Category Archives: Deals

Twitter Acquires CardSpring; Enters SMB Loyalty and Data Space

Twitter has made a bold move to go beyond advertising by adding performance marketing to its portfolio via the purchase of CardSpring, the San Francisco-based startup. The acquisition price has not been announced. CardSpring had raised $10 Million since its launch in 2011.

One of the big tech challenges in the payments space has been to remake the credit/debit card to a “digital receipt” product that can not only process sales, but also leverage specific SKU information, location and customer behavior to add coupons, loyalty points, events and other ewallet items. That’s the challenge that Netscape Vet Eckart Walther gave himself several years ago in launching CardSpring. The company has been positioned as a value add – some would say “middle man” — to both financial institutions and publishers providing marketing solutions for brands and SMBs.

CardSpring’s ambitious goal has been to enable merchants to write their own promotions; distribute them over CardSpring’s publisher network; and redeem and analyze the deal on their Point of Sales. The service’s “near” real-time analytics can show merchants where their redeemed promotions are coming from and what they bought.

CardSpring first got on the map via a 2012 partnership with payments leader First Data to provide check-in promotions at certain venues. More recently, it has also begun integrating with VeriFone’s POS network to enable developers to build their own card-linked services.

The launch of CardSpring Connect in September, 2013 – described as “Google Analytics for the retail world” was a milestone for the company. Foursquare and MOGL are among the most significant publishers providing CardSpring Connect to at least some of their merchant advertisers. Others include Thanx, Roximity, Moblico and OnStripe.

Twitter’s acquisition of CardSpring makes sense to us as Twitter positions itself as a real time marketing channel, and also a “common carrier” that can work widely across the board with key players in the space. This is consistent with CardSpring’s general positioning. The sale of CardSpring itself also suggests that it has been a difficult effort for an independent company to enlist partners to a middle man solution. It has also been difficult to differentiate itself among several other players providing similar features.

BIA/Kelsey looks deep at the SMB Loyalty and Data Space at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans, with such featured speakers as Groupon’s Dan Roarty, Perka’s Rob Bethge and Mercury Payment’s Randy Clark. You can register here.

Priceline Moves Upscale via $2.6 Billion OpenTable Acquisition

Priceline is sort of like eBay – a company known for its origins in auctions, but more recently focusing on distinct, “buy it now” niches. It has recently fleshed out its core travel brand by moving up the value chain to travel reservations via its acquisition of Kayak. It has also gotten into the “sharing economy” by adding AirBnB-like private listings to its Booking.com brand, which is an international powerhouse.

Today, Priceline added restaurant reservations and search to its stable via the $2.6 Billion purchase of industry leader OpenTable, which works with 31,000 restaurants – mostly high end white table cloth restaurants willing to pay a hefty premium for reservations management and leads to undecided consumers. Open Table is an international leader with strong customer bases in the U.S., U.K.,, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

For Priceline, the most attractive parts of the deal are probably OpenTable’s 15 million, high end, travel-oriented customers; the company’s verified, high quality restaurant reviews; OpenTable’s strong mobile orientation; and its extensive affiliate network with 600+ local and vertical sites, which receive commissions for sending traffic to OpenTable (and accounting for 5-10 percent of OpenTable’s business.) These networks might be extended to include other Priceline properties.

There is probably some disconnect with OpenTable’s high-end customer base and Priceline’s discount set – most OpenTable customers won’t be using Priceline itself. And an effort to extend OpenTable’s feature set with Groupon-like deals proved to be underwhelming (although the company has maintained an extensive and apparently successful “Dining Checques” loyalty program). Many OpenTable customers are also not using the service in travel mode — they are local.

Still, OpenTable customers might use the other services. And the seamless Priceline app experience could also be applied as mobile becomes a paramount factor for all travel services.

A larger question we’d have is the core of OpenTable’s value proposition for restaurants: the reservations management system, which is based on dedicated customer premise equipment (known as The Electronic Reservations Book.) The average ERB using restaurant pays $249 for the service (plus $1.00 per seated diner using the OpenTable system.) But in the age of tablet-based POS and reservations services using WiFI, OpenTable’s proprietary system would seem threatened.

