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Mobile marketing has been transformed over the last decade from a niche, even neglected, space to encompassing pretty much all marketing activity. But as it’s expanded, looking for inspiration – for the brands creating new products, audiences, and whole markets that didn’t previously exist, for the platforms that could be the pillar of your next media plan, for companies changing the mobile experience itself – has got harder.

Well, we’re here to help. In this article, The Drum’s reporting team, aided by our research experts, kick off our deep dive on Mobile by highlighting 10 brands to watch. From fintech to fitness and deliveries to dating, these brands all meet their customers on their mobile devices before they reach them anywhere else. 

In this article, our research and reporting team highlights 10 brands that operate primarily in the mobile space that they’ve had their eyes on – and argue the case to make them top of your watch list, either as potential media channels or examples of cutting-edge marketing nous.

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Where generation Z does business: Depop

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in the mobile era, it’s actually a meme account about you. We’ll get into the details of the mobile-first fashion marketplace’s incredible growth shortly, but it’s worth noting that Depop Drama, the Instagram account that parodies the worst of the Depop selling and buying experience, has almost 650,000 followers itself.

This just goes to show that Depop isn’t merely a shopping utility, it’s an app that is now profoundly baked into the online cultural experience of many younger people. The actual user number of Depop shadows that of its meme account at 26 million worldwide. What’s more impressive than this is that 90% of those users are under the age of 26, and over $1bn has been made by people selling on the platform. This changes the dynamic from being a merely transactional mobile app to a powerful platform for young people to make money, start small businesses and find like-minded entrepreneurs.

This would have been a driving factor in the $1.62bn acquisition of Depop by crafty marketplace Etsy, which bought the app in June 2021. At the time of the acquisition, Depop chief exec Maria Raga told users: “Come to Depop for the clothes, but stay for the culture.” The deal secures Etsy a major foothold in the secondhand and SME selling community online globally.

According to Depop, the most searched for categories on the site are vintage, streetwear, one-of-a-kind and Y2K – ironically showing that, despite the young userbase, there’s a big trend for aesthetics from times gone by. There’s an opportunity here for anyone above its core age group still holding on to clothing from their youth.

It’s also an opportunity for brands. While the context of Depop isn’t to use it as a storefront, fashion brands like Anna Sui are using the platform to sell ‘archive’ clothing. This taps into the trends of its userbase and creates an exclusive reason for people to connect with the brand on the platform over the myriad other fashion marketplaces.

Charlotte McEleny, deputy and Asia Pacific editor

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Brand love: Hinge

Hinge is different from other dating apps – at least that’s what the decidedly youthful brand says. It bills itself as the dating app ‘designed to be deleted’. That is, its target audience consists of singles who are looking for something a bit more serious than a hookup. Originally, Hinge only allowed users to match with other users if they shared a mutual friend. And from the get-go, the app’s design has supported its aim of appealing to those looking for a relationship; rather than a gamified UX designed primarily around swiping – the standard for many other dating apps today – Hinge encourages users to build detailed profiles and include answers to playful icebreakers to facilitate engagement. 

Data from Pew Research indicated that, as of February 2020, some 30% of US adults had used a dating app or service – noting that usage varies significantly across different age groups and demographics. However, the pandemic supercharged the sector; with singles stuck at home with their screens, they swiped, video chatted and matched more than ever. And Hinge fared especially well: the company tells The Drum it saw app downloads grow a whopping 63% in 2020 compared to 2019. 

It’s worth noting that Hinge was acquired by Match Group in early 2019. The conglomerate owns a large swath of the world’s most popular dating apps and sites, including Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. The acquisition of Hinge was seen as a strategic move to expand its customer base and diversify its portfolio with Hinge’s youthful but relationship-focused brand. With paid subscription-based membership options as well as a slew of recent partnerships with brands including Airbnb, Chipotle, Uber Eats and Uncommon Goods, Hinge offers Match Group valuable monetization opportunities. 

