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What Does The Future Of Proximity Marketing Look Like?

Beacons looked big back in 2014, but as artificial intelligence, voice activation, and blockchain has captured marketers' mindshare, Unacast is looking beyond the Bluetooth-powered devices.

Unacast, the pioneering proximity marketing company, is looking beyond beacons to a wider array of location signals as the location-based adverting and tech space enters a more mature phase.

As the company, which was founded in Norway in Sept. 2014 and headquartered in New York, organizes its strategy for 2018, it has raised $17.5 million in funding (more in the release). The round was led by Transatlantic fund White Star Capital, and joined by strategic investor Telia, a European telco, along with existing investors Open Ocean Capital and Investinor, the Norwegian government-backed investment company, both increasing their commitments.

“The funding will be instrumental in Unacast’s plans to expand into Europe, while simultaneously directing our efforts toward the continued improvement of our data quality and product innovation,” Thomas Walle, Unacast’s co-founder and CEO, told GeoMarketing. “We believe that the future of the location data space will be built on a foundation of quality and transparency, and we’re excited to lead the charge.”

While a number of beacon-centric companies have made other pivots, sold off, or simply faded away, Unacast’s early bet on the technologies, which allow app-users to receive notifications at the in-store shelf level, was different from many in the space.

Whereas most platform providers in the proximity arena either provide beacon hardware and software (or use other types of sensor technologies, such as wi-fi, audio waves, or LED lighting to trigger notifications to smartphone apps), Unacast has positioned itself as an organizer and manager of a global network of “proximity solution providers.”

In other words, it works with beacon hardware and software companies in concert to retarget consumers who have previously opted-in to a branded app at a retailer, airport, entertainment venue, or any other place with sensors.

Unacast’s initial mission involved taking the opt-in, offline data from beacons and allows retailers and brands to send ads to consumers later, when the customer has left the store or venue, is at home, or other locations, based on the consumer’s interactions with beacons.

The company’s primary goal has always aimed to be “the backend, the one API, for all proximity,” so that all players in the ecosystem — on both the supply side (proximity and location services entities) and demand side (media and ad companies) — can use harmonized and aligned proximity data, tagging structures and privacy through the Unacast PROX network.

While the use of Bluetooth has become more embedded in user experiences, such as with Apple’s emphasis on wireless headphones, marketers that experimented with beacons, like Macy’s, often felt that the technology was too limited and required too many steps for a wider swath of consumers to adopt and accept. (To get a message from a brand while in-store without triggering privacy concerns, users would have to download an app, opt-in to receive the messages, and then ensure that Bluetooth on their device was turned on.)

Borrell Associates surveyed a panel of 1,000 SMBs in January and found that the average likelihood for geo-based apps driving in-store sales in 2018 is 40%.

While much of the tech marketing space is obsessed with such disparate topics as artificial intelligence, voice activation, and blockchain, Walle insists that Unacast hasn’t given up on beacons; it’s just not primarily focusing on that one signal.

Nevertheless, the company does want to emphasize that it is no longer strictly focused on “proximity” and is looking to position itself more widely given its “expansive focus on context and real world activity.”

“Unacast is focused on the most accurate sources of location data available – we don’t believe in relying too heavily on one source alone, although Bluetooth beacons are certainly part of our sourcing strategy. Looking ahead, we’re keeping a keen eye on next-generation wifi, which is expected to reach a 90 percent penetration rate over the next few years [according to Forrester Research].”

In essence, as the ability to accurately capture and understand location data remains a perennial issue for the space, providers who can connect indoor and outdoor, digital and physical with a degree of precision will be in demand, according to Unacast.

The company’s investors appear to agree.

“Location is a complex data set to interpret and understand, and as the segment grows and businesses require not just data, but the context to extract value from it, they will have a greater need of partners that can support them,” said Christian Hernandez Gallardo, managing partner at White Star Capital and former head of international partnerships for Facebook. “Both the industry and Unacast have grown substantially in a relatively short time, and we believe Unacast is primed to extend its leadership position throughout.”

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.