Verve CEO: We’re A One-Stop-Shop For Mobile Location Marketing

With its new self-serve ad program aimed at SMBs, Verve is evolving from its mobile ad network roots. A conversation with CEO Nada Stirratt and CMO Julie Bernard.

It’s 80 degrees in Carlsbad, where the executive team from Verve is meeting to chart the year’s path, following the full launch of its self-serve ad offering this week.

The New York company is working to be seen a more developed mobile programmatic player. CEO Nada Stirratt and CMO Julie Bernard spoke to GeoMarketing about the new client area for Verve and how all of it has reflected the updating of its identity since the last half of 2015.

GeoMarketing: When you both arrived at Verve last year, the company was still thought of as a mobile ad network. Does the introduction of the self-serve ad platform for SMBs alter the company’s identity as a more fully programmatic location ad platform?

Nada Stirratt: The way to think about it is through the platform itself, because even a year ago the company was doing some really interesting things for its customers across mobile media and mobile apps. What we’ve done over the last several months is take that platform and make a considerable investment in building a true end-to-end platform. We can now very seamlessly provide location and mobile marketing services to small-and-medium business customers as well as enterprise clients.

Obviously, enterprises will still represent a large part of the business, but does the opening up of the platform to SMBs represent a recognition that this formerly untapped area is becoming more important to digital marketing services providers like Verve?

NS: Yeah, absolutely. Well, there are a couple things happening. One is because of the way the mobile device has permeated the whole world, and the behavior is such that it doesn’t matter where you are — your device is with you and nine times out of 10, you’re checking it. We thought that this is a really great opportunity for the SMBs to be able to afford to reach customers who are around their stores or who are open to their message in this kind of way.

Did Verve need to significantly update its technology to allow the self-serve option for SMBs?

NS: Actually, the platform capabilities have changed. We are enabling this community of re-sellers, this community of location marketers to be able to build custom audiences. They can build their own creative. They can determine what type of secondary actions they want. They can do bulk uploads.

For example, we can have 2,000 different messages across 2,000 locations. Everything before was so incredibly manual and so cumbersome, it was never possible.

When you think about some of the smaller businesses, in the past, somebody would’ve needed to have a mobile partner, a data partner, a creative partner, and a media partner. Now, you can do it all with just Verve — one partner across all elements. If you think about the type of campaigns, a partner might be selling to a franchise that has 50 locations and is seeking to drive customers to each one of those outlets. Each one of those campaigns may have, for example, a coupon to drive someone into that store for a redemption. Or, it could be a local dry cleaner on their own who wants to be able to just reach people in its particular region and attract their business. We can serve the whole range of location campaigns now.

How long did it take to put all the pieces into place?

NS: We’ve been testing this now for about six months. We tested it across five value-added re-sellers and 15 small agencies. We’ve delivered hundreds of thousands of campaigns and we have delivered 50,000 local campaigns in December alone across a hundred markets. So this is definitely designed to scale significantly.

How do you see the self-serve offering evolving?

NS: We’re going to be rolling this out into the UK later this year. But the way that we look at this as a scaled success is that across the partners who are already on the system with us have over 6,000 sellers. We’re empowering over 6,000 sellers — feet on the ground — to bring this to market for the local small, medium business.

While Verve has expanded from its mobile ad network history, those app developer — aka, publisher — partnerships are still a big part of how the company can promise the level of scale. Is that correct?

Julie Bernard:  That is absolutely still an anchor point of the equation. As Nada said, this is about a combination of the end-to-end platform and the location context platform. It’s both, but also the fact that we still do score the data in the exchanges to bring in the high quality segments within that wider app ecosystem, if you will, so that clients are getting those desired audiences. It is really much more expansive. It’s kind of the core as well as then the wider opportunity to make sure that you can really reach these custom audiences that according to any advertisers individual business objective.

What’s your sense of the potential of tapping spending from SMBs for the self-serve platform?

JB: There is $50 billion-plus — depending on how you source it — in terms of local media spend. There are other sources that would say it’s as high as $90 billion. We were frankly erring on the conservative side in our own release this morning. Either way, it’s a major opportunity and this self-serve option is especially relevant for small businesses.

How do you see the appeal to SMBs?

JB: When you think about, as Nada mentioned earlier, it’s about driving secondary action. Small businesses want customers to call them, for example. That’s really important for them and that is a perfect use case for location-based mobile advertising. Putting aside clicking on a map, having someone call the business is immediate and as a metric, it’s very valuable. We’re seeing that clickthrough rates are very high in secondary action rates, according to our testing and pilot phases that we were executing this past fall. Calling the business, getting directions, saving an offer, viewing inventory — all of these types of secondary action rates were very high versus what we’ve even seen in the past.

In addition to the ease of targeting ads based on location, do you also see the self-serve platform as supplying a clear way of measuring ad effectiveness?

They’ll continue to have impression in CTR and click data provided. Yet, it is being able to have insight into these secondary actions and also empower these various partners to grow with us as we continue to advance our analytic offerings.

We have some exciting things that are on the horizon there as well in the pretty short term, and this platform will continue to have those enhancements made to it in literally in weeks versus months. We continue to advance our own thoughts on what advanced attribution and advanced analytics look like in this space. We’re constantly asking ourselves and clients, “What are those key metrics for different types of campaigns? What are the right metrics for different industries?” We’ll continue to bring that into this platform and all of our partners would benefit from that progress.

It’s been less than a year since you took on the CEO role at Verve, Nada. How do you want people to think of Verve in the context of all the changes that have been made?

NS: Overall, people need to be looking at us as an end-to-end solution. The most important way to look at us is that we are connecting advertisers or marketers to consumers. It’s all about our mobile technology platform, the use of location intelligence, and continuous optimization. The one big difference that nobody would have talked to you about a year ago about us is that we put the consumer and the consumer experience at the very center of everything we do.

It’s why we brought people like Walt Geer in. It’s why we considerably beefed up our data and analytics and insights pieces because we are deeply focused on the consumer. Our hypothesis is that if the consumer has a positive experience, it means that the marketer and the publisher will both be extremely successful.

JB: In addition to what Nada was saying, there was emphasis on the ad network positioning in Verve’s past and I think we are so much more. I know we are so much more than that.

The LUMAscape is forcing various ad tech companies to be put into a particular box. The wonderful thing about Verve, as we continue to evolve our brand positioning and our voice in the marketplace, is that we really belong in a lot of those boxes. I would argue we actually own a box in and of ourselves on our own, because we have traditionally been pigeonholed that way. And that’s not the case and hasn’t been for a while.

The platform element, as Nada said, has this overarching importance of putting the customer at the center of all decisions and really being hyper-focused on consumer first. Yet, it is the way we think about location and that location context matters. It’s connecting the dots between the people that are holding a device and the proximity to where they are and the purpose of what they’re doing in that moment on that device. To really then think about the best creative to create those memorable and magical and meaningful experiences. Really combining the data-driven intelligent and the great creative to get the best results and recognizing that positive results do matter. That it’s the combination of all of these elements brought together where the magic happens.

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.