By the end of 2025, the global online dating market is expected to be worth nearly $3.6bn, up from $2.23bn in 2019. As the eighth-highest ranked app in the Apple App Store’s Lifestyle category – coming in behind Pinterest, Tinder and Amazon Alexa – Hinge is well positioned to capitalize on this explosive growth. 

Kendra Clark, reporter

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Challenger bank taking lessons from the east: Revolut

Revolut is changing the way many consumers are banking in Europe and beyond with its ‘Super App’ strategy. The challenger bank, co-founded in 2015 by friends Nikolay Storonsky and Vladyslav Yatsenko, has had an action-packed and mostly glorious run. The London-based mobile financial app even announced its foray into the busy US market in March 2020. The brand attained a valuation of £4.2bn in 2020, making it the UK’s most valuable financial technology startup. 

The digital brand’s audacious plans include “acquiring customers from thousands of legacy banks, which have failed to offer consumers, especially millennials and gen Z, the services they want,” said Storonsky in an interview with Fortune. From a product point of view, Revolut offers most services that neobanks do, while also combining both retail and business banking in a single app. 

In a way, Revolut’s success story reflects the scorching growth of the super app phenomenon across the globe, including the financial world. While the Asian markets have been more fertile ground for the super app brands – going by the prolific success of brands in China like WeChat and Alipay as well as many players launched in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – western markets, though late starters, are also following a similar trajectory.

For example, in traditional cash-first economies such as Germany, 41% more people are making cashless payments than they were before the pandemic, as per a Deutsche Welle12 report. The number of sessions in payment apps increased by almost half and the top five growth rate markets were Japan (75%), Germany (45%), Turkey (39%), the US (33%) and Britain (29%), with users increasingly deploying mobile for transactions, according to Apptopia.

Revolut has ambitions to capitalize on these user behaviors and disintermediate the banking sector altogether. There’s a strong chance it could be the west’s answer to WeChat or Alipay.

Amit Bapna, editor-at-large

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Marketing within the metaverse: Roblox

Creative sandbox game Roblox is one of the most exciting brands to watch on mobile – literally. Its consistent presence on streaming sites like Twitch and undiminished popularity among younger gamers means that the game has a primary and secondary mobile presence, as the app itself and as a source of entertainment content.

Within the title’s metaverse, players can create any number of minigames and virtual worlds using a robust suite of tools. Users can customize their own avatars in addition to developing the creative look and feel of their worlds.

The game, which has a worldwide playerbase of 42.1 million daily active users as of Q1 2021, is a collection of virtual sandboxes. The company behind the title is worth $55bn after going public in March and, despite a number of issues with content moderation, is making a concerted effort to become a brand-safe environment.

It generated $387m in revenue in Q1 based in large part on in-app purchases –though brand partnerships are a central part of its strategy. Over the past few years the scale of its partnerships has increased rapidly, with high-profile brands like Nike, Gucci and Warner Bros doing tie-ins to existing product lines and entertainment releases.

As with Fortnite, it is also a destination for individuals and influencers taking advantage of the live and communal experience of the metaverse. Artists including Lil Nas X and Ava Max have performed in-game concerts. As a starting point for brands looking to get involved with metaverse marketing, Roblox is undoubtedly one to watch.

Chris Sutcliffe, senior reporter

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Super-app speeding past competition: Grab

Singapore-based super app Grab, which combines ride-hailing, food deliveries and financial services, recorded 250 million monthly transacting users as of December 2020, resulting in 1.9bn transactions. Grab has become the first ‘decacorn’ in the SEA region with a valuation of over $10bn.

Data by App Annie has also revealed that Grab consistently obtained the highest monthly active users in the region over the past two years. The app is currently operating in 400 cities across eight countries in South East Asia. Its core ride-hailing service boasts a workforce of 2.8 million active drivers, beating out Indonesian rival Go-Jek (which has approximately one million drivers, according to Statista).