So far, it has held its own against such tablet-oriented companies as UrbanSpoon’s Rez and Groupon‘s Breadcrumb – OpenTable’s base of customers is too strong to quickly turn off. OpenTable itself is preparing for a transition. Yet, it has been developing a Cloud Based program that charge a $2.49 per diner charge.

Structurally, we also ask ourselves whether OpenTable is in a distinct “high end restaurant reservations silo,” where it now sits; or whether it is really part of a developing “food silo” that is based on search and discovery, would also include reviews; restaurant and fastfood delivery (i.e. GrubHub), grocery delivery (Amazon Fresh, Google) and reviews (Yelp.) Priceline might be positioning itself to be in the right of the middle of these conjoining elements. (then again….the new silo might ultimately be oriented more around delivery).

Living Social Looks Beyond Deals for its Brand Partners

“Deals are very, very powerful for many brands,” but the deals themselves only represent part of the overall opportunity that brands have in working with deals companies and their millions of local customers, said Living Social EVP of National Retail Mitch Spolan, who keynoted today during Leading in Local: The National Impact in Atlanta.

The operative question is how do you activate and bring to life a brand’s strength? asked Spolan. It doesn’t always include a deal. In many cases, email, Facebook and Twitter can target local customers with messages – in fact, Living Social regularly achieves 12 percent coverage in given markets using the wide range of social media and commerce tools at its disposal.

The company is mostly focused on providing an “integrated experience” that tie brands to Living Social customers. For instance, Living Social provides local specific experiences as part of its brand promotion deal with Miller Coors’ Redd Apple Ale – and “Miller Coors is not selling its products on Living Social,” said Spolan. Consumers are also not going to be buying a Hyundai Santa Fe on Living Social – but Hyndair finds real value in working with Living Social.

Living Social “experiences” that are sponsored by brands include a kayaking adventure in Denver, a pirate cruise in San Francisco, a Blues and BBQ part in Atlanta; urban biking in Philadelphia and emerging artist festivals in Washington DC.

The company’s base of customers are often larger than brands can achieve on their own, added Spolan. A campaign with a restaurant chain such as Outback will be marketed to larger group than Outback would otherwise have. If brands do want to do a deal or sell an item , however. The volume is potentially huge – or in Living Social parlance, a “Stampede.” Bed Bath & Beyond, for instance, recently sold 378,000 vouchers for an in-store deal.

Microsoft’s Jorgensen: ‘We Are Building Our Muscles’ in Card Linked Space

Card Linked Offers (CLOs) represent a potentially rich opportunity for online and mobile promotions and loyalty. But a lot of work needs to be done before the segment gets seriously underway.

Speaking at the inaugural conference of the CardlinX Association April 7 in Las Vegas, Microsoft GM of Local Advertising Erik Jorgensen noted there are significant opportunities to connect the online world with the offline world, closing the loop for online advertising and loyalty.

There is “broad experimentation with integrated consumer and merchant experiences,” said Jorgensen. “The CPA based ad model highly reasonates with merchants.”

During the past 12 months, Microsoft has launched CLO betas of its Bing Offers in Seattle, Boston and Phoenix. The trials take off on Microsoft’s initial deals efforts, but don’t require pre-payment.

Most of Microsoft’s efforts in the space are focused on the Bing portals – both on the Web and on mobile. Card linked efforts are also included in Bing Local, Bing’s Listings Page and the Bing Search Engine Results Page.

There is also a strong “mobile first” component to the effort. Windows Phone, Skype and Windows 8 are all included in the efforts, which are seen as a marketplace differentiator. “There are five or six places on the phone where we surface offers,“ said Jorgensen.

The company is also sending out targeted emails. “ We are building up our muscles to understand how we target offers,” noted Jorgensen. “The next phase is not just a pull but a push” via intelligent notification.

This post is an excerpt from a full Briefing on The Cardlinx meeting, which is available to BIA/Kelsey clients.

Living Social CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy to Step Down: End of an Era

Living Social CEO and co-founder Tim O’Shaughnessy announced today on the company blog that he is stepping down. He will stay until a new CEO is found and installed – a process that he “hopes” will be completed during the first half of 2014. O’Shaughnessy previously worked at AOL, and transformed Living Social from its origins as a book review site.

