Foursquare Releases Its Location Discovery SDK To Brands

Foursquare is licensing its Pilgrim SDK to brand partners such as Capital One and Retale, who will now be able to directly ping consumers with place-based recommendations.

Foursquare is continuing to expand the use of its location analytics outside of its own walled-gardens by licensing its Pilgrim SDK to platforms that want to use the same tools to promote discovery within their branded apps.

Among the initial Pilgrim partners are Capital One for its Wallet app, coupon platform SnipSnap, gift card marketplace Raise, interactive in-venue jukebox TouchTunes, as well as in-store deals platforms Retale and The Coupons App.

Foursquare’s Pilgrim technology has previously been used only within its flagship “discovery” app to suggest places to go when a Foursquare user is in proximity of a recommended place — even when it’s not actively being “opened” by the smartphone’s owner. Pilgrim also powers Foursquare’s Attribution store visitation data product.

Passive Data In Action

The ability to harness passive data is increasingly important to brands who want to capitalize on consumers’ desire to satisfy their “micro-moment” needs, such as finding a cafe or a clothing shop.

“A trusted partner will be able to embed Pilgrim into their apps for location awareness and analytics. Using a mobile marketing automation tool, a brand will be able to easily message users when they enter a hotel or specific department store, or category of place, for example, and understand where their audience over- and under-indexes using an interactive dashboard,” Foursquare’s editor-at-large Sarah Spagnolo told GeoMarketing, in advance of the company’s official announcement.

And it’s not only providing app users another discovery tool. At a time when marketers branded apps seek to embed on-demand tools such as a ride-hailing service’s API,  the ability to anticipate where a consumer might go holds tremendous value for these app-based alliances.

And for Foursquare, which has worked the last two years to disprove detractors who said there’s little value in check-in apps like Foursquare and Swarm, the ability to inform its place data through passive methods is where its true strengths lie.

Extending that data and the associated abilities to influence consumers’ purchase choices is further evidence of Foursquare’s aggressive push in an increasingly competitive location analytics marketplace.

Creating Contextual Engagement

Apps today can send notifications based on external factors like time of day and breaking news, Spangnolo notes. “Pilgrim SDK gives marketers and developers the new ability to trigger notifications based on people’s activity in the real world—allowing them to create contextual content and pings that increase retention and engagement,” she says.

According to Ted Mann, founder of SnipSnap: “We’ve always wanted to be able to accurately remind users of the coupons available the minute they enter a store. Pilgrim SDK gave us a method to deliver this functionality for all our users in a programmatic way. No need to manually configure geo-fences; instead we were able to know when you’d entered a location and get you the right coupon offer via a notification.” Since integrating Pilgrim SDK, SnipSnap has seen 4x higher open rates on Pilgrim-triggered notifications compared to generic notifications.

In another example, Wallaby, an app that reminds users of the right credit card to swipe for better rewards, has a feature called “Ambient Alerts,” which is powered by Pilgrim SDK. For those who receive a contextual ping, daily app sessions doubled within the 24-hour period.

While the use of Pilgrim seems naturally applicable to casual dining restaurants and QSRs, Spagnolo says that retail chains “will absolutely benefit from Pilgrim SDK,” as demonstrated by its in-store deals licensing partners.

“Travel is another smart use case, along with finance apps and couponing,” Spagnolo says. “And gaming! I can’t foresee an example where it would make sense for an individual restaurant to have an app where location sharing would be appropriate. Note that we are looking for relevant, creative and innovative use cases for Pilgrim SDK to expand our learnings; it’s still not GA. We’re excited to see what comes our way.”

Looking Beyond Geofences — And Beacons

Among the several intriguing aspects of licensing the Pilgrim SDK to brands for the purposes of location-based advertising is that there is no need to create geofences around the places brands want to attract consumers to.

And there’s no need for beacons once those consumers are inside either.

Considering the importance that the industry has placed on developing more accuracy around geotargeted ads and in trying to make Bluetooth-powered beacons more mainstream, the idea of eschewing both methods could be Foursquare’s main selling point and a clear mark of differentiation in a crowded location marketplace.

In terms of geofences, many triggers for sending a targeted at to someone’s smartphone comes from the bidstream data near a place that notices when an ad within an app or mobile website is being opened. While most location analytics companies that rely on that method use various filters to try to ensure they’re hitting an interested consumer’s phone, the process is far from perfect.

As for beacons, unless a developer is using unscrupulous practices, in most cases, a consumer has to have downloaded a branded app, opted-in to receive proximity-based notifications, and must also have their device’s Bluetooth turned on.

Aside from that fact that a marketer is only attracting the most loyal consumers who probably would shop at a brand’s store anyway, the cumbersome steps associated with getting the consumer to agree to all the required steps remains a challenge.

That said, the rise of Google’s Physical Web (and it’s alignment with the search giant’s Eddystone beacon system), which obviates the need for a consumer to download an app, and the increased use of Bluetooth thanks to the increasing consumer adoption of wireless technologies, has reduced the hurdles marketers deploying beacons have faced.

But at the moment, the growth of geofencing and beacons remains fairly limited in the larger marketing arena.

Foursquare’s Future

With the expansion of Pilgrim outside of Foursquare’s own apps, the New York company fulfills a promise that was expected just after the company enjoyed its much-hyped debut at SxSW in 2009.

Sometime around the company’s fourth year, the novelty had worn off tech observers, who felt that only coastal hipsters would care about “checking in.”

Foursquare has largely answered that dismissal by making it beside the point.

It’s done this by having enough geo-data and analytics scale to satisfy major brands as well as other platform partners with similar direct access to consumers’ first-party data. The company boasts that its location technology powers Snapchat, Twitter, Samsung, Apple, and more than 100K other developers.

As for mobile platform companies, Pilgrim’s SDK is already integrated with the analytics tools operated by Urban Airship, Appboy, Localytics, mParticle and others,

“That’s 93 million Place Shapes, created from mobile signals — what we call our ‘probabilistic signal cloud,'” Spagnolo says, alluding to its developer partners. “There’s no need to set up any geofences or beacons… Importantly, there’s no need for new hardware or additional software. And it doesn’t drag on the consumer’s phone’s battery power, either.”

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.