Chalkboard, a location-based advertising platform and network which already has over 4,300 clients in Southeast Asia, is now launching in the U.S. as well. The company is opening its San Francisco headquarters today, according to CEO Saumil Nanavati, who spoke to Street Fight recently about the move.
Chalkboard’s premise is simple: it allows small and medium-sized businesses to increase the relevance of their ads by only targeting mobile users who are nearby. With a $.99-per-day plan, participants can use a Web dashboard, SMS or Twitter to send unlimited instant announcements and promotions to potential customers located within a one-mile radius of the storefront. In order to enable the delivery of text- and logo-based promotions across a network of apps, Chalkboard partners with third-party mobile developers and Web publishers, on whose apps and sites the promos appear.
Nanavati says that smaller businesses need to keep marketing simple and local: “I started using Google AdWords … it took me six months to figure it out. It’s meant for agencies and experienced marketeers to engage with.” He adds that the acronym-ridden language of marketing can also be difficult for small businesses to parse, and complex technology platforms often are too expensive for local merchants.
It follows, then, that Chalkboard’s tenets are low cost, understandable metrics and technological simplicity. “We developed a very simple platform where [merchants] don’t have to spend more than 30 seconds thinking about it on a daily basis. We charge a flat fee. It’s like a real chalkboard you put out on the sidewalk. … These guys don’t have time to go in and manage a lot of stuff. The solution has to be light.”
During an extensive research phase, the Chalkboard team learned that 60% of the calls that came in to the merchants they spoke with were from customers trying to get directions to the store. To offset this, promotions from Chalkboard clients show a “directions” button, which is featured a great deal more prominently than the telephone number. Users can also opt to receive promotional updates even when they’re outside the one-mile radius, which Nanavati says can help build customer loyalty.
Nanavati thinks that the U.S. market won’t be as challenging as his previous launches in Malaysia and Singapore. Of the U.S. companies who have already signed up with Chalkboard, 71% are already using Twitter. In his Southeast Asia markets, that figure was single digits: “Because social media is so ingrained (with U.S. companies), and because they are free tools, they are willing to take on those tools much more quickly.”