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For Beacons, There’s No ‘One-App Solution,’ Says inMarket

…And when it comes to geo-targeting, Todd Dipaola, the company’s CEO, feels that the focus on “real-time” is amiss.

inMarket's "Mobile to Mortar" beacon network in action.
inMarket’s “Mobile to Mortar” beacon network in action.

Anyone can build a beacon, but it takes a lot of help to scale it as a business, says Todd Dipaola, inMarket’s CEO/co-founder.

It might seem like a strange thing to say, considering that InMarket is mostly known for its shopping app, CheckPoints. The app, which inMarket boasts has been used by roughly 40 million shoppers, is tied to the company’s own beacon network, dubbed Mobile to Mortar. The company also claims its beacon network is the largest, with over 100,000 retail locations deploying it.

Despite that level of coverage, there are currently more than than 50 companies making beacons, the devices that connect with consumers’ smartphones via a Bluetooth signal. According to a report from Business Insider Intelligence (note: the report is behind a paywall; but Mediapost has the numbers), beacon installs are forecast to grow 287 percent to 5 million within the next four years. About 4 million are expected to be used by retailers.

Dipaola, who recently demonstrated the beacon-backed work inMarket and IPG media agency BPN did for a Hillshire Farm mobile ad campaign at the Place conference, is keenly aware of the potential and the limits of the technology. The answer to advancing inMarket’s growth is therefore not just wrapped up in promoting itself as the one-stop shop for beacon-based marketing. Rather, it’s finding more companies with which to partner.

GeoMarketing: You claim to have the largest beacon network with devices actively running in more than 250 grocery store locations, while the Checkpoints app platform has been downloaded by 20 million shoppers. Is the plan to position inMarket as the primary beacon platform for retailers and consumers?

Todd Dipaola: At the end of the day, we’re providing end-to-end marketing solutions for both brands and retailers. So it’s critical for us to own the technology, know how it works, service it. That’s a differentiator for us.

A lot of companies will get together and tell a retailer, “I’ll sell you a piece of hardware” and go into Radio Shack and buy some transistors. And that’ll give you the technology to build a beacon. But it won’t give you scale. To succeed at this, a company needs to be able answer two simple questions: “Is it going to reach consumers?” and “What’s the experience going to be like?”

A decade ago, you and your brother, Mark, started Vantage Media, which was focused on search and lead generation. How did you go from that kind of “customer acquisition” technology to creating the CheckPoints shopping app?

To answer that question, we have to go back to our pre-inMarket days, [to] the first company we founded in 2003, Vantage Media. It was the early days of search. The vision was, if we can find people along their purchase path [while online], we can introduce the right person, right place, at the right time to a brand. We worked with eHarmony, Netflix, University of Phoenix. Online-to-online marketing made a lot of sense in 2003.

So after we got some success there, we looked toward the future: if online advertising can help online brands find customers, we can do the same for offline marketers as well. That was the impetus for inMarket and the first thing we did was launch CheckPoints.

The CheckPoints app is the consumer-facing part of inMarket – and the original name of the company when it launched in 2010. Why did you decide to rebrand as inMarket in 2012? And is the approach to businesses as inMarket different from the approach to consumers with CheckPoints?

The idea behind CheckPoints was to help retailers find their consumers while they’re in the store. When we started CheckPoints, we took the ideas of helping online-to-online marketers and thought we could be the one app to rule all other shopping apps. That’s how everyone thought in 2010.

We quickly found that the world of apps is more fragmented. We needed to find more than a simple “one-app solution.” Some consumers are looking for loyalty points, while others are looking for a digital shopping list, and still others are looking for recipes related to what they’re buying.

We can’t design apps that are going to win in all those different categories. No one can. The idea then became, “What if we can partner with the best apps in those areas and help them build a bigger platform?”

Some of your app-publisher partners include major media companies like Condé Nast’s Epicurious and Gannett G/O Digital’s Key Ring. What do you have to offer them? Why have they chosen inMarket and CheckPoints?

If they measure daily active users, we can get them a 16x lift over their average. That increased retention gets them really excited. And through our advertising, we can help them reach consumers while they’re in-store. If you look at traditional banner ads, we may have smaller numbers in terms of impressions, but our engagement is much larger. The moments we capture with consumers are much more precious.

What we’ve created is a product that has a lot of similarities to what we did in search. We can track user-intent, ROI. We’re a mobile platform that helps all sides connect with each other in the retail experience: brand advertisers, stores, shoppers, publishers.

GeoMarketing just spoke with Alex and Ani’s Ryan Bonifacino about mobile shopping app users being conditioned to view these tools as “virtual coupon clipping.” Has it been a challenge to reach consumers beyond discounts?

For decades, the only thing a retailer could actively measure was a coupon. Some folks are still conditioned to think that way – both retailers and consumers. But if you look at the different segments of consumers, there is a significant portion that do use coupons: about 15 percent.

If you design your entire strategy around 15 percent of consumers, you’ll be missing a large population, and, yes, as [Bonifacino] says, possibly devaluing a premium brand in the eyes of your customers. Plus, you can be sure that if you get a consumer to switch because of a discount, your competitor will quickly match that and steal them right back. It’s a no-win situation.

That said, there is plenty of room for promotions and offers, but that should not drive your mobile campaign. You have to look at the different ways that consumers shop. Conform that mobile experience to your shoppers’ experience, rather than the other way around.

How important is real-time advertising to what inMarket delivers? Is it becoming more essential to target consumers while they’re in-store?

Define “real-time,” right? Every ad a person sees when they walk into a store, whether it’s targeted or not, is real-time. What’s the value of real-time, at the end of the day, versus real depth? Our ads naturally work in real-time. But the analytics we have [about consumers] make the targeting deeper than just location. That’s where the depth comes in.

For example, being able to trigger an ad based on what’s currently trending on Twitter may be real-time, but it may not actually be useful. The two are not synonymous.

What are inMarket’s growth plans over the next few months? Any acquisition or funding plans?

We’re always opportunistic when we look at other smart companies in the space. We tend to grow healthy partnerships, as you’ve seen in the past year. What makes this different is that we had a nice exit from [Vantage Media] so inMarket has been entirely self-funded from the beginning.

We haven’t taken any venture capital. People are always knocking on our door to give us capital, but we haven’t taken anything. We’ve picked a space that has explosive growth so we don’t see a need for outside funding at this point.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.