Does Foursquare Offer Enough to Woo Advertisers Long Term?

Some stats on the social-mobile company

During this year’s mercilessly cold winter, Foursquare managed to reignite its business, scoring a $15 million funding round from Microsoft as well as a three-month integrated campaign with Heineken. The developments renewed hopes for the social-mobile company as user growth (45 million app downloads, at last count) only crawled along compared to burgeoning mobile rivals Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Still, Foursquare’s location data stands out in a retail universe where digital intel increasingly melds with brick and mortar. “Say Wendy’s wants to heatmap a neighborhood in Chicago,” remarked RadiumOne CMO Eric Bader. “Foursquare has great location data that you cannot find anywhere else. But can you use it at scale?”

Foursquare rep Brendan Lewis responded to the scale contention, saying, “The quality of Foursquare’s data and audience is what sets us apart. Our data is first party—not bought or aggregated like the others.”

But ultimately, therein lies the rub on 5-year-old Foursquare. Are its data points—6 million check-ins a day, as one example (see more data on the right)—enough to attract merchants long term? The likes of Macy’s, RadioShack and Burger King have dabbled in its ads. And while retailers are more than welcome to employ the platform for business intelligence, it’s unclear if the system has become a material source to brighten the edges of larger digital campaigns.

“Its data is interesting and sounds promising, but few retailers have invested in it,” commented Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester analyst. Brian Blau, a Gartner researcher, countered that Foursquare can help retailers determine spend in populated settings. “Historical data—in terms of your customers’ behavior over periods of time—is going to be interesting down the road because you cannot recreate that,” Blau said. “And accurate location data is hard to come by.”

Indeed, mobile players know all too well that data accuracy often undercuts performance in their niche. And that’s why Foursquare’s check-ins—essentially consumer-verified location signals—continue to intrigue marketers such as RadiumOne’s Bader. “I’m an optimist about Foursquare,” he said, “though its data should be used as more of a piece of the puzzle than the whole puzzle.”

Illustration: Sergio Membrillas

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