“We’ve been around for approximately ten years in the UK, and we’ve always been in the location business — even before Bluetooth,” says Amy Fox, head of product at Blis, the mobile location and behavioral advertising vendor, which still runs its product and engineering out of London.
I met Fox and Gil Larsen (VP, Americas) in New York earlier this year, and then — and in subsequent conversations — I tried to get a sense of how an established UK marketing tech business differentiates itself in a competitive US space.
“We have our own technology, in-house,” said Fox, “and we’re location-first.” Blis is also making a splash with Blis Futures, an AI-powered product which not only predicts, but guarantees future consumer behavior. In practice, that means that participating brands are only charged if consumers do what Blis predicts they’ll do. That’s certainly a differentiator — and it’s a bold bet on the power of location-based predictive analytics.
“Where people go defines who they are,” is the Blis mantra. “But we can’t actually travel into the future,” Fox admits.
How it works
What Blis does do is mine location data from various sources to track consumers’ trajectories.
“A large number (of IPs) are incredibly unstable,” Fox explains, “but there is a significant subset which is static enough for a long enough period of time.” Blis’s IP database updates in real-time, breaking connections with IP addresses if instability is detected (“Other databases in the market update maybe once a month,” says Fox).
GPS tracking is permission-based, and is “fairly restrictive,” says Fox. Travel and weather apps are the best source. There’s also wifi data, which is much more widely available from major networks. Publishers’ data is added to the mix, along with data purchased from big data vendors: Blis processes almost two terabytes of data per day. The product of the process: addressable audiences, enhanced with contextual location data — where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going.
The data flows through two proprietary technologies, Smart Pin and Smart Scale. Smart Pin is a multi-level filtering process which eliminates inaccurate location data. Smart Scale matches wifi, GPS, and stable IP data with specific geo-locations (Blis maintains a significant POI — points of interest — geo database).
The data layer powers a large range adtech capabilities, including: PrivateExchange, a programmatic trading desk; Proximity, which targets audiences based on distance from defined locations; Audiences, which targets based on location and contextual data; and, of course, Futures, which uses AI to identify consumers most likely to visit defined locations, and targets ads to drive them there.
Who it’s for
“One of your themes last year and this year,” says Fox, “is that agencies are under increasing pressure. We want to be as accessible to them as we can be.”
In an email, Larsen confirmed this: “Agencies are currently our focal point, however, our approach to working with marketers is a collaborative one and we will work with them in the capacity they prefer. Whether they’d like to work through their agency, or directly with Blis, we meet marketers’ demands where it makes most sense for their company in order to help them achieve their business goals.”
“We really want to be adaptive in this space,” says Fox, referring to the US market. One way that manifests itself is in the different ways agencies, or other customers, can consume Blis’s services. There’s a self-service operation, specifically for trading desks, whereby Blis delivers an agreed audience and reach via a chosen DSP. There’s integration with Blis’s own programmatic trading desk, PrivateExchange. Or there’s the full-service option, with Blis working alongside a customer to achieve business objectives, delivering expert advice and consultation.
The future: guaranteed
But never mind the present, how about the future? Specifically, how is Futures working out? Belgian brewer Stella Artois is an early adopter, working with media network Vizeum. Based on large volumes of historic data, Blis uses AI to identify the “pool” most likely to drive foot traffic: and charges a cost per visit. Indeed, “the interesting thing about futures,” says Fox, “is that we don’t set the rules ourselves.” The AI layer gets “incredibly detailed guidelines, but we don’t dictate how it gets there.”
One condition of success with Future is leveraging data from a very broad audience pool: like lager-drinkers, presumably. “If a client is incredibly picky about segments, Futures isn’t for them,” Fox explains. “It isn’t going to have enough volume.”
Clients also need to be prepared for Futures to contradict them. One example from Fox: a diaper brand was targeting women until Blis data told them that the purchases were being made by men on their way home from work. “We have to get brands to think differently,” she says. They need to “let the technology find the audiences for them.”
The Stella Artois campaign began at the end of March. Definitive results aren’t in yet, but one thing’s for sure. In the event the campaign is unsuccessful, it will be one of the cheapest Stella Artois has ever run.
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