It’s already benefited from consumer changes during the pandemic – Grab claims it saw a 25% growth in new merchant sign-ups to delivery platform GrabFood across the region during the pandemic lockdowns – and may well be the super app brand best placed to break out westward beyond South East Asia.

Its contactless payment GrabPay has consistently been the most commonly used e-wallet app since Q4 2017 by Singaporean consumers, IPrice Group has found, and 77% of overall transactions on Grab’s platform were conducted via GrabPay. Grab claims that cashless usage on its app is 1.3 times higher than the overall cashless usage in Singapore. As it eyes expansion beyond its core markets, this super app is already altering consumer behavior.

Shawn Lim, reporter

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Outlaws opening up the markets: Robinhood

Taking from the rich and giving to the poor has been Robin Hood’s folklore tale dating back to the 13th century. Today, his namesake is a free-trading app that has aimed to level the playing field for those living in lower tax brackets. At its core, Robinhood allows investors to trade stocks, cryptocurrency, options and exchange-traded funds – all without charging fees or commissions. 

A favorite among younger day traders and those looking to capitalize on the crypto craze, Robinhood gained notoriety thanks to the GameStop meme stock movement. Reddit’s Wall Street Bets subreddit rallied a huge online community to invest in the stock in order to fight back against short-sellers who were feasting on beleaguered brands. This caused Robinhood, the go-to app at the center of it all, to freeze trading until it could raise the amount capital needed to meet federal mandates. It ended up raising $1bn overnight.

Now it’s valued at $40bn and expected to go public next month. This comes after it changed the game again earlier this month by launching IPO Access. This feature allows regular Janes and Joes to buy purchase stocks at IPO prices before trading on public exchanges, democratizing a privilege generally presented to wealthy investors and institutions.

IPO Access is only its latest innovation. In late 2019, it began allowing its users to invest in a ‘fractional share’. This means people can buy an increment of an expensive blue-chip stock. Since its launch, 60% of Robinhood users have invested in a fractional stock. 

This results for this eight-year-old company have been impressive. It now has more than 13 million users with an average age of 31. About 50% of Robinhood users are first-time investors and 30% are women. And the brand appears to just be hitting its stride in becoming the place known for ‘investing for everyone’. Maid Marian and the Band of Merry Men would be so proud. 

Ken Hein, US editor

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Not just flatpacks: Ikea

Ikea Place is the Swedish furniture giant’s AR application. Available on both iOS and Android devices, the app enables users to visualize over 2,000 products within their own settings in real time. Within the app, users can browse products, make a selection and point their device toward the space in which they’d like to see the product placed. Users can quickly and seamlessly determine if a piece of furniture is well-suited to their space and if it is the appropriate size for their needs. Users can also save their favorite products and purchase them directly through the app. The app’s functionality has garnered praise from many users; in the App Store on iOS, the app has an average 4.6/5 star rating.

Ikea Place is a natural extension of the company’s history of investing in technology to elevate the user experience – in fact, it’s been dabbling in AR for nearly a decade. Even the company’s standard e-commerce app includes features such as product scanning: users can scan an in-store item with their mobile device and add it to custom lists. 

Though the brand suffered at the hands of the pandemic – reporting sales losses of nearly 6.6% during the 2020 fiscal year compared to the 2019 fiscal year – it may be poised for a rebound. In November, chief financial officer Juvencio Maeztu told Reuters he was predicting a bounce-back due at least in part to the influx of consumers undertaking home improvement projects.

His instincts may be right: research from Harvard suggests that spending on home improvement projects has reached record highs in the US. Purchases from within both the original Ikea app and Ikea Place could be instrumental in mobilizing a sales recovery for the furniture colossus. 

Kendra Clark, reporter

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Map to success: What3words

How do you map every three square meters of the globe in an effective way? By assigning them three random words, of course.

What3Words is the ingenious London-based company founded by Chris Sheldrick, Jack Waley-Cohen and Michael Dent. Used by everyone from brands to NGOs, it narrows down specific locations easily and effectively by dividing the world into 57 trillion squares, each measuring 3m by 3m (10ft by 10ft) and each having a unique, randomly assigned three-word address.

