunaWe are constantly told now that we are living in a world of cross-channel marketing. Communication and advertising strategies across mobile and desktop can be joined up with email, out-of-home, television and even direct mail for the first time ever, creating a network of branding that truly works in synergy.

However, with this ability comes the temptation to bombard customers with messaging through every channel, passing them from beacon to app to physical branch and round again and leaving them overwhelmed, or even worse, frustrated.

The next step in the omnichannel approach is making marketing smarter – using automated systems that ensure your messages reach individuals through the channel they are most receptive to, at the time that's right for them. That's the essence of good marketing, and Kahuna, a Palo Alto-based mobile marketing startup, thinks it's cracked the solution.

"A lot of what started Kahuna four years ago was this idea where the mobile marketer, they were a team of one or two. Mobile was just getting off the ground, and we saw the mobile marketer as the next generation marketer," said Adam Marchick, CEO and co-founder of Kahuna, speaking to Mobile Marketing. "And for the first three years, we really focused on serving mobile marketing automation, and helping mobile marketers send effective messages.

"But we knew that the mobile marketer was going to become the marketer, so from behind the scenes, from the get-go, we've been building this whole concept that rather than being a mobile marketer, or an email marketer, or an advertising marketer, you'd just be a person-centric marketer."

Kahuna's foresight and mobile-first approach has paid off, with the company recently securing $45m (£28.6m) in Series B funding to fuel its acceleration into marketing automation, with investments by Tenaya Capital, SoftTech VC, Sequoia Captial and others.

Along with the new funding, Kahuna announced its expansion into cross-channel marketing, where it aims to compete with established players like Salesforce and Oracle through its proprietary personalisation technology powered by big data and machine learning.

"We believe this to be the next generation of marketing, which is communication automation," said Marchick. "It's about understanding the person, in the mobile era, on their app, on the mobile web, and then engaging with them in the best way possible. And that best way could be email, or push notification, or in-app. The medium is the second thought; the person is the focus."

kahuna_logo_primaryWhile mobile may be the future, email is still the workhorse of customer communications, and by bringing its communication automation tech to this new channel, Kahuna is hoping to help clients evolve their marketing efforts by leveraging rich context and behavioural data.

"A marketer can put in two variations of a push notification, two email templates, two in-app templates, and then say, 'Here's a million people. I want to engage with them in the best way possible' and we automatically figure out which person gets which message on which device at which time. We've just announced that functionality, that's the tip of the iceberg.

A large part of Kahuna's capabilities, and why it has attracted so much interest from investors and marketers alike, is its big data and machine learning tools that are used to speed up optimisation and improve it constantly.

"Static CRM data that people have is obsolete within an hour," Marchick told Mobile Marketing. "What's really exciting is that most of our intelligence is based on behavioural data that has never been captured before. Our system is sitting on trillions of data points of primary data that we're collecting. We've just scratched the surface, and we're creating data sets that no-one has ever gathered or even conceived of before.

"Because we're collecting so much data, we can very quickly can form opinions with our predictive software, and within five days of install, we're starting to do optimisation. That's just the start of the journey. It's around the ongoing machine learning that leads to results customers have never seen before from other systems."

The sizable investment made during the latest funding round from notable venture capitalists is certainly a vote of confidence in Kahuna's capabilities, and if nothing else, you have to admire their ambition.

"Broadening our communication capability and deepening our machine learning are where we're gonna invest from a product side," said Marchick. "Where we're going to invest from a company side – we're gonna go change the marketing industry, and we don't say that lightly."