Blis’ Harry Dewhirst on what agencies and brands need to do to maximise their mobile strategy

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Blis’ Harry Dewhirst on what agencies and brands need to do to maximise their mobile strategy
Harry Dewhirst

Location intelligence company, Blis has been on a roll over the last year, with some innovative projects and movements in the digital marketing space.

During the Cannes Lions Festival, we sat down with their President, Harry Dewhirst, who told us about what Blis have been up to this past year and where they plan to go in the near future…

Q) Could you give us a brief introduction to Blis?

A) Founded by Greg Isbister, Blis has been around for 11+ years now. It has always been focused on location and delivering advertising messages either based on where you are or where you have been. Of course over that time, the world has changed quite a lot, technology has changed dramatically. Originally the business was delivering content to phones that played snake and now it’s delivering phones that are super computers in your pocket.

The technologies that we have used to do that have evolved a lot over time. Originally it was Zigbee, Bluetooth and WiFi, and now it’s through beacons, apps and so on. So, the scale of what we’ve done has evolved dramatically from what would be a few hundred people an hour, to now 40,000 people a second, in terms of where we capture data from. We have now profiled 1.2 billion people around the world in terms of their location history, and we are ingesting data from a multitude of sources. So we have built a platform that can take in this location intelligence, contextualise what it means, and then apply it for brands.

What has evolved more recently is that we are now visualizing that data and actually we find that there is an interest and appetite outside of advertising world. So, if you can understand where someone has been, where they go and where they go next, that’s very valuable for retail planning, for town planning, even for hedge funds for a looking to understand whether McDonald’s is doing better than Burger King. This information is becoming more and more valuable and we are at the epicentre of it.

Based in London, headquartered in London, we have opened a lot of offices. I invested in the company 7 years ago, I was running my own business, a company called Amobee, which I sold to Singtel. So I invested into Blis, joined the board and then three years ago I joined as an executive. Since then we’ve gone from two offices to now 17 offices, the most recent being New York, which is where I’m now based, and that’s all doing well.

So, lots of expansion with certainly the new entrance in the US, but there is no doubt that we are the leader outside the US and we are getting the right traction over there. Busy, Busy!

Q) We spoke to Greg (Isbister) last year and he told us the focus for Blis going forward was in fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Geo-targeting and Location Based. A year on… what are the future plans for Blis in the coming years?

A) The multitude of data sources has been an important part of this year’s strategy, just being reliant on single sources of data such as app-data is no longer good enough. You need to have an agnostic view for the data that you perceive, so that’s why for example Unicast and beacon networks have been really important. We have also done partnerships with ISPs, WiFi providers, Telcos, so now we’ve got a very rich set of data.

Not all data is created equal, so actually being able to benchmark in real time using machine learning and AI to understand this vs that – a comparison – and once you have got that barometer then this self-learning kicks in. Now that means that our data hygiene has really increased, and we are now in having a very high data cleanliness. You touched on the Stella Artois piece and that was only enabled through AI, so if we can start to understand the habits of a device where it goes at the time, then we can really predict as to the likelihood on them going to a place again.

That project was driving people into pubs to drink Stella, which is harder than you will think. That has definitely a key theme. Another key developments since last year is that we have really gone big on, again around that theme of being agnostic, is that we have got many many ways to trade, so whether it is taking our data and injecting it into your own DSP, whether it is using our platform Self-serve, which is also a new initiative since the last year, now we have trading desks logging into the platform and doing it all themselves. That’s another key development in the last year.

Q) How do you see the role new technology, such as AI, evolving in the industry and how do you see them changing the industry as well?

A) AI is a bit of a buzzword, there is a lot of people using it and not necessarily doing it, it is a broad term and there is a lot that falls under it. Of course, as soon as it becomes hot everyone flocks towards it, it is something that has been in our DNA for a while so we do actually do it and do it more than just trivially.

I think the interesting thing I observed is that inventory now… there is such a huge quantity of it. There is more than anyone will ever need and therefore the intelligence you wrap around that inventory, be it video display or whatever, is now what makes something valuable and this is the challenge that publishers are going to face because it is all well and good but if you are CNN or Wall Street Journal and you have got great content, great audience, great reach but no more can you just buy Wall Street Journal homepage, you have to understand that person intimately and location data is, I think when you get that connection between context, digital context and real life context then that is the sweet spot. And now we are in that zone.

Until the last 18-24 months that was not possible to the extent it is now and location where people are going in the real world is, in our opinion, the best proxy to understand who that person is. Just because you look at a Ferrari website, does not mean that you are in the market to buy a Ferrari. If we see you at a marina, a private airfield and at golf courses you probably do have the means to buy a Ferrari. So there is a lot of false flags that can come out from purely looking at digital data, you need to take that real world data and overlay that on top.

