As the mobile vendor ecosystem has evolved over the years, I’ve watched companies that once specialized in providing one service, such as analytics or push notifications, transform into catchall solutions or tool suites for all mobile-related marketing services that involve data, analytics, push and email marketing, user retention and more.

The driving force behind this shift is the rise of mobile apps becoming the main consumer touchpoint for large brands and retailers. There was a tipping point, probably in 2013, when brands moved beyond just having a mobile presence and began to seriously invest in the retention and LTV of their mobile user base. In 2011, retargeting a mobile user based on cart abandonment and other activity in an app through an email marketing campaign seemed like a pipe dream.

Mobile vendors who started out serving development agencies, game companies and independent developers began to get direct exposure to some of the largest brands in the world through various channels. As these mobile vendors continued to expand, they broadened their service and product offerings to stay competitive and adapt to their customers’ needs.

However, the language they now use to describe their offerings has been stripped of technical jargon and watered down to cater to CMOs instead of CTOs and product managers as a result of the pool of potential of decision-makers in the mobile space broadening. This has made it increasingly difficult to differentiate between them: the majority of value propositions blend together. 

Mobile marketing evolution

To help piece together the evolution of the companies and their service offerings, I’ve identified several leaders in the space and tracked how they’ve publicly described themselves, as well as their growth, through venture capital raised. Some have remained consistent with messaging, but others’ value propositions have undergone significant shifts. Let’s take a look at each company in more detail.

Appboy: Mobile marketing Automation, Engagement, CRM

Appboy is a Mobile Marketing Automation company that empowers marketers to build better relationships with their customers with push, email, in-app and more. They were funded in 2011 simply wanting to enable developers to expand, engage and better understand their user base. Through 2014 they learned that they didn’t want to focus on user acquisition, but instead on keeping the users after they arrive. In 2015 they launched several new products to help marketers develop and deepen relationships with mobile customers.


Urban Airship: Great Mobile Engagement, Delivered 

Urban Airship is a leading Mobile Engagement Platform that provides leading brands with a market-leading mobile engagement platform and digital wallet solution. It helps build customer relationships via push notifications, in-app messaging, location/proximity-targeting and, of course, analytics. Since 2010 they have taken advantage of features such as managing push notifications campaigns across apps running on mobile platforms. In 2012, they acquired SimpleGeo, a product that would enable organizations to build and save audience segments for messaging. Finally, in 2015, they went beyond push notifications and launched Urban Airship Connect – a service that helps marketers and data teams ingest data from mobile apps and stream those signals to other business systems.


Kahuna: Mobile Marketing Automation Software 

Kahuna provides intelligent Mobile Marketing Automation software that enables marketers to delight customers and drive mobile engagement and revenue. In 2013, they invented a way to analyze customer behavior on mobile and web and automate marketing campaigns based on those usage patterns. In 2014, they described themselves as a “mobile engagement engine” building user profiles that allow them to deliver push notifications to each individual at the right time with the right content.


Leanplum: Mobile Marketing Automation 

Leanplum is, simply put, a Mobile Marketing Automation that ties together personalized messaging, A/B testing and analytics into one SDK – driving engagement and results. In 2013, the main idea behind Leanplum was to give developers the tools to understand how small changes in their apps affect how users interact with it. In 2014, they evolved from a standard A/B testing solution to the only fully integrated optimization solution for mobile apps, and launched its marketing automation service. In 2015 they continued evolving into what they called a “mobile lifecycle marketing” service, and launched their Lifecycle engine. The new tool enabled marketers to trigger personalized messages based on time and user behavior.


Localytics: App Marketing, App Analytics 

Localytics is a Mobile Engagement Platform, giving customers the insights and tools to help them acquire, engage, grow and retain users. In 2013, they spread to three new big areas: Lifetime Value Tracking, Customer Acquisition Management and Real-Time Funnel Management. Although they started out with a focus on app analytics, since customers also wanted tools that allowed them to act on their data, Localytics added things like push notifications, in-app messaging, email marketing and integration with sales and business intelligence. In 2015, they introduced the only solution offering full app marketing and analytics in one app.


Swrve: Mobile Marketing Automation 

Swrve is an integrated marketing, A/B testing and optimization platform for mobile apps. In 2013, they added dynamic engagement scoring, improving its extant A/B testing offerings to better help application developers dig into their usage data and improve their apps to better fit their user base. In 2015, Swrve announced its Mobile Engagement Platform for Windows 10.


Carnival Mobile: A Mobile Marketing Automation Platform for Global Brands

Carnival Mobile is a Mobile Marketing Automation that drives app engagements and customer conversions. In 2014, they shifted from being an app-building agency to a mobile platform maker. The new goal was to aggregate all of a brand’s users in one place so they can run analytics on that user base and allow the brand to run various campaigns, targeting users with content through push notifications, in-app messages, contests, and more. They were acquired by Sailthru on April 6, 2016.


Mixpanel: Learn how people use your app with the world’s most advanced mobile & web analytics

Mixpanel is an analytics platform for the mobile and web, supporting businesses to study consumer behavior. Like many other Mobile Marketing Automation companies, Mixpanel also allows for user segmentation, intelligent drop-off and conversation data, notifications, retention tools and A/B testing.

In 2014, they introduced an easy-to-understand dashboard for companies to track revenue data.

That same year they had 160 million profiles and were adding 20 million more each month. In 2015, Mixpanel unveiled a new feature that made it easier for mobile businesses to customize the company’s analytics tools without writing any additional code.


All paths lead to… Mobile Marketing Automation 

As the above-mentioned companies, along with several others, continue to compete and converge into “mobile marketing automation machines,” it remains to be seen if there’s enough room in the market for all to coexist. Competition for full-service marketing across all platforms and devices also comes from players in the automated marketing space at large such as Intercom, a company that calls itself a “customer communication platform.” Intercom recently expanded their service offerings to encompass mobile with the release of “Smart Campaigns,” a marketing automation platform that incorporates in-app messaging, drip email campaigns, user segmentation and push notifications across web and mobile.

Click on the image to see a more detailed version

In the graphic above, I’ve tried to demonstrate how all of those companies ended up as full-service mobile automation companies. The bar in the middle that goes from “push notifications” shows an overview of phases that companies went through over the years. Each company actually reached those phases at different times, but if we look at the whole picture, this representation is more or less correct, and gives us a clear overview of what happened.

Consolidation through acquisition or growth   

There will be a consolidation of these companies eventually, either through acquisition or the inability to sustain growth. It will be interesting to keep an eye out for who decides to sell, or continues to raise capital and forge out against potentially much larger technology companies that will enter the mobile marketing automation space.


If you feel that your company belongs on this list or if any information was presented inaccurately, please reach out to

Author Will Mahony is director of business development at the Five Agency and also consultant for Shoutem; Mahony and the company he works for have no financial relationships or partnerships with any of the companies in this space.