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With Pinpoint, Foursquare’s Now A Location Marketplace

By offering its place-based, cross-platform analytics to advertisers and publishers outside its own branded apps, the check-in player is challenging the current state of attribution.

Foursquare is now squarely in the location advertising marketplace business with the introduction of Pinpoint, a geo-data platform that could address several vexing issues for digital-to-physical advertisers, such as offering more accurate geofences and more richly detailed audience segments.

Foursquare's Pinpoint is a cross-platform, data visualization tool that shows activity around actual businesses versus more general geofences.
Foursquare’s Pinpoint is a cross-platform, data visualization tool that shows activity around actual businesses versus more general geofences.

Pinpoint is built on the 7 billion “real world” check-ins made by Foursquare users over the past six years. While Pinpoint resembles the Foursquare Audience Network, which represented the social network’s first fully programmatic data offering when it debuted almost two years ago, this new feature is more expansive.

Going To New Places

Where FAN was meant to make Foursquare’s — and its successor check-in app, Swarm’s — mobile inventory more attractive to brands, Pinpoint is its first product that can be used to support location-based ads and related consumer analytics on outside publishers’ sites.

As a cross-platform, data visualization tool that could compete with location marketplace xAd’s “smarter geofence builder” Blueprint, Pinpoint is intended to make good on Foursquare CRO Steve Rosenblatt’s contention that the company is “not just about apps.”

By breaking out of its own walled-garden apps and mobile in general with Pinpoint, Foursquare can now be considered a cross-platform, location analytics and programmatic marketplace. And with its “Place Attribution Report,” Foursquare is further promising offline marketers the ability to quantify how effective their campaigns are in driving foot traffic into physical, in-store locations.

Foursquare's Dennis Crowley
Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley

“This is our first time helping advertisers reach non-Foursquare users,” said Foursquare CEO/founder Dennis Crowley in a presentation at the Ad Age Digital conference.

Pinpoint’s launch partners include WPP Group’s Mindshare and its client Jaguar/Land Rover, as well as AT&T, Choice Hotels, Coors Light, Samsung Galaxy, and FedEx. In a brief conversation following his remarks, Crowley noted that Foursquare has existing relationships with most of those marketers, but that Pinpoint has cast those connections in a new light. Foursquare’s location analytics will also be integrated into the programmatic platforms belonging to demand-side platform/data management platform Turn, as well as cross-device insights provider Drawbridge, and Google.

“We’ll be working with most of those companies in entirely different ways now,” Crowley said.

Cleaning Up Geo-Data ‘Garbage’

It’s reasonable to doubt Foursquare’s ability to recast itself from being a consumer-facing app developer. But even as a number of companies have worked to establish themselves as programmatic, geo-targeting/geo-data specialists, including the aforementioned xAd,  Factual, NinthDecimal, PlaceIQ, YP, Verve Mobile, Thinknear, and Placed, the idea of location advertising is only now entering the mainstream. Besides, Foursquare senses a natural opening in the marketplace: it believes it has the consumer reach to position itself as the solution to ad industry-wide problem of woefully inadequate geo-data quality.

“About 80 percent of location data that’s being passed is just garbage,” Rosenblatt said in an interview with GeoMarketing. “We’re able to mix and apply the same filter that we use with our apps and make sense of it.

foursquare cloudThe World Is Not Flat

It’s important to recognize the difference between “place data” and “location data.” Place data is used to attribute a single location using lines of latitude and longitude (“lat/longs”): it could be a lake, even a tree, park, or a retail store.

In terms of the offering, companies that offer place data use patterns based on polygons, hexagons, or tiles to present a more dynamic visual representation of information coming in from specific areas on a map. For the most part, geofences are generally presented as large circles around a target. But that dot at the circle’s center is not always the right place to put a target — and it’s often even less valuable for understanding a consumer’s shopping habits.

Separately, there’s location data, with the ability to target advertising according to where a given device — like a smartphone — is (or has been). And the signals picked up by a smartphone can affect the quality of the data. For example, an Apple iOS or Google Android connected device might be getting a wi-fi signal at home, work, or in a business. Wifi tends to be the clearest signal when it comes to pinpointing an exact location, primarily because a person has signed on to share and receive a connection from a particular provider at a certain spot.

Cell phone towers, antennas on the tops of buildings, and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are generally less accurate, since they’re not as close to the consumer’s exact place; plus, people don’t have to sign and identify themselves to the provider of the signal.

Foursquare's Steven Rosenblatt
Foursquare’s Steven Rosenblatt

The Shape Of Things To Come

Foursquare’s diagnosis of the problem, in a white paper (registration required) issued in conjunction with its Pinpoint news, says, “The world isn’t flat. Being bound by lat/long and two- dimensional aerial mapping results in an incomplete representation of physical spaces. Most think of location as a set of X and Y coordinates — latitude and longitude. A few might even attempt to understand the height of physical structures as a Z-axis. Foursquare’s unique advantage goes far beyond, incorporating dozens of dimensions, including time, popularity, category, wifi, signal strength, accuracy, and more. This allows us to learn how mobile phones view the world.”

To all the competing geo-spatial modeling that location ad tech companies have been mustering, the story Foursquare is telling advertisers is simple: the 7 billion check-ins on Foursquare, which is now focused on “discovery,” and Swarm, can tell marketers a lot about the more than 65 million places that exist in the world. Foursquare boasts 250 million photos, and 70 million user tips, and 90 million “tastes” listed on its social network profiles.

So with all that detailed data, why is now the right time for Pinpoint?

“We spent a lot of time in the last couple years trying to perfects our mapping abilities to be able to then know and to really understand the world outside of Foursquare,” Rosenblatt said. “Can we get data to really be able to connect that back and drive that level of accuracy that no one else can match? What we didn’t want to do is do what everyone else is doing, just draw a shape around something and guess what it could be.”