Q) One of the interesting discussion we have had in Cannes this year, is that Chatbots are a gross misrepresentation of AI. What are your thoughts on that?

A) Everyone does a lot of anticipation for a good chatbot, I am yet to find one, but there are certain applications for it. If you look at now Alexa and Google Home and things like that, the world is going to be an exciting place in the next few years. I now turn my light on and off talking to Siri in my apartment and that is kind of novel but I think actually it will become just… why would you have a light switch if you can just say something.

I think that trend is exciting, I am fortunately young so I might get to see quite a lot of stuff in my next years! I think the power of the things in your pocket it’s going to be the epicentre of it. I am sure the form factor of a phone is going to change dramatically again, look at where it has gone in 10 years… another 10… the pace of change is ever growing, so who knows where it is going to be. But it is certainly a fun time to be in the space!

Q) The MMA and WARC recently released a report, which said that marketers in EMEA are budgeting for mobile, but the strategy and measurement are lacking. What are your thought on this?

A) Spend in mobile as an ad platform is of course slowing, but it was growing at an unsustainable rate. Under the mobile umbrella there is quite a lot, there is discretional spend and then there is un-discretional spend and there is a lot that is captured in that un-discretional spend, there is a lot of planners inside agencies that think okay I have done Facebook therefore mobile done, and that means that they tick that box as far as they are concerned.

Now of course that does not really capture the essence of what you can do with these devices, so knowing where the device is if you are trying to drive people into shops and things like that, if you are not leveraging the benefits of it then you are not really doing it properly. It is a bit mad to think that, you know you have got all these mobile specialists in every single agency and they still have planners who just do not quite get it!

But these platforms do play a part in promoting mobile as a topic, and therefore you can not be too upset about it, but there is definitely some further work to be done. I think people using creative and companies like Celtra and Bonzai… they really start to leverage the benefits that you have with mobile that are beyond the other computer, i.e. knowing where someone is.

Q) What do you think needs to be done to drive a change?

A) I think it is an organic thing, I do not think there is one thing. There is a lot of companies, including us investing in, we have something like a ‘Blis University’, where we host these breakfast sessions and we give training on different topics to agencies across the world and they go down very well. Google invests a huge amount in their education program, so does Facebook.

So there is a lot of people doing the right thing and I think it is just a matter of time, it is not that anyone is doing anything wrong it just takes a bit of time. It is an evolutional thing.

Q) What are the key trends that you are most excited about?

A) For us the big focus has obviously been expanding into new markets, South East Asia has become a really big part of our business. I lived in Singapore for five years so I know that market very well. We opened just four offices in the last four months so we now have presence in Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, as well as, Singapore and Hong Kong that we have had for a while. Capturing, whilst growth in EMEA in mobile in slowing, we still continuing to outpace growth, we are doing well across our markets in London, Germany, France and the Middle East… But the growth in South East Asia is still huge and therefore it is an amazing opportunity for us.

We have also, last year launched in Latin America we now have business in Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. When I moved to Singapore six years ago I got this kind of energy when you come to a place and you are in that sweet spot. I have been down to LATAM quite a lot in the last six months and that turning point of change, gives me the same feeling I had when I was in Singapore six years ago now in Brazil or Mexico. So that is definitely an exciting evolution.

Click here to listen to the FULL interview with Harry.

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Harry Dewhirst is President at Blis. He is an adtech veteran and acclaimed entrepreneur.
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Partner Spotlight: Q&A with RSi’s Ansa


Partner Spotlight: Q&A with RSi’s Ansa

Question 1: How long have you been at RSi and what is your role?
For the past three years, I have been responsible for creating and scaling Ansa, a web-based solution from RSi – Retail Solutions, Inc., that has enabled over 75 of the world’s largest CPG companies and their agencies to build, measure and maximize the performance of their shopper marketing campaigns running in support of the nation’s leading retailers. I am responsible for all aspects of business development, partner and agency relationships and the overall revenue growth of Ansa.

Question 2: How does RSi help solve marketer challenges?
Shopper marketers’ biggest challenge is to connect their online campaigns to in-store results. RSi’s Ansa solution provides the intelligence they need, based on daily, store-level POS-data from the largest US retailers in order to plan, target, and measure the impact of their shopper marketing campaigns. Retail Solutions Inc. has partnered with the leading ad networks in Shopper Marketing, such as Blis, to make Ansa’s automated analytics available for the world’s largest CPG companies and their agencies. To measure and maximize their digital ad campaigns, all they need to do is ask for Ansa inside their next campaign.

