OwnerIQ Capitalizes on Intelligence about Users
I’m one of those people who makes special folders in my filing cabinet for the owner’s manuals that come with every new gadget or appliance I buy. If you want to see the manual for my radioactive-green Nokia 6130 cell phone, I can probably dig it up. (Never mind that I haven’t used that phone since 1998. If you’re busy making file folders, you don’t have time to cull them.)
For all of you less splendidly organized mortals, there’s OwnerIQ. Founded in 2006, the Newton, MA-based startup operates a network of 13 websites bursting with freely downloadable user manuals for all manner of consumer products, from digital cameras to dishwashers, and from cordless drills to charcoal grills. The documentation for the Nokia 6130 isn’t in OwnerIQ’s database, but the manuals for 1,137 other Nokia cell phones are. Along with the manuals for 26 kinds of Honda snowblowers, and DVD players from 215 different manufacturers.
We wrote about OwnerIQ briefly last October when they pulled down a $2 million Series A financing round from Atlas Venture, CommonAngels, and the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation. I got the latest on the company yesterday from CEO Jay Habegger (who also happens to be an investor in Xconomy, through CommonAngels).
Since the funding, the company’s been focused on two tasks, according to Habegger. The first is adding content and features. Just in the last month, OwnerIQ has turned on six new sites, covering cameras, home appliances, lawn and garden, outdoor cooking, phones, and power tools. Community forums, where registered members can help each other find manuals, are another new feature. “That has dramatically increased our traffic, and we have some really good stories about people reaching out and making connections,” says Habegger.
He shares the heartwarming example of a woman from the Midwest who recently called OwnerIQ’s office about her breadmaker. “My VP of sales picked up,” says Habegger, “and the woman said she had noticed that a bunch of folks on the site were looking for a particular manual for a Magic Chef breadmaker. She said ‘I’ve got that manual—I know how to photocopy it, but I don’t know how to scan it, can I just mail it to you and have you post it?’ So that’s what we did.”
The other task—and the one that could eventually make OwnerIQ into a lucrative enterprise—has been building a targeted advertising system that monetizes the information OwnerIQ collects about visitors. The fact that you’re on OwnerIQ looking around for the manual for your $8,000 Jenn-Air built-in refrigerator is a pretty good “ownership signal,” to use Habegger’s term: a sign that you either own a Jenn-Air already, have a family member who does, or are interested in high-end kitchen appliances. And that makes you someone online advertisers are willing to pay a premium to reach.
To Habegger’s mind, serving targeted advertisements to such visitors is a far better way of reaching prospective appliance buyers than making wild guesses about who’s reading a newspaper, magazine, or website. “Targeting a message based on what people own makes a lot of intuitive sense,” he says. “Product marketers often think about branding in terms of the other things people own, the kinds of homes they live in, and what other kinds of products they buy. But then, in the traditional advertising world, they have to translate that into the demographics of a particular publication and decide whether it fits with the people they’re trying to reach. We allow you to short-circuit that process and just go after the people who actually own these things.”
In other words, OwnerIQ is all about lead generation. And so was BitPipe, the company Habegger co-founded in 1998 and sold to Needham, MA-based TechTarget for some $40 million in 2004. BitPipe’s business was to guide business users buying IT equipment to whitepapers, webcasts, and product information, all the while serving up related advertising sold at premium rates.
One company testing OwnerIQ’s consumer-based lead generation model is Electrolux, which is advertising its Eureka vacuum cleaners on the OwnerIQ home appliances site. Habegger says the campaign has been a “very successful demonstration,” with click-through rates for the Eureka ads in the neighborhood of two to three percent—far higher than the average for Web display ads. The response rate for ads in OwnerIQ’s opt-in e-mail newsletters is also very high, Habegger says.
And in a further twist, the company plans to extend its ownership-targeted advertising model to other parts of the Web. Once OwnerIQ knows that you have a Jenn-Air, for example, it can use that information to buy ads for specific kitchen-appliance brands from established Internet advertising networks and show you those ads even when you’re browsing other sites. Information identifying you as somebody who browsed manuals for expensive refrigerators is stored in cookies on your computer and tracked behind the scenes by the advertising networks. Lest you panic about the privacy implications, this sort of “behavioral targeting” is already common—OwnerIQ’s ads are just more targeted than most. (To use Habegger’s example, “If you read a New York Times story about organic food growers in Florida, the next site you go to might show you an orange juice ad.”)
In effect, OwnerIQ is growing into what Habegger calls an “ownership-targeted advertising network,” capitalizing on the information it gathers about the material possessions of the more than 700,000 people who visit its sites every month.
A local ad-agency exec who joined OwnerIQ’s board of directors this week—Lisa Badeau, executive vice president at Boston’s Hill Holiday—will doubtless help to strengthen that focus. “OwnerIQ’s ownership-targeted media programs provide advertisers with an unprecedented opportunity to precisely target likely purchasers,” Badeau said in a company press release about the move. “The team has done a great job working with its clients to develop highly customized and effective media programs, and I look forward to supporting OwnerIQ’s continued success.”
Even if it weren’t growing into an advertising network, OwnerIQ’s treasure trove of user manuals would be likely to keep drawing more users to its own sites. In fact, with almost every product manual you could ever need now available online, it doesn’t seem so important anymore to keep track of the paperwork that comes with your purchases. Maybe it’s really time to cull my files.
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