The Discovery Economy: When Digital App Play Leads To Real-Life Finds

Your smartphone may be a paragon of digital wonder, and if you fire up a navigation app it can even take you places in the real world. But it's poised to become a much cleverer and more rewarding way to introduce you to new (real) things.

Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin last week invested a sizable chunk of money not into his social network, with success writ large across its IPO, but into a small startup called CrowdMob. This firm is mixing up two seemingly odd ideas into one business: Promotion of smartphone apps and discounted local businesses. Far from another marketing men-gone-wild scenario, it's the first ripple in a coming wave of innovative uses for smartphone tech that'll lead you to discover people, places, and things in real life and vice versa.

CrowdMob has a couple of products up its sleeve already. "Appy Meals," for example, is all about combining discounted paid apps and discounted real-life products, where you buy a promotional voucher at a discount price that gives you access to both a previously expensive app and also a discount on a real-world product, such as a coffee at Starbucks. Both the real-world store owner and the app maker benefit from this partnership, because it sounds like an intrinsically good deal: Play that new game for a knock-down price while commuting, then grab a discount coffee when you get there.

CrowdMob, TechCrunch notes, has another variation on the idea which works inside the in-app purchasing system—users pay for extensions to an app they already own and in return get a real-world discount. This incentivizes the app owner to buy the in-app purchase (leading to a revenue boost for the maker) and also leads to increased foot traffic in a local store ... with the hope that the customer will come back for a repeat visit, or spend more money on, say, a cake to go with their discounted coffee. CrowdMob's system also has a paid-for in-app video ad server called Loot that delivers gamers virutal currency that can be swapped for real-life gift cards if they watch through a video advert. 

There seems to be a enormous potential for stitching together real-world commerce and smartphone apps via CrowdMob's system thanks to its API that lets partners build tasks, like video-watching or in-app buys to earn credits that can go toward a real-world discount...all because you engage in a digital act on your digital smartphone, and agree to engage in a bit of marketing.

But marketing isn't the limit of the value here. If you're using a CrowdMob-backed promotion, you're likely to find your way to a local merchant that you may never have previously visited. The coupon incentive, if priced cleverly, is also likely to predispose you for a positive attitude toward this new merchant and to the app that led you there (in which case you may be tempted to buy more apps/in-app purchases like it in the future). 

Right now your smartphone is beginning to help you do this sort of thing if you're using a service like Groupon or LivingSocial, but the process is very user-driven and requires direct action to take part in the promotions. These examples here won't be the only ones in this space, because there are so many potential benefits to enterprises discovering new clients, and app users discovering new real-world boons. It seems that the next revolution in smartphone discovery will be to make it more seamless, and actually aid you to discover wholly new things and places you'd perhaps never have tried. It'll be an interesting world when buying a new episode of Angry Birds on your phone takes you 200 yards off your normal route to work to a nearby gourmet ice cream bar to try out its special Frozen Bird treat.

[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]

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