Factual’s Rob Jonas: Location Tech Still Has Some Big Problems to Solve

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Factual has been working over the past year to build out location data partnerships with a variety of agencies and brands with its Geopulse Proximity data service, which allows marketers to deliver mobile ads and mobile-programmatic campaigns to users based on their real-time location. The latest of these partnerships is with MediaMath, which has integrated Factual’s data into their system, allowing clients to design, build, and activate hyperlocal-targeting strategies within its terminal.

Street Fight recently caught up with Rob Jonas, the company’s SVP of revenue, to talk about what the partnership might portend, where Factual sees the local heading, and what the Pokemon Go phenomenon indicates about consumer willingness to share location data.

Tell me a little about the MediaMath integration and where that came from, and also what it means more broadly within the company.
Within our advertising-focused business we maintain relationships up and down the whole value chain — so we work with publishers exchanges, DSPs, trading desks, agencies, and brands in some capacity. And after the last few years, as the Geopulse business has been built out, we’ve been adding in all of the major DSP buying platforms.

And adding MediaMath is really I would say the last of the major ones we need to bring on board to get us to pretty much ubiquitous coverage of the most important buyers. So, a very important partnership for us.  MediaMath is a very significant player within the programmatic ad-buying system.

And I think the very specific nuance of why we like this relationship is that they are the first partner to work with us with an extended solution. Most of our buyers use our [user interface] and tools to basically manage their activity with Factual. We’ve had a solution available for a little while now that allows that functionality to be embedded within a partner’s particular UI — and MediaMath has gone ahead and deployed that.

Are there other analogous agency relationships Factual has that were sort of pointing in this direction?
While MediaMath is certainly the first to embed, I think the broad trend is that anybody who’s using some sort of platform for the planning or buying of media is looking for a way to streamline it — UI critique is something we  hear about a lot within the buying ecosystem. So any way you can consolidate your geo-platforms into fewer interfaces, the better. It just happens that MediaMath is part of a very small cohort of players that are technologically very smart and savvy, and able to move quickly on this.

When you started at Factual in February, you were specifically looking at taking the company beyond data and adtech — and more into the business of supporting media companies as another business line. How has that shift been going and what have the first six months been like?
The first six months have been good.  In our Geopulse business we’re definitely seeing a lot of tailwinds from all the major trends we’re talking about in the industry — the rise of mobile, the rise of location and data as a way to truly understand audience, and of course the rise of programmatic buying as well.  And so we benefit from all three of those; and it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon, but it’s a global phenomenon as well.

And the other thing which I think is becoming more relevant, or had become more relevant over the past six months is both data quality and neutrality. We pride ourselves very much on building very high quality data — whether it’s the underlying places data, or the audience data that we build for our Geopulse products.  And the fact that we make that data available without being specifically tied to media is incredibly important.  Agencies are increasingly very focused on transparency and making sure there aren’t any hidden costs in bundling the way that media is bought or sold.   So the fact that we provide this neutral high-quality data layer on top of media I think is becoming more relevant for us.

Are agencies more able to deal with raw location data than they used to be, or is a certain amount of hand-holding still required?
That’s evolving quickly as well. All the major holding companies have now got very focused teams looking at how they manage data and how they use that to provide insights back into their agency and also out into the broader world.  Factual is in some cases part of that solution. … But I think within the media planning and buying teams, which is where we are influencing activity based on what Factual and Geopulse does, I think the understanding of data and how to work with someone like Factual is also increasing as well.

Agencies are becoming much more data literate, and that’s becoming much more important in terms of what they’re planning and buying.  And Factual is really getting a tailwind from that behavior.

What are your thoughts about Factual’s place in the world of retail tech, in terms of beacon data and the like?
We’re keeping a close eye on beacons but are not doing anything specific there at the moment. But the data that comes from a beacon network is another data set; another pool of information that could be useful to help either our Geopulse product or some other product.  But I think we’re still evaluating how that will turn out, and how that could be useful to us going forward.

In a more general sense, how is location tech changing?
The Pokemon Go phenomenon has really begun to bring location tech into consumer awareness.  And I think that has generally raised awareness in a few areas.  The first is just in terms of what can be done from a consumer perspective — whether experiences (whether they be gaming or not-gaming-related) can really impact consumers’ usage of our technology.   So I think that’s one trend.

The other one is that it’s also brought awareness around what some of these companies are doing and what this information is and why it’s relevant to consumers.

So I think going forward we’re going to see a lot of use cases around how location can be applied to a whole different set of consumer experiences that we haven’t thought of yet.  But I think it’s also going to make consumers question very carefully how they manage their data and who they give that permission to.

Are consumers more willing to give up their location than they used to be?
I think it comes down to value exchange. If someone asks for your location data, where it’s clear what the value exchange is (like in the case of Pokemon Go) and what they’re using it for, then they’re very comfortable with it.  I think when the value exchange is less clear, or when the data is being captured without permission, is when people have trouble with it.

Is the location tech space experiencing a bubble at all? Is there going to be consolidation in the industry?
Within location tech I don’t think it feels as crowded as broader tech or broader adtech. A lot of our advertising business competes in the broader adtech category which is extremely crowded and relatively undifferentiated.  And I think our position there is very well differentiated.

I think in the location tech space it doesn’t feel as crowded and I think there are still multiple problems that need to be solved well. Which means there’s going to be lots of innovation and lots of companies coming online over the coming years until we start solving some of these problems.

David Hirschman is a co-founder of Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.