O’Shaughnessy’s departure follows Groupon founder’s Andrew Mason’s departure last year, and marks an end of the founder’s era in the prepaid deal space. While we believe that prepaid deals are now a permanent part of the local marketing arsenal, the question remains whether there is a real future for the pioneer companies as they morph their models from high commission daily deals to shopping arcades, local targeting and business services.

Many, of course, have written off Living Social as a viable entity. The company sustained massive losses of $650 million in 2012 and $499 Million in 2011. Moreover, in a major loss of faith, Amazon wrote off most of its investment in the company. At the end of 2012, The Wall Street Journal cheekily suggested that it was one of the brands that would surely go extinct during the year.

Besides the losses, which were largely attributable to an expensive sales infrastructure, the company suffered major issues in 2013, including executive turnover; a multiple day outage; and having all its customers passwords hacked.

The company may choose to brand or merge with another entity that wants a head start in this space, such as a bank. But we see signs of life in many respects, including a deeper focus on mining their customer lists; efforts to morph beyond daily deals to coupons and other factors leading to deeper merchant relationships; mobile-oriented service, such as card linked offers; an enhanced focus on national advertising; retailer ties with companies such as Pier1 Imports, Macy’s, Reebok and OfficeMax ; and a pruning of unproven business areas, such as local events.

Last year, the company raised $110 million — including funds from many of its longtime investors –to get over the bumps. It also got additional money by selling South Korea’s T-Mon service for $260 Million to Groupon, and closed or sold several other international properties.

As O’Shaughnessy notes in his letter: “We now have the most stable and healthy business that we have ever had, and the luxury of having hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank to take us to the next level.”

We have more commentary on Living Social in this recent article by Steven Overly in The Washington Post.


Living Social CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy

PunchTab CEO on Loyalty Programs: ‘The Wheels Are Coming Off’

The utility of loyalty programs is stronger than ever, as they help businesses connect, engage, drive traffic, refer friends, purchase and track customer actions. But efforts to determine loyalty aren’t made easier with all the noise in the system.

Usage is coming in from all over the place (phones, tablets, social networks, reviews, etc.). And while new efforts can be enhanced by tapping into Point of Sale systems, hundreds of these aren’t compatible with each other.

“The wheels are coming off” for loyalty programs, notes PunchTab CEO Ranjith Kumaran. In fact, the evolution of loyalty channels has been moving so fast that PunchTab recently received an RFP from a major Consumer Packaged Goods company that specifically ruled out any comprehensive loyalty solutions. “They didn’t want to be locked into an inflexible system for several years,” says Kumaran.

PunchTab has been in development for three years. The Palo Alto-based company, which currently supports 17,000 loyalty campaigns, has raised $5.3 Million. Its whole effort is to track everything. The company is currently tracking 40 different loyalty-related activities.

“It is risky to build a program around a single channel,” Kumaran says. Eighteen months ago, that channel might have been Pinterest, he notes. Now the interest in Pinterest is “quieter.”

PunchTab’s approach is to incorporate information from multiple sources, such as FourSquare check-ins, or POS systems, or digital receipts. But mostly, the company focuses on workarounds that enable as much flexibility as possible.

One quick service example that PunchTab is working with is Arby’s Restaurant Group. Arby’s didn’t think it could do a loyalty program because it is working with 50 different types of POS systems. But PunchTab created a solution that focused on in store traffic data, allowing to identify tens of thousands of potential customers for a new product that it rolled out.

Looking forward, Kumaran is looking at the whole new range of channels that are expected to come on the scene. “Wearables,” such as smart watches and FIT bands, add a whole new set of data that can determine loyalty factors, he said.

Local’s New Year: Some Thoughts and Predictions

Over the years, we’ve seen some major paradigm shifts in the transition of local marketing to digital. In 2003, it was the rise of Google search as applied to small business –to this day, the biggest thing that ever happened to local. In 2007, the paradigm shift was the rise of Groupon and prepaid deals as a way to drive customer acquisition. This opened the door for all kinds of non-advertising marketing, from Facebook and Twitter to Card Linked Offers.

