With the prevalence of apps growing exponentially in recent years, more and more brands are getting in the game with their own offerings. From the consumer's point of view, more brands means more choices -- and that drives up expectations.

If a consumer has only one provider for a need, he doesn't shop around, but with 10 options to pick from, he sure does. In response, apps need to be faster, more seamless and more predictive of what customers want. They also need to cut through all the irrelevant messaging that consumers don't want to receive.

So how can companies distinguish themselves in this space and stay competitive? Enter the concept of real-time personalization.

Easier than ever

Real-time personalization is a data-driven approach that provides an engaging user experience based on the information that smartphones are already collecting. With proper utilization of this data, apps can appear to respond to a user's current situation almost as if they're reading his mind.

A classic example is sending push notifications like coupons or other helpful information to consumers when they're exploring something they can buy from their device. The app makes the decision about just what to send based on data from their phones -- where they are, what sites they're visiting and generally what they've been doing recently.

All that information is known as context. By taking context seriously, apps can deliver a tailored experience that can change right along with the user.

But how do you code that into your application? Where does the development team begin? Baking real-time personalization into an app on your own can greatly increase complexity, as well as developer time and costs.

Fortunately, the market has responded to this need. In fact, companies now offer ways in which your apps can smartly respond to context. Flybits, for example, is what's known as a "context-as-a-service" product that simplifies how enterprises convert data into intelligence by harnessing it from all kinds of sources: proprietary or public, device sensors, real-time user behavior. That data can then be channeled to deliver personalized mobile experiences.

Let's take a look at a few examples in which real-time personalization can make the difference between a delighted customer or one lost to the chaos of poorly tuned messaging.

1. Retail: a natural fit

Retail, whether brick-and-mortar or online, is all about fulfilling wants and needs. Those change quickly and depend critically on the customer's context. For example, changes in the weather can drive purchasing decisions, so an app that's weather-cognizant can present customers with discounts on warm jackets just as they step in from the cold (or sip their hot cocoa in front of their device at home).

Particularly for retailers, it's important to note that context need not relate to the immediate situation -- it can also include behavioral data from the recent past. Has the customer been searching for flights or other travel options over the past week? If so, presenting relevant ads (such as ads for sunscreen) or providing other useful information to the customer could be appropriate.

2. Financial services: more than just dollars and cents

Financial services businesses are particularly enhanced by real-time personalization because it allows these companies to attend to customer needs in a way that's never been possible before.

Consider banking or financial advising, and imagine a preferred customer completing a survey upon exiting a branch -- but it's raining. With the right context management, your system can provide a taxi service discount and increase loyalty by sending a clear message that you care. Customers who feel physically taken care of are more likely to feel like they're in financially good hands as well.

3. Hospitality: feeling at home when on the road

Hotels have known for a long time that context matters. Go to any hotel lobby, and you'll find a stand of local tourism brochures. Just as you don't find brochures for Disneyland when staying at Niagara Falls, you don't want your app to send irrelevant information.

In the same way, apps should take into account not only local tourist sites, but also the customer's personal interests, climate concerns or even dining preferences. Customers can receive personalized itineraries, or amenities can be triggered when a customer is able to take advantage of them.

However you use real-time personalization, if you do it right, your users will notice. Expect to see more offerings in this space soon. Of course, that will drive customer demand -- so savvy leaders won't delay in getting solution