Purple Cloud Aims To Unify Ad Touch Points, With Smartphones As The Glue

margolis-purplecloudA new venture from former Magnetic CEO Josh Shatkin-Margolis aims to help retailers consolidate their multi-channel interactions with consumers, using the smartphone as the hub.

Called Purple Cloud, the company offers a consumer-facing app that creates incentives for users to interact and share data. The company is in beta with retailers and expects to close a large funding round in the coming weeks.

AdExchanger spoke with Shatkin-Margolis.

What is Purple Cloud?

Purple Cloud is a platform that enables consumers to have a conversation with their favorite retailers. As the consumer goes through the phases of consideration all the way down to purchase, [Purple Cloud] enables them to connect with the retailer in a way they have never done before. Specifically, we leverage smartphones to bridge gaps throughout that conversation.

As you know, consumers these days do much more research on a product before purchasing than they were able to prior to the Internet, and oftentimes that research includes various forms of media.  A typical consumer will visit websites, see ads on television, look at print ads in the newspaper.

Today there’s something that’s with me throughout that experience, which is my smartphone; my smartphone in my pocket with me at every one of these experiences – a smartphone which is signed on the same, single sign-on, using the same password on my phone that I have on my desktop. I’m able to see a TV ad, whether I use audio fingerprinting companies like Echoprint and Shazam to know that I saw that ad. I can always take pictures of QR codes and different sorts of ads. When I visit stores, the phone also knows that I’m in the physical store, thanks to the GPS functionality. Modern phones, like the Samsung Galaxies, have RFID readers. The pieces are there to bridge all these experiences together, and what Purple Cloud’s focused on is really connecting those dots in a meaningful way to enable retailers and markers to bridge those experiences.

Can you share a use case?

The simplest use case is you go online, you build a car, you pick a bunch of features, you click a button, you walk into the dealership, and the dealer comes up to you and knows you by name and knows what car you’re interested in and what features you want. So you don’t have to waste a lot of time explaining to them what you want; they don’t try to sell you the wrong car that you weren’t already interested in. Similarly, you can go online, research a television, find out you want to buy it at Best Buy, walk into Best Buy, and you can imagine a big television display, similar to Apple stores that they have at the Genius bar, which says, “Welcome back. LED TVs are in aisle…“

So this is an app experience from the consumer standpoint. Is it Purple Cloud branded or private label?

In the initial pack that we’re doing right now with retailers, we do have it Purple Cloud branded, but given that it’s early days, we’re still feeling out what makes sense. The technology’s there. With the size of the retailers that we’re talking to, it’s possible this could end up being a feature incorporated within their own apps and their own functionality, but it’s to be determined.

Are there any other direct benefits to the consumer, aside from that instant recognition?  Geofencing mainly benefits the retailer. 

A lot of the specific features of the app we’re keeping under wraps right now in the initial beta test. But while we have built a very slick interface, the benefits to the retailer – you’re correct – are so much larger than the benefits to the consumer.

The retailers that we’re working with are incorporating different financial benefits to the consumer in order to incentivize them to participate in these campaigns specifically.  There's a quid-pro-quo type of situation, where in order to get the person to take the next step, to participate in the conversation, they’re enticing you.

For example, they can say, "Hey, we have a sale coming up on cars this President’s Day; if you want to participate in that sale, add the upcoming sale to your calendar." And why would the retailer do that?  Well, they’re going to put the stuff on sale anyway; now it’s up to them to incentivize the person. They’re getting this access to the consumer that they’ve never had before.

In the future it’s going to be a combination of our select features, and then the obvious stuff: to find the local stores easily; to contact those stores; to notify friends of what products you're considering; to keep track of what products you're interested in and comparison-shop from a single page. There’s lots of cool features for the consumers, but…the most obvious benefits will be those financial incentives that the retailers are set up to provide.

What phase of the business are you in right now?

You could call it the beta phase of the product, but we're testing with very large retailers. It’s still early-stage. So far it has been self-funded, but we're about to close a large amount of financing.

The product is launched and it is fully functional.

Who would you put in the competitive set?

Lots of people are thinking about the space, but there aren’t as many competitors as I would hope. It sounds like a silly comment, but what I found with my last venture was, while I was very scared of competition, once the competition came in, our revenue really took off. Competition can be very validating for an industry. It’s tougher to sell a customer on a new idea than it is to be the best of the competitors out there. If you have one direct competitor and that competitor also has a great product, and they validate the space, and everybody goes and talks to the client, then the client says, “Okay, this is a real market, this is a real space, this something that I need to do, and I just need to pick one,” and then you end up winning half of your customers. Or if there are three competitors, you win a third of your customers. If there are no competitors, it’s a bit of an uphill battle.

But I’d say right now there are definitely no direct competitors. There are other people thinking about this space. Take something like Shopkick. It’s related, but it’s not directly competitive. I’d say the biggest competitors are a Facebook Like button or a Pinterest button, or even a tweet button. But they're not directly competitive. In terms of actually moving an individual consumer down the funnel to purchase, there’s very little value.

Hopefully it’s not an indication that we're too early.

What are some examples of data signals or intent signals that you already are using during the beta?

The one big piece of intent data that we're collecting right now is having this button on the retailers’ web pages that sits alongside a Facebook Like button, alongside a Pinterest button, alongside a tweet button or a LinkedIn button. It's a Purple Cloud icon and it’s indicating with a message telling the consumer, “Click here to notify the local retailer of your interest in this product."

We also have "buttons" for print and television, using audio fingerprinting for television, similar to a QR-code type functionality for print. Those are the main ways that a consumer is really activating, saying that they're interested in a particular product. Smartphones enable us – via apps, via check-ins, via QR codes – to indicate hey, we're in the physical store. But we're bridging more than just offline and online; we're actually also bridging online with different forms of digital media. For example, we've run campaigns which might say, “We'll give you a discount at such-and-such store; but we'll give you a larger discount if you share it with your friends on Facebook." Enabling that bridge between types of campaigns is another big place for us.

 

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