Technology is known to change the way things are done, shelving systems and tools that had previously been viewed as essential. This churn is evident all around us – gone are the horse and buggy, pager, and typewriter. But technological development is not perfect. Sometimes a leap forward is made without considering all of the outcomes, or the landing is not as smooth as was hoped.
When that happens, we find ourselves curiously returning to tools that we had not expected to utilize again. And, more often than not, there are a handful of entrepreneurs who saw that return coming and have already begun to reimagine what those tools can do to become relevant once more.
“There is no doubt that the marketing industry dove into the digital movement without considering how analogue mediums could be updated to be more effective,” asserts Jon Frangakis, co-founder and CEO of Mira, a crowd analytics technology company.
“With the rush to conquer the internet with digital ads, marketers let go of time-tested methods for sharing messages on billboards, through snail mail, on the radio, and in many other mediums that we are seeing make a comeback today.”
This retro movement is perhaps most evident in outdoor advertising, known in the industry as out of home (OOH), where marketers are seeing opportunities to reach audiences that they are losing access to online. The writing is on the wall and advertising heavyweights know it – ad blockers are growing in popularity, false impression scandals have created pressure to innovate, and online consumers are becoming more wary of ads all the time.
When your primary medium for selling ads is under as much stress as the internet is today, it is essential to find other outlets. Mira represents an opportunity for advertisers to diversify, as evidenced by a recent strategic investment from Horizon Media, one of the giants in the industry.
Horizon’s investment in Mira is a data play. Instead of blindly placing ads on billboards like the industry has done for decades, Mira allows advertisers to target audiences in real time based on highly specific consumer information. In other words, in a crowd of 100 people, Mira can tell you how to most effectively advertise to the whole crowd. When you pair real-time crowd analytics with a digital sign, you suddenly have the ability to intelligently target consumers with relevant advertising just like you would online.
“Mira is still the only platform that actually leverages location data in real-time,” asserts Frangakis. “Others have started talking about it, with one company actually using “real-time” to refer to making on the fly decisions based on old and broad historical averages. This doesn’t help brands reach their audiences while they’re looking at the screen. Our platform is purpose-built with the expertise of one of our founders, Gabe, who developed real-time pricing infrastructures in the quant hedge fund world before starting Mira with me. Our method – actually basing decisions on the crowd in front of the screen – is the only one that makes sense to us, but other companies thinking about real-time data is a harbinger of competition.”
This future is the newest iteration of the ongoing effort to make offline experience mirror online ones. In the consumer space, the Internet of Things is exploding, pairing smart devices with smartphones and voice recognition devices like Alexa. In the commercial space, the gap between online and offline has been a tricky one to close. For example, how can you tell if a consumer saw an ad online and then made a purchase in store? How can you track the ROI of those ads?
Mira is tackling one piece of the online to offline problem by making the data that marketers use to target consumers online available in an offline environment. Now when a crowd at the mall near a digital sign is comprised primarily by teenagers, the sign can show a department store ad featuring clothing that would appeal to that audience. When the crowd changes to primarily moms in their 30s and 40s, the department store ad can switch to show children’s products, women’s clothes, and the like. Because Mira has achieved real-time analytics, meaning within milliseconds, out of home advertising is now as smart as it is online.
“We’re starting to see the innovations today that will bring in the next phase of OOH,” says Frangakis. “Our clients are using our data to plan campaigns, optimize them in real-time and, what we haven’t really talked about yet, measuring the effectiveness of those campaigns through various attribution studies. From tracking walk-in conversions, to web-site visits and even television tune-in based on exposure, Mira is helping to prove out the effectiveness and targetability of the channel. In the coming years, it will be hard to find OOH activations that aren’t driven by data across those three phases.”
In a way, the ability to add data to out-of-home advertising and create smart advertising achieves something historic in a roundabout way. Previous efforts to make the offline world more connected have been focused on products like wearable tech – smartglasses for starters. The failure of those efforts has left many wondering how to bridge the gap.
Frangakis succeeds in imagination where others have failed. The choice of medium and the ecosystem he has imagined have been missed or snubbed by the Silicon Valley giants. And yet it is no small achievement that a bootstrapped startup has made perhaps the first credible breakthrough in piping online data into offline advertising efforts.