inMarket Aims to Justify the Buzz Around Beacons

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InMarket_logo_2Since mobile marketer inMarket introduced its iBeacon platform in January in about 200 grocery stores, there’s been increasing buzz about these tiny transmitting devices that use location-based technology to communicate with consumers via shopping apps as they enter retail locations.

Messages sent to smartphones might include a coupon for an immediate discount; loyalty points for just picking up an item, scanning it and learning about it; an interactive mini-game; or a recipe, should the consumer use a recipe app and the advertising client is trying to generate sales for a food product. They, in essence, make smartphones smarter.

“[The message] is reaching me at that perfect moment right as I’m walking into the store,” said inMarket CEO and cofounder Todd Dipaola. “The key is the timing. The digital ad is being helpful at that perfect moment when I’m deciding what I want to buy.”

The Los Angeles-based company was one of the first to use the iBeacon protocol Apple launched late last year. Today, dozens of companies offer beacons, thousands of stores employ them — and the numbers keep growing. Beacons are poised to “revolutionize the way we shop.”

What there hasn’t been much of, yet, is proof that the devices work, namely that they drive sales and increase ROI. But that is beginning to change.

In July, inMarket released a case study for a client spotlighting a campaign it ran on its beacon platform, Mobile to Mortar (M2M), that also used the company’s loyalty app CheckPoints, to encourage shoppers to try Hillshire Farm American Craft link sausages. Results show that the beacons delivered messages that:

  • increased purchase intent by 20 times
  • delivered more than 194,000 Mobile to Mortar engagements
  • delivered more than 9 million brand impressions
  • increased brand awareness by 36%
  • generated a 1.3 times ROI

“Because of our scope [inMarket claims to reach more than 40 million shoppers through its platform and app partners], we’ve been able to share data at scale,” Dipaola told Street Fight. “The beacon activations led to actual sales, not just ‘sort of’ sales, brand awareness and purchase intent — which all are critical parts — but [Hillshire] was able to measure the number of people buying their product. This shows that when you do beacons at scale, you get more sales.”

Additional ROI includes consumers using the apps more, keeping them on their phones longer, and ultimately engaging with the advertised products more.

Hillshire and inMarket plan to release findings for Hillshire’s Jimmy Dean brand at the Mobile Marketing Summit on September 10 in New York. In addition, another consumer products company that uses the M2M platform plans to release a case study during advertising week in late September, according to an inMarket spokesperson.

Beacons tend to work better where shoppers visit more frequently, such as grocery stores, which consumers visit 1.6 to 1.8 times per week, Dipaola noted, adding that they give a trigger that is a little more timely and more precise than GPS, and is completely seamless for the consumer. “Instead of waiting for a consumer to turn on their phone, go to the app and input info, the app is waking up and presenting info to the consumer at right moment.”

But beacons are just one piece of the equation for inMarket, Dipaola said.

Dipaola and his brother launched inMarket in 2010, with the then-name CheckPoints, as a shopping solution for retailers, brands and consumers. They initially focused on GPS and barcode scanning, then evolved to follow what shoppers were doing in the mobile retail space.

“For us, it’s always been about the audience and how to help shoppers in stores,” Dipaola said. “The beacon is one piece; the other is the consumer who can receive that signal. The challenge is how do you set up an entire experience? A beacon is like a radio station. You can broadcast, but if you don’t have listeners, you won’t be successful. You need to give them a reason to tune in. We don’t just sell technology, but an end-to-end solution for retailers and brands that ultimately drive sales.”

Dipaola said that inMarket has built its 40-million-consumer audience through offering its own shopping apps (CheckPoint and List Ease), partnering with other apps such as Conde Nast’s Epicurious and Gannett’s loyalty-card Key Ring, and making sure the company provides a good fit and benefit for the consumer.

“As we talked to consumers about using shopping apps, the biggest complaint was that they forgot to use it at right moment. They forgot to get a coupon or to get loyalty points. They forgot what was on the list and got in trouble with their spouse,” Dipaola said. “That’s why we focus on building an audience that listens for beacons in addition to deploying the beacons. We work on both sides to make sure there’s someone hearing that beacon besides just broadcasting into the ether.”

inMarket uses split tests to look at what works and what doesn’t for its apps. The company also is figuring out what’s the right blend of being helpful and not intrusive. Getting a push message 10 times in one store visit, or one for every aisle a consumer walks down, is probably a bit much.

Clients pay based on ads actually reaching the consumer in-store, Dipaola said.

Since launching M2M, inMarket has seen “tons of interest” from current and new clients, and recently opened a New York office to “be closer to the brands and closer to big publishers as we continue to grow.” The company also is looking beyond retail.

“Someone could attend a music festival, then the phone can show a play list of all the bands they saw at the festival because of where they were and beacons. Or an employee goes to a conference, and when she comes back can see here’s the list of sessions she attended along with relative notes,” Dipaola explained.

Dipaola anticipates a “shakedown” and consolidation in the beacon market the next couple months. “It’s been confusing to retailers and brands to know who to turn to.” But he’s confident inMarket has figured out what works.

“What’s important in our philosophy is that this should be a benefit for the consumer. If we can find that ‘aha’ moment where somebody says this is a really useful app and get that trifecta right — good for the consumer, good for the publisher, good for the retailer — that’s when we’re making progress in the world of consumer apps and enabling better consumer experiences.”

Donna M. Airoldi is a Street Fight contributor.