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As New CEO Settles In, Gimbal Continues To Expand Proximity Platform

A year after transitioning out of Qualcomm, Gimbal looks beyond beacons to connect consumers and places.

The location advertising marketplace has grown quickly over the past two years, and few companies have been able to capitalize on that timing quite as well as proximity marketing tech company Gimbal has.

The San Diego company — the name refers to the support system of a gyroscope, which is particularly useful for orienting a device for location and direction —powers the beacons at Apple retail stores and at most Major League Baseball stadiums. Since being spun out of Qualcomm Retail Solutions in May 2014, when it was christened Gimbal, it has struck a number of high profile partnerships, including deals with PlaceWise Media, Marketo, Shazam, and Verve Mobile, after initially getting attention for installations throughout AEG’s network of concert and sports venues, including The Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the end of July, Gimbal’s transition from Qualcomm appeared even more complete, as CEO Rocco Fabiano, who led the company from its incubation period under its former parent, handed the position to Jeff Russakow. As president and CEO, Russakow, who has held top posts at Yahoo and Findly, will be expected to solidify Gimbal’s gains in the increasingly crowded proximity marketing space.

While the company has already carved a name for itself on the beacon front, COO Kevin Hunter is quick to note that Gimbal’s abilities go beyond those Bluetooth-based systems.

GeoMarketing: Gimbal was spun out of Qualcomm in May 2014. How has the company evolved since then?

Kevin Hunter: We’ve been working on a lot of different technologies throughout contextual awareness, location, and proximity for quite some. This product was started in Qualcomm Labs, internal incubator where you’re actually taking from the cool R&D that’s out there and trying to find new markets and new businesses for it. We found a great business for location proximity and eventually we migrated our way into Qualcomm Retail Solutions, which was really focused on retailers, venues, and brands. Those were not traditional customers for Qualcomm, which is really about OEMs and carriers.

We represented a slightly different segment. Qualcomm decided, “Hey, you guys really have something here. However, we want to give you a different operating structure.” So they spun us off in May of 2014 and gave us the flexibility to adapt to that dynamic market place. That was changing very quickly and they give the operating structure to really make the decisions that were best for our business. What we found was, our customers in the market greatly appreciated that, and we grew and accelerated extremely fast.

Gimbal powers the beacon messages — as promoted here at an NHL game — at sports venues as well as retail stores and OOH placements.
Gimbal powers the beacon messages — as promoted here at an NHL game — at sports venues as well as retail stores and OOH placements.

What drove Gimbal’s initial growth?

We then started out with some guaranteed deployments, and began working with Apple on installing our beacons in their retail stores. That was the first major nationwide beacon deployment of ours. Then Major League Baseball agreed to add our beacons to most of their stadiums. Both deals helped established us early on as credible in the beacon marketplace.

What was the appeal of beacons to sports venues, especially early on?

The beacons were very popular with venues early on for leads for sporting events and teams. They knew that they wanted to understand their customers better experiences in a live setting. One of the reasons why they were such early adopters was that they wanted to get people off their couch and bring them out on game day.

Beacons provided the platform to give venue audiences something special for attending a game or performance. You give them the potential to get tickets, or to see the locker room, or if you can offer additional loyalty components, such as offering special merchandise that a fan can only get when they’re at the venue and have the application open.

They saw a real opportunity to engage their fan base, which tend to be extremely loyal to their individual teams. And because [MLB] were taking more time to do some analysis, that they just really pushed the market forward for beacons.

While Gimbal is closely associated with beacons, the company does a lot more than just indoor technology. What other location-based marketing features and tools do you offer?

We’ve had a number of other features besides beacons in our platform for quite sometime. In fact, back in 2012, we launched geofencing services in Japan. At the beginning, geo-targeting had their customers better…. They started out with different size fencing, to be able to figure out what was the right size to get the right conversion or engagement rate.

How a beacon message looks when sent to a user's smartphone.
How a beacon message looks when sent to a user’s smartphone.

What they did, is took it down from a couple of kilometers, down to a kilometer, and down to half a kilometer, and down to 100 meters. What they saw is when it got to 100 meters, is that they got a 3x conversion rate increase, because of that, in 2012.

Many of our customers here in the states, actually started by looking into geofencing as a great way to understand their audience when they’re close by. We added the beacon technology after that, that gives you the macro geofencing plus the micro, which really pushed together that customer journey’s purchase path from start to finish.

When we spoke earlier, you said beacons are “the shiny object for retail.” Other companies have been marketing LED lighting and ultrasound as an alternative to beacons. Does Gimbal maybe look at those capabilities as well, or are you sticking strictly with beacons?

Actually, when we started at Qualcomm, we designed the platform from the very beginning to scale with all kinds of potential triggers in the physical world. We started out with geofencing, which is based on GPS, wifi, and cellular. We added Bluetooth beacons. We’ve done LED light modulation position determination.

Looking out at the industry landscape the next three-to-five years, its not about just one individual kind of signal or technology that’s going to make the ultimate difference; its about how you combine all these proximity tools together that’s going to give you the out most context to make those great decisions based on your physical place.

We’ve reported on several partnerships Gimbal has signed over the past year, including Verve Mobile, Shazam, PlaceWise. What is Gimbal’s approach to collaborating with other platform companies?

Our philosophy is a bit different than some of our competitors out there.

One of the things that we saw early on is that there was a need to provide a solution to many different verticals that allows them to bridge between the physical and digital world. We focused our energy making sure that we would be the best bridge out there.

We want to enable an ecosystem that cuts across many different verticals that cuts across retail, venues, OOH, municipalities. And the data that we can extract from each of those area allows businesses to build a platform to better understand the specific audiences they want to reach and stay connected to.

You mentioned OOH as one of the key areas of focus for proximity marketing. What is Gimbal doing in that area?

If you focus outside the store, that’s where the first influences start. With Out Of Home, that’s where the key data sets that power geo-targeting starts. We work with [OOH agency] Titan and companies like [interactive jukebox network] TouchTunes.

How do you work with TouchTunes?

TouchTunes has about 70,000 jukeboxes and they are deploying our beacons inside their digital jukeboxes.

We enabled proximity inside the jukeboxes so their applications can then be by the bar and restaurant and they can communicate with customers’ phones, so they don’t have to walk up to the jukebox. People could you can use it from your seat from the bar or from the dance floor to basically queue up music thanks to the beacons placed there.

We put that in about four years ago. Interestingly, the work with TouchTunes showed off another important component of our beacons: the security layer we embedded in the devices.

First, that security feature allows for digital ownership. For example, the beacons that we place in jukeboxes, or retail stores, prevents anyone else from coming taking over their infrastructure. With beacons, you can physically touch it, you can physically own it, but you don’t digitally own it — whoever runs the software owns the beacon’s signal. Our system ensures that no one else but the in-store or venue operator can have access, digitally, to their physical world. Which opens up the model for beacons and proximity communication.

How so?

If you think about a retailer today, they can sell every square inch of their physical planogram [which is a diagram showing where specific retail products can be placed]. With our beacons, they can sell every virtual square inch of their digital planogram, because it has control over who can do that. It allows the retailer to determine who can have access to their network and at what price.

If a retailer doesn’t have the reach to get the audience and engagement that they need, to be able to get the right campaign dollars to sell the right digital planogram, they can leverage another partner. Our system has the ability for publishers’ applications to be able to bring audiences to our retailers, our venues, or Out Of Home via the beacon network.

It also protects you and I as consumers. The experience that we should have inside a venue or store should be the one designed by the retailer. If I’m standing in a store’s frozen food aisle, I should not be getting messages from the car wash across the street. It’s that simple.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

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