Qualia, formerly LocalResponse, Out to Prove Legitimacy of Its AdTech

The game keeps changing for marketers who use technology to reach customers.

A few years ago, New York-based LocalResponse used its software to help businesses direct ads to consumers according to their location-based check-ins—the technology du jour.

Let’s be frank: There are a lot of companies, especially in New York, pushing software for targeting consumers with ads and marketing pitches. Adopting a new strategy, last September, the company rebranded as Qualia with a broader scope in mind. Its backers include ff Venture Capital, Greycroft, and Verizon Ventures, and its service is used by brands such as Electronic Arts, Revlon, Best Buy, and General Motors.

CEO and co-founder Kathy Leake says Qualia is trying to show that its services can make a tangible difference to brands.

“Our sector will be scrutinized for legitimacy in 2015,” she says.

Leake says her company at first tried to monetize the Twitter fire hose for check-in data. For example, when a customer checked in at a store, businesses using LocalResponse would tweet a mention of the consumer thanking them for the visit. “The original concept was taking advantage of the fact people were checking into locations, and broadcasting their wants and needs for the very first time,” Leake says.

However, that kind of marketing rubbed some folks the wrong way. “A lot of consumers accepted it—and a lot of consumers rejected it,” she says.

Not everyone wanted to get ads from businesses whenever they posted about visiting a store. So Qualia dismantled the mention-driven function of delivering ads, Leake says, as it evolved its strategy. “Consumers in some cases just didn’t accept—even though they broadcasted their location publicly—that a brand was speaking back to them,” she says.

Qualia still focuses on consumer intent, she says, but has expanded to other sources such as hosts of wishlists and price alert companies, where consumers post about their interests in products or services. This also includes publicly shared hashtags on social media networks and other online posts—including check-ins. “We’re analyzing about 300 million consumer intent ‘signals’ per month,” Leake says.

The idea is to figure out who should receive which online display ads from brands, rather than Twitter mentions, while keeping people anonymous. “If someone says they need a laptop, that’s the moment you should really be advertising to that consumer,” she says.

Qualia is also currently working with Placed to measure whether the ads it feeds drive consumer interest in the real world. “Placed helps us prove if we actually moved someone to an auto dealership, a movie theater, a retailer,” she says.

As the ad tech industry faces increased scrutiny to show results, Leake wants to see other metrics than just click-through rates used to gauge how Qualia stacks up. The company is developing analytics, she says, to measure intent among consumers, including whether the ads contribute to an increase in chatter on social media, more visits to websites, and Web searches related to brands.

Making changes at the company took more than simply choosing a new direction, Leake says. She was president of the company when co-founder Nihal Mehta was CEO. In 2013, he turned over the reins to Leake; Mehta is a founding general partner with Eniac Ventures.

Leake says one of her first hires as CEO was a new head of business development to diversify Qualia’s dataset. That helped the company become more competitive, she says, as the market caught up with its ideas. “After a couple of years, there were other players monetizing the Twitter fire hose; it was no longer unique,” Leake says.

Nowadays, Qualia analyzes what consumers say collectively across multiple devices, such as sharing online comments from a laptop about an article, or comparing prices via their tablet. Leake says her company uses anonymous data, which can include device IDs, IP numbers, or cookies, to make the connection between consumers and the ads they receive.

With the company on a new path with different technology in play, there came a need for a new name. “LocalResponse sounded like a hyperlocal solution and there was a lot of confusion in the marketplace,” Leake says. “It was becoming detrimental to constantly explain what we were not.”

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