Question 3: What benefits does the partnership with Blis bring to buyers as well as the adtech ecosystem?
With RSi’s Ansa solution, building, dynamically optimizing, and reviewing attribution measures for every digital ad campaign has never been so simple. Here is how it works:
1. STORE-LEVEL TARGETING: automatically get from Ansa your store targeting data as store addresses, lat/longs or by Ansa Digital ZIPs to identify stores with the greatest sales potential prior to launching hyper-local media.
2. IN-FLIGHT OPTIMIZATION: see in real-time how sales are trending in your targeted stores vs. a 52-week historical average, and get access to dynamic optimization lists that can guide budget reallocation.
3. MEASUREMENT & INSIGHTS: get access via the online portal to end of campaign analysis just days after the media campaign is over. Visualizations give you a standardized set of analytics, such as sales lift, incremental dollars and units, confidence level, weekly lift, characteristics of high performing stores, etc. Prove and improve your media to help you fine-tune strategies for your future campaigns.

Question 4: What are use cases for the Blis + RSi partnership? (Please provide a few examples from different verticals).
If you are a shopper marketer, maximizing your budgets, understanding performance of your marketing tactics and generating key learnings from those marketing tactics are tasks that are essential to your business.

Running a digital marketing campaign with Blis, and Ansa’s daily, store-level sales intelligence helps make that extremely for the CPG community and shopper marketers specifically.

For existing products, Blis campaigns using Ansa targeting can reach a targeting efficiency of 2:1 vs. campaigns that do not use Ansa store-level targeting thereby ensuring that every dollar is spent driving sales to your most important retailer locations.

Blis campaigns optimized with Ansa typically identify and heavy up investment around 16% of stores that are trending significantly ahead of the average store during a campaign and identify and decrease investment around 14% of stores that are trending significantly behind the average store, therefore ensuring that your budget is being optimized surrounding stores that are over-performing during a given campaign.

After each Blis campaign, Ansa automatically generates measurement of Featured Item Lift and Halo Item Lift at both the total event and week levels. Results are completed 5 business days after the end of each campaign and allow you to learn quickly and improve continuously, all at an amazingly affordable price.

Question 5: What shopper marketing measurement trends do you predict for 2018?
Optimization in-flight based on store sales trends during campaign. Optimizing on engagement, intent and / or clicks may be ok for some campaigns but more and more frequently shopper marketers are tasked with driving sales at their most important retailers. And understanding how their marketing tactics performed 5-6 weeks after a campaign has finished is just not fast enough anymore in today’s fast paced world and puts media providers at a severe disadvantage. By utilizing automated reporting that allows Ansa partners like Blis to understand and optimize their media in-flight based on daily, store-level POS sales data you now empower your media partner to act on supporting the stores that are driving your product sales which can ultimately provide a powerful boost to a shopper marketing campaign.

Question 6: If there was one piece of content you think every marketer should read, what is it?
(Other than this blog post of course!)

Think with Google and Facebook IQ are two fantastic sources of resources. Articles, trends, case studies, POVs, insights, etc… pretty much everything you need to read to keep you up-to-speed in this very fast-paced environment.

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Meet, Greet and Keep: How Mobile Can Help Brands Throughout the Sales Funnel


Meet, Greet and Keep: How Mobile Can Help Brands...

Our mobile devices give us more than just a way to call or text friends and family: Today, they are our maps, books, radios, and miniature shopping malls. We turn to them for news, entertainment and answers. And from dawn till dusk, we keep them at our sides like our most faithful companions.

So it’s no wonder mobile devices have become integral to an advertiser’s ability to reach their ideal audiences at every stage of the sales funnel. Here’s how brands can employ effective mobile advertising strategies to acquire, engage and retain customers.

Win Over New Customers

One of the best ways for advertisers to identify new audiences is to see where they shop. But without access to a competitor’s first-party purchase data or information about their website traffic, how can advertisers find this out?

Mobile devices provide the answer. By revealing where consumers go, mobile location data can tell brands which consumers spend their time browsing similar products at a competitor’s store. Let’s say Target wants to reach out to consumers who usually shop at Walmart. They can use location data to identify—then target—those who frequently visit the competitor yet still live near a Target store.

But brands need to be careful before jumping to conclusions about consumers. Real-time location data provides important insights, but they can be strengthened when paired with historical location data.

For example, just because someone visits a high-end boutique like Chanel, it doesn’t mean that person has the budget to shop there—they could just be browsing. How can an upscale fashion brand find out which of those Chanel visitors are actually potential shoppers? Here, historical location data can help. It can reveal, for instance, which of those visitors go to private airports a few times a month or regularly visit Giorgio Armani or Versace stores. Chances are, these consumers will be a better bet for the fashion brand seeking to acquire new customers.