Right now, mobile is THE paradigm shift – both as a media channel, and as a geolocation device (Mobile hasn’t been a factor yet as an ewallet. But that is sure to come, with a whole new set of implications.)

Nothing happens in 12 month cycles, but this is what I see happening in 2014:

Hyperlocal Fails to Win Destination Status, Gets a Better Life as Feature
Hyperlocal seems so compelling; contextual content that can draw users who can be microtargeted on a block by block basis. But on a super hyper local basis, it hasn’t scaled as a business model or as a compelling destination site. AOL’s Patch is reported to be winding up as an independent entity, and National Local hybrids such as Examiner.com haven’t made an impact either. The one remaining super hyperlocal site is Next Door Networks, which has raised a $100 Million war chest. The site is based on user generated content and local cells of 30+ users. It is a much cheaper model than Patch’s local staff. But will it win sustained participation from users? My bet is that it won’t. But does that mean that hyperlocal is dead? In fact, hyperlocal is everywhere – in reviews, posts, articles, maps and enhanced listings. Its use is sure to grow.

The Sharing Economy Spawns Multiple Vertical Sites
One of the big local breakthroughs has been the development of shared listing sites for apartments (Airbnb), vacation rentals (BRBO) and rides (Uber). In 2014, we expect to see shared listings become more ubiquitous, with multiple entries per verticals, and the addition of many more verticals. We also expect to see an entire ecosystem grow around these sites. As AirBnB’s Joe Zadeh noted at Interactive Local Media in San Francisco, solutions are being added based on need. For instance, Airbnb has developed a freelance photographer program because hosts need good pictures of their apartments.

Social’s Impact In Local Is Too Fragmented, But Dedicated Word of Mouth Sites Make a Dent
Social leaders like Facebook and Google+ have tremendous volume at the local level. Facebook, alone, has over one million SMB advertisers. But its local usage is so fragmented that local can’t be a real focus at the vertical level. Review-based sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List get closer to the mark, and have broadened their reach beyond restaurants and service professionals, respectively. But they leave plenty of room for smaller Word of Mouth sites that can specialize in certain sectors (i.e. Plumbers) and really dig in. Look for some of the industry’s most innovative leaders try to break through with new models in 2014, including Justin Sanger with SupportLocal; Gib Olander with Local Viewpoints; and Matthew Berk with Lucky Oyster.

‘Big Data’ and Non-Advertising Marketing Boost Local Leads
The ability to base marketing on user engagement and behavior is a fantastic opportunity. Big data, specifically, mixes and matches various data bases to determine the likelihood of engagement. It has been successfully applied to support advertising campaigns. But can users be targeted as a substitute for advertising budgets? And looking forward, can transaction activity, store inventories and user location be wedded to search behavior as part of e big data? This is a greenfield opportunity in all respects. What we are looking for is the transformation of retail email and social lists to leads and promotions. Look for big data players such as Radius Intelligence, Retailigence, xAd, Urban Mapping and LocalBlox to showcase new opportunities in leads and geotargeting.

The Hunger for ‘Attribution’ Drives Big Data and Transaction Marketing
One of the biggest problems for local marketers is proving attribution – especially as users effortlessly move from a banquet of “spreadable media” – everything from articles to email to social media posts to YouTube. It is another reason we are keen on transactional media and loyalty media – the receipts say it all. Look for the gatekeepers of transaction media and loyalty marketing–everyone from Living Social to First Data, Bank of America, MasterCard, Amex , Google Wallet, PayPal and Square – to edge their way into consumer marketing.

Online Shopping Goes Local via Delivery
Interactive Local Media has largely been defined by tech factors, such as geofencing . But the growing use of online by commerce giants such as WalMart, The Home Depot, Amazon and eBay; their development of regional warehouses and delivery networks; and use of Facebook Connect-like one stop shopping suggests a new front in the war for local commerce. The imposition of local sales taxes also suggests a level playing field with local businesses. eBay’s purchase in 2013 of the Shutl courier service, and its expansion to multiple markets, really showed where this might lead.

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading and being part of the local community.

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