Foursquare Expands Ad Analytics With Online-to-Offline Attribution

Presented as a standalone, though complementary, offering to its location ad platform, the place-based app developer is sharing daily insights on a panel of 1.3 million users with Flipboard, Drawbridge, TGIFridays, Adelphic, and Brown-Forman.

As part of a continuing effort to find ways to make its place-based check-in data more valuable to advertisers, Foursquare’s latest product is aimed at challenging current ways of measuring whether or not a digital ad led someone to visit a business location. (See its blog post for more details)

The offering, clearly titled “Attribution,” is being touted as the Holy Grail for mobile marketers, while also as an important point of connection to other media channels. It’s also being compared to other measurement models that employ panel-based systems, such as Nielsen, which gathers national TV ratings from 40,000 households.

Passive Data, Actively Collected

With the introduction of Attribution, Foursquare is also competing directly against companies like Placed, which has over 100 agency and marketer relationships and measures over 600 million latitude and longitude pairs sourced from 1 in 300 U.S. adults (a population close to 700,000) who have opted-in to share their locations.

While Attribution’s data is based on the more than 8 billion check-ins users of the flagship discovery app Foursquare and its companion, Swarm, have made over the last 7 years at 65 million global locations, the actual panel results will be based on a subset of the apps’ 50 million monthly users.

The 1.3 million-member panel that Foursquare has assembled for Attribution were chosen based on two criteria, noted Peter Krasniqi, the company’s VP for Global Sales, Strategy & Operations. One, these are users who have their smartphone’s “location services” feature always set to “on.”

Attribution uses Foursquare’s Pilgrim technology, which allows the app to suggest places to go when a user is in proximity of a recommended place even when it’s not actively being “opened” by the smartphone’s owner. In that sense, Krasniqi said, “There are no blind spots, it’s a persistent view of the user’s day.”

Plus, the results are not based on a person being selective about where they are. In addition, the location sharing isn’t being “incentivized” either by the promise of receiving a gift card or points to buy a product.

As such, the data is all passively collected, said Chris Rorie, director of research and ad effectiveness at Foursquare. “We’re also not asking survey questions, which tend to come with a particular bias about where you went or didn’t go,” he added.

Foursquare executives also emphasized that all the data is aggregated and stored “anonymously,” in keeping with privacy-wary consumers about how their data is used for marketing purposes.

Solving The Attribution Problem

The rollout of Attribution is intended to demonstrate to advertisers and industry observers that Foursquare has value by dint of the location data history it has built up. It’s also meant to signify location accuracy — a persistent problem for the industry — as well as the continued active use of its apps, whether a location is identified in the background or being used to announce to others

“The desktop world became sophisticated with the use of cookies, but the ability to track and understand consumer behavior on mobile has remained a challenge,” said Steven Rosenblatt, Foursquare’s president, during a demo of Attribution at the company’s office on Monday morning. “When it comes to being able to understand how a digital impression drives to a store, we’ve been good at tracking the upper- and mid-funnel by being able to measure brand awareness and purchase intent. And we have been able to track the very end of the funnel by partnering with companies that track credit card purchases and loyalty and coupon redemptions.

“But there’s been a large gap: did I show an ad and did that ad cause that person to walk into a store? They may not have bought anything or they may have used cash. But we didn’t understand that connection of whether digital drives physical behavior, from window-shopping to making an actual purchase.

“Attribution powered by Foursquare, is meant for the entire ecosystem,” Rosenblatt continued. “It’s for marketers, platforms, and publishers. We can move beyond the click and B.S. metrics and truly understand results.”

Mobile-First, But Not Mobile-Only

Attribution emerged from months of tests with a variety of publisher, agency, marketing, and programmatic platform partners. The program’s launch partners — TGI Fridays, Brown-Forman, Flipboard, Drawbridge, and Adelphic — came together just in the weeks before the Super Bowl.

“We’re a mobile-first content aggregator that will be six-years-old this summer,” noted Christine Cook, Flipboard’s head of advertising, who was also at Foursquare’s presentation. “When you work at a company like this, it’s difficult to keep partners apprised of the evolution of digital marketing metrics. We consider ourselves a place where consumers can find what interests they’re most passionate about. We also target ads based on what our users are interested in. And we’ve always strived to create ad placements that complement and don’t compete with the content.

“What consumers do, versus what they say, are often different things,” Cook added. “The fact that Foursquare is seeing what our users are interested in when it comes to the places the go, as opposed to being surveyed or paneled about it, has great appeal to us.”

For cross-device analytics provider Drawbridge, the addition of Attribution is part of an evolution of its own relationship with the company.

“Foursquare has been a partner of ours for a long time and we’re excited to ‘go live’ with this product,” said Rahul Bafna, Drawbridge’s VP Product Management & Partnerships. “Offline data — especially at the scale that Foursquare has it — is very valuable for helping marketers understand how digital reach impacts store visits.

For Drawbridge’s clients specifically, because of the company’s own cross-device measurement capabilities, this isn’t limited to just mobile reach, Bafna said.

“It’s possible for a brand to see how a desktop ad or connected TV placement impacts actions in the real world,” he added. “This capability is built into our Cross-Device Platform for our managed-service and self-service clients to leverage, and metrics are available daily, versus the end-of-campaign reports that are standard from other vendors.”

Winning The Super Bowl Test

When Foursquare and Flipboard came together to test Attribution before the Super Bowl, the two looked at a number ad verticals including retail, auto, and food services (both quick service restaurants and casual dining). Krasniqi pointed to flat or slightly down visitation rates for retail and auto in the 14 days before the Super Bowl for those categories.

But it was able to count store visitation lift for select marketers just after the big game.

“We measured foot-traffic two weeks before the Super Bowl and one week after,” Krasniqi said. “The auto industry in general was down about 2 percent. But three brands — Hyundai, Kia, Mini — experienced a spike in traffic to their dealerships. Hyundai, the official sponsor of the Super Bowl, ran four different ad creative units and saw 5 percent lift in dealership visits, the highest among the auto group. They were found more engaging and they drove foot traffic as a result. This is the promise of tracking the digital to the physical world.”

As for pricing, Krasniqi said that marketers would be charged at a starting rate of $0.50 per CPM.

Not Turning Away From Its Consumer-Face

But does this all mean that Foursquare is shifting its focus to becoming more of a digital analytics company and less of a consumer-facing app developer? Rosenblatt said it’s not even a question of either/or; it’s that the two sides go hand-in-hand.

“We’re constantly on the consumer side,” Rosenblatt said. “There’s a huge investment always being done to ensure that the experience and technology are always best in class. We’re always going to be broadening our user base. The size of the panel we have today dwarves anything else that exists.”

Asked if Attribution is about expanding its location marketing platform, Pinpoint, Rosenblatt said that the new product was intended to serve as a standalone offering, but that it could easily sync up with a marketer that wanted both.

“For the last two years, we’ve been providing our own advertisers with robust and rich insights,” Rosenblatt said. “Then, when we rolled out Pinpoint last April, we were able to bake those analytics into everything we did. The feedback was great about how amazing the depth and breadth of our data was.

“What we’re really excited about is helping the ecosystem,” Rosenblatt continued. “We’ve helped developers solve the consumer problem with our API. Now, we’re helping publishing partners like Flipboard solve the problem with mobile measurement, and now we can help marketers solve the problem online-to-offline attribution.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

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