Keep Them Interested

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? For most of us, it’s look at our phones to turn off our alarms before checking the weather and scrolling through our Twitter feeds. And throughout the day, we continue to stare down into the faces of our mobile devices: checking the news on the train, sending an email between meetings, or watching videos from our living room sofas.

In order to engage consumers on the devices we use day in and day out, advertisers will need to serve ads that make sense for the consumer depending on where they are during the day. To do this, advertisers must first ask the question: What do consumers want to see on their mobile devices and when? Consumers spend a third of their time online watching videos, for instance, but they aren’t going to watch a 30-second video ad while walking down the street.

To boost engagement, brands can use knowledge about a consumer’s historical and real-time whereabouts to reach out at the time and place that will produce the greatest level of engagement. To effectively grab the attention of a consumer that’s out and about, a banner ad may work best. Later that evening, when the consumer is at home using a tablet or laptop, a longer video on a larger screen may work well.

Inspire Loyalty

How can brands make sure they retain the new and existing customers they’ve worked so hard to gain? They must first recognize and show appreciation for their most loyal customers.

Most advertisers identify loyal customers by looking at newsletter subscriptions and online purchase histories, but they may be missing other valuable customers who prefer to shop in stores. By identifying devices that frequently visit a brand’s store location, advertisers can make sure they are recognizing—and thanking—all their biggest fans. When an existing customer comes into a store a certain number of times, for example, advertisers can deliver a thank-you message—perhaps offering the loyal customer a generous coupon to redeem in-store.

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Retailers’ Golden Ticket to Reviving Brick and Mortar Stores


Retailers’ Golden Ticket to Reviving Brick and Mortar Stores

Interested in understanding how to connect mobile experiences to physical stores? Or how mobile can be the extension of a retailer’s store? Maybe you’ve wondered about the new Cost-Per-Visit metric? Look no further. Blis’ location data experts will be answering these questions on a weekly basis over the next few months in our ‘Retail Series’ which aims to equip retail marketers with the right insights and top tips to stay ahead of the game.

Following its decision to buy e-commerce company last year, Walmart recently agreed to acquire Bonobos, a retailer with a strong online presence and generous shipping policies. If these moves weren’t sign enough that the physical and digital retail worlds are merging, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is the ultimate wake-up call.

Retailers everywhere are realizing that while brick and mortar stores are still critical, they’ll need a strong digital strategy to keep them filled with happy customers. Mobile devices are retailers’ golden ticket to connecting with consumers and reviving in-store shopping.

Understanding Consumers though Mobile

Whether they are going to work or going shopping, consumers carry their phones with them wherever they go. As a result, mobile devices provide retailers with a constant stream of valuable consumer insights. GPS and Wi-Fi data can tell retailers, for instance, whether a consumer is at a desktop at work, connected to Wi-Fi at home, or walking past a retailer’s store.

Beyond real-time location data, retailers can use historical location data to understand a consumer’s habits. For example, some consumers might visit a luxury jewelry brand on Fifth Avenue just to browse, even if they have no intention (or monetary means!) of buying. Thus, for that specific retailer, in-store visits may not indicate ideal customers. Instead, that luxury retailer can look at historical location data to identify their ideal consumers: perhaps individuals who frequently stay at the Four Seasons Hotel or regularly check in to exclusive country clubs.

But retailers shouldn’t rely on mobile data alone. By layering mobile insights with other valuable sources of data, advertisers can gain a holistic picture of their perfect audiences. Data collected from laptops, for instance, can reveal browsing histories and online shopping patterns; however, consumers won’t be opening up their laptops while shopping in stores. The trick is for retailers to match the data across devices to unique mobile device IDs. Only then will they gain a more holistic understanding of consumers and will be able to target or retarget them with products they are likely to go buy.

Driving Foot Traffic Creatively

Once they’ve gotten a clear and thorough understanding of their ideal audiences, how can retailers use mobile devices to drive foot traffic? Proximity targeting—delivering ads to consumers when they come within a certain distance of a store location—is a common approach. Retailers can maximize the power of proximity targeting by crafting unique and imaginative creatives.

For instance, advertisers can deliver ads to shoppers already in the area to tell them about an in-store sale, or offer them a coupon they can only redeem in person. Retailers can also deliver ads that feature a handy map telling consumers how to find their store.

Sometimes, targeting consumers when they are walking by a store may be a little too late. A QSR wanting to boost its 10 am breakfast crowd, for instance, may want to target consumers when they wake up around 7a and begin planning their day. Otherwise, the consumer has most likely already made their breakfast choice.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for retailers looking to connect with consumers and drive in-store sales, a strong mobile strategy is key. As the digital and physical worlds continue to blend, retailers must harness the insights and capabilities of mobile to reach their unique brand objectives.

Tune in next week to read all about how mobile is fast becoming the extension of a retailer’s store.

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