Had Nader Alaghband’s career gone down the path many had envisaged as a Cornell University Philosophy graduate, today he wouldn’t be the owner and chief executive of a successful mobile agency in the heart of London. A potential career either in politics or perhaps the British Diplomatic Services once beckoned him, but his passion for technology and entrepreneurialism diverted him down a very different path.
Today, somewhat refreshingly, Alaghband admits to having no traditional background in the marketing agency sector. And while he doesn’t have a CV that lists umpteen marketing agencies, what he does have is a passion for innovation, a love of everything mobile and the energy and desire to bring ideas to life for a growing range of established brands and tech start-ups.
Since launching his agency Apppli four years ago, during testing economical times in the UK, Alaghband has built a thriving digital company headquartered in spacious offices high above London’s Cavendish Square.
Apppli offers a rich mix of digital services, from product and content strategy to UX design and iOS and Android development. The agency has built an impressive client list which includes household names such as HTC, Intel, Facebook, the NHS, Ogilvy and some innovative start-ups such as weHive, Squawka and Splyt.
However it is Alaghband’s commitment to innovation and ongoing research and development (into areas such as consumer expectations, the internet of things, wearables, indoor mapping technologies, etc) that ensures Apppli remains at the cutting edge of an industry where that edge is continually disappearing into the distance.
“We started from nothing four years ago, so our growth has been very good and we’d obviously like to see that continue,” says Alaghband. “2014 was definitely a year of building momentum in the UK economy and we saw that in two ways. We saw it in terms of the pace of innovation and the expectation that innovation will be at the forefront of thinking among our clients; and on the other hand in terms of the willingness for, shall we say, less innovative businesses to now spend money in order to start to build their profile on mobile platforms.”
He adds that the fastest growing part of the business is its research and development group.
“As a digital business we need to be ahead of the curve for the sake of our clients, and our entire team here is driven by innovation. I suppose we do that for our own benefit and we can then spin companies and products out of that part of the business, which is an exciting prospect for us and offers our clients valuable insights.”
Last year he further bolstered the expertise within the Apppli team with the appointment of a managing director in the form of Joo Teoh, who joined from OgilvyOne London, bringing with him 15 years of international marketing experience with brands including Unilever, General Electric, Allied Domecq and BP.
Both Alaghband and Teoh agree that what will ultimately drive the mobile marketing sector forward in the years ahead are consumer expectations and ecosystem economics. 2014 saw Apppli focus on better understanding what those expectations may be in order to better inform and advise brands on the types and quality of interactions, goods and services consumers will be looking for in the future.
Last year the agency invested in a large scale research project to investigate consumer expectations across the full range of business sectors, with Teoh revealing its results at the FT Innovate conference hosted in London recently.
Teoh says: “We learned from our research that people regard their mobile interactions and activities to be very personal. Therefore, if companies have access to this information, they want those companies to do something meaningful in return. If you know my behaviours, then give me better value. Show me you know me, and show me you care.”
With privacy concerns ever more pertinent to today’s consumers, Alaghband and Teoh have strong views regarding the use of consumer data collected from mobile devices.
“Consumer data is not there simply to be pillaged by brands,” says Alaghband. “It is there to be respected. If brands are always only thinking about how they can augment their data set to sell harder and sell more, people will become disenchanted and disengaged.”
Both agree the march of wearable tech will no doubt continue in 2015, fuelled further by the Apple Watch hitting UK shores, and data captured by mobile and increasingly by wearables should be used responsibly by brands.
“Sometimes I feel that brands forget that my mobile is a private space, not a delivery device for their latest campaign or a source of juicy datapoints”, says Alaghband. “I think it is a good thing that in most cases, businesses that capture this type of data aren’t misusing it, that they are respecting the opt in nature of the value exchange and respecting people’s privacy.
“What we are trying to do at Apppli is to communicate to brands that we understand the mindset of the mobile user and the parameters within which they are happy to interact with brands. A brand that knows what it is doing within mobile is one which respects the individual’s right to determine exactly how that interaction takes place and the value exchange involved in their relationship.”
One high for Apppli in 2014 was creating a mobile app for King’s College Hospital that enabled out patients to effectively manage their own illnesses, treatments, appointments, test results and so on to take as much stress and confusion out of the treatment process as possible. And 2015 has already gotten off to a flying start, with the agency launching a new smart cities mobile application, weBeacon, which for the first time ever will see a number of London museums collaborating so that visitors can curate their own highly personalised visits across multiple attractions to access the exhibits and displays that they want to view.
Alaghband and his team may be looking down on Cavendish Square, but the only way for Apppli in 2015 is up – politics’ loss, it seems, is digital marketing’s gain.