For example, the door of 10 Downing Street is slurs.this.shark, while the area across the road where the press congregate is stage.pushy.nuns.

Now used by millions worldwide, it surpasses street addresses that aren’t accurate enough to specify precise locations – such as building entrances, parks and many rural areas. What3Words does not aim to replace street addressing, but rather is a useful addition when street addresses are not accurate enough, or an instant scalable solution where addresses do not exist.

The technology has been beneficial to emergency services around the world, where they can now accept three word addresses from callers who would otherwise struggle to say exactly where they need help. As a result, What3Words has helped find many people in need of emergency assistance quickly and easily.

Where it might aid the efforts of marketers, however, is in boosting experiential marketing and in-person commerce. Many leading retailers now accept What3Words addresses on their checkout pages, and thousands of businesses will utilize it to improve customer experiences – from e-commerce and logistics companies to travel, ride-hailing and navigation apps. 

Now with £2.7m worth of investment from UK broadcaster ITV, the future could spell big change for the nifty tech brand.

Ellen Ormesher, staff writer

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Growing from seed: Karrot

South Korea-based Karrot, a neighborhood marketplace and community app, has 7 million monthly active users, a figure which has increased 130% year-on-year. That makes it the second-largest shopping app in the country after Coupang, South Korea’s largest e-commerce platform. 

The app features a peer-to-peer marketplace that shows people listings from sellers located within a six-kilometer radius; most transactions are completed in person, meaning this e-commerce platform has a sustainability element built into its user architecture. As a precaution, user identities are verified through their mobile numbers and location.

The concept makes new listings easier to spot and encourages neighbors to interact with each other. The app is free to use, and the company makes money through targeted advertising.

Due to the high population density in many South Korean cities, it is popular among locals. Karrot claims users spend an average of 20 minutes per day on the app, and it’s seen its gross merchandise value increase by 250% year-on-year because of the Covid-19 pandemic as people shop online while being locked down at home.

The number of listings on the app grew from 4m in January to 8.4m in April, as the app’s community features saw a jump in the number of postings made. The company plans to launch overseas and will focus on other densely-populated areas in the next year.

Shawn Lim, reporter

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Gathering speed: Strava

Fitness tracking app Strava has become the go-to service for joggers, rowers, cyclists and swimmers striving to measure their athletic progress. It’s like any social media platform, only you share your exercise wins instead of funny cat videos. Initially released back in 2009, the app tracks your scenic cycles or documents your daily run – only it incorporates social media features to enable users to share their fitness stats with their Strava mates. You can even upload pictures you’ve taken while taking a quick breather. 

In the last year it’s seen significant growth, adding 2 million users (the brand calls them ’athletes’) to reach an active userbase of 70 million; it sees 21.5m uploads each week. The company’s not stopping there, raising $110m in new funding from Sequoia and TCV back in November; the funds are earmarked to enable the development of new features and additions to its service. 

Its advertising business is the part that should matter to marketers, though. Brands can reach its athletic community through ads on the free version of the service (a premium subscription is available), but they can also create community challenges or branded fitness clubs. 

Brands can choose the parameter of their challenge, such as the audience based on location, gender or sport type, and the duration as well as the goal itself, including distance, time and elevation – meaning they can effectively use the platform to stage a branded global sporting event.

It has already proved a successful channel to reach new audiences and build affinity for brands such as the Tour de France and Parkrun UK, media brands such as Eurosport or sports-aligned brands such as Red Bull, all of which maintain themed clubs on the platform.

While nobody wants to be interrupted by an ad while analyzing their morning jog – speed-oriented fitness fans least of all – these participatory features offer advertisers a chance to actively join the lives of users on the app.

Imogen Watson, senior reporter

For more in-depth coverage on the present and future of mobile marketing, dial in to The Drum’s Mobile hub.