Branding Brand delivers punch to mobile retail sales
By Kim Leonard
Published: Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.
Branding Brand grew in four years from a startup interactive marketing agency to an authority in building mobile shopping websites and apps, then studying traffic and using the results to rev up sales.
The South Side company originated Internet sites that customers of Costco, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, Ralph Lauren and other top retailers easily can view on a smartphone or tablet computer screen and use to make purchases.
Experts predict this holiday season will ring in more mobile and multi-channel shopping — researching a product in a store and on a phone, for example — than ever. A recent PriceGrabber.com survey of nearly 2,500 online shoppers found 16 percent intend to shop with a mobile device, up from 13 percent last year.
Branding Brand is preparing for more growth. Last month, the company added former General Nutrition Centers Inc. and Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. marketing executive Jeff Hennion as its president and raised $7.5 million, its first outside investment.
“The world of retail is turning to mobile, and this place has clearly emerged as the leader in mobile commerce,” said Hennion, who headed electronic commerce at GNC. “The calls are coming in. We just need to make sure we can sustain and accelerate the growth.”
Carnegie Mellon University graduates Chris Mason, Joey Rahimi and Christina Koshzow started Branding Brand after co-founding College Prowler. That company, created in 2002, provides online “insider” reviews and rankings for students trying to choose schools.
“We had this great background in being able to use social media to help colleges get their messages out, and a great understanding of the technology required to make that happen,” Mason said.
Initially they planned to help retail brands communicate through social media. They started Branding Brand in Rahimi's dining room and moved to spaces Downtown and in Oakland before settling into East Carson Street offices last summer.
Mason, Rahimi and Koshzow found their first client through Craigslist — AHEADD, a Shadyside-based program for higher education students with autism and other challenges.
Early on, the three partners built websites and blog narrative sites, ran social media campaigns and handled public relations. Later, they honed their skills in analyzing each campaign's effectiveness.
As iPhones and other mobile devices with Internet access grew in use, “We started to notice this sliver of traffic that retailers said was coming from mobile devices,” Koshzow said.
Dick's Sporting Goods, already a client, asked around the same time whether the agency could build a mobile website for customers to navigate on small phone screens.
That site debuted in late 2009 and Branding Brand found its niche.
“People might start with us with a mobile site but then they will get an iPhone app. Then they'll get an Android app. And then they'll say, ‘What about tablets?' ” Koshzow said.
The Children's Place hired Branding Brand to develop its mobile site. Since its June 2011 debut, traffic and conversion (buyers versus browsers) more than doubled, said Michael Dupuis, vice president of e-commerce.
Enhancing mobile shopping is crucial for the clothing retailer, which operates more than 1,100 stores. “Our mom is on the go all the time and is looking to access our brand wherever she is,” Dupuis said.
Systemax North American Technology Group sold computers through its TigerDirect, CompUSA and other businesses through mobile sites for a couple years, but hired Branding Brand last year to correct flaws such as customers' inability to access their accounts.
Given six weeks to complete the overhaul before holiday shopping began, “They delivered on time and (the sites) all worked just like they said they would,” said Lonny Paul, vice president of marketing and strategic initiatives.
Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606. or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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