Thomas Walle and Kjartan Slette launched Unacast after coming to a major realization: the typical consumer spends 30% of their time in front of their phone and computer. But what about the other 70%?
Walle and Slette went to Copenhagen Business School around when Napster was hot and as a result, spent plenty of time talking about how to save the music industry. The end result was WiMP, which was soon renamed Tidal and sold to a nice fellow married to Beyonce. By building that platform, Walle and Slette learned how to harmonize a plethora of disaggregated content all onto one platform. It’s that experience that is proving incredibly useful as they build out Unacast.
The Proximity Data King?
Unacast marries together online and offline data in a way wasn’t previously possible, and certainly not at scale. Targeted proximity communication, based on a very specific geolocation, is used to give consumers very specific offers. Data generated from interaction with a beacon is able to deliver a target ad to a mobile or desktop device.
Unacast realized the value in standardizing what is, admittedly, a pretty fragmented market. There are already products deploying sensors, but each Proximity Solutions Provider (PSP) can only understand a fraction of the user’s behavior. If Unacast is the company that is able to aggregate all this data, then they stand to have a better grasp than any other player.
Fast forward to present day. Unacast now has partnerships with 66 of the largest PSPs that cover 2 million or 40% of the world’s commercial beacons. A wealth of reputable adtech platforms have partnered with Unacast, including MediaMath, Lotame, SITO Mobile, and Sense360.
To put it simply , that makes Unacast the largest aggregator of proximity data in the industry, and part of why Unacast has been able to attract $5 million in funding. It’s more than funding that’s coming in to Unacast: awards are beginning to roll in as well. The company won “Best Location-based Campaign” at the StreetFight Awards, not to mention its best “Verticals & Marketplaces” award at the Location Search Association 2017.
Why Proximity Data Matters
We spend the rest of our waking hours in the “real world” – the offline space. Advertisers spend so much effort trying to understand consumers’ behaviors during the time we spend with our devices; shouldn’t we also be spending more time understanding consumer behavior everywhere else? “There needs to be a way to understand what people do in the real, real, real world,” says Walle. For Unacast, that way forward involves sensors that track people’s movement. Every time someone interacts with a sensor, they leave a footprint behind. These sensors have stories to tell, and advertisers to help.
The potential of proximity data is nearly endless – enough to make any advertiser drool. With proximity data, you might have the ability to say a particular consumer was in this Dunkin’ Donuts store for 15 minutes and target them accordingly. Eventually, we will even be able to track consumer behavior within the stores themselves.
While Unacast has plenty of work to do before it has conquered the advertising space, it has the ability to go after plenty of other applications down the line. How can Unacast make ecommerce experiences more relevant? How can it make retail analytics more relevant? How can it influence city planning? How can cities become smarter? These are all long-term possibilities for the 3-year old startup.
The Challenges Facing Proximity Data Players
Of course, Unacast isn’t without its challenges. For one: they need to educate prospects better about proximity data. “Our biggest competitor is the status quo,” says Walle. Most people are familiar with geodata, which is information about geographic locations that is stored on a computer. Proximity data tracks the relationship between objects (which can be people, places or things) – in other words, it illustrates how people interact with the objects around them. Demonstrating how proximity data is unique and why it has higher accuracy and a different ROI than geodata, is something that Unacast constantly has to show.
The other issue relates to the sheer number of players in the PSP space: there might be up to 400 already in existence. As a result, there’s simply no industry standard. Moreover, Unacast has to make a deal with each proximity company individually – a lot of effort, but the flipside is that the rewards are commensurately huge.
Indexing the Physical World
Let’s face it: there’s been plenty of hype around the Internet of Things: the idea that everyday objects will communicate with one another and the Internet to provide better experiences. If Unacast plays its cards right, it has the potential to be the backend that powers many of these interactions.
“Someone needs to index the physical world,” just like Google indexed the online world, says Walle. If history is any indication, the company that led the last revolution typically doesn’t lead the next one. If anyone’s going to play the part of the revolutionary, Unacast is making a strong case for itself.