Venture Cash for Focus Groups on Steroids

Crowdtap lands $7M to 'gamify' brand interactions

Explaining Crowdtap isn’t exactly simple. It’s a website, for brands, that’s social, with games, and polls, and rewards. Agencies and brands use it as marketing feedback loop that’s instant, customizable, big, and cheap. There’s free stuff involved. And oh, did we mention the parties?

In four months, the startup has acquired 150,000 users, run campaigns from dozens of brands, and partnered with a handful of ad agencies. This week the company announced a Series A round of funding to the tune of $7 million from Foundry Group, GSA Venture Partners, and social media agency Mr. Youth. Crowdtap will use that money, which adds to a previous $3 million raised, to continue doing all the aforementioned things but in a bigger way.

For consumers, it works like this: You join. You connect with Facebook and Twitter. You take polls about your tastes and opinions on brands. (Old Navy asks, for example, "What's your favorite season to sport a tank top?") You earn points, and badges, and stars, all of which lead to bigger offers, such as product samples, which you write reports on, or share photos of, or even host branded Tupperware-style parties. The bigger offers lead eventually to rewards, like gift cards. The brands, which pay Crowdtap to participate, walk away with piles of customer feedback on everything from market positioning to campaign impact. Meanwhile, they have a database of their most loyal customers. Crowdtap has worked with brands like Old Navy, AmEx, Pinkberry, Diageo, and Bing.

The idea was born out of CEO Brandon Evans’ experience with RepNation, a Web platform he built to connect brands with college students interested in working as “brand ambassadors” on their campuses. The idea with Crowdtap is similar—Evans wanted to scale the brand interactions he saw RepNation facilitating, taking them outside the small communities of college campuses. To keep users actively engaging with the brands and prevent churn, he added the gaming layer and incentives. He built daily emails with polls and short things to do on the Crowdtap site to keep users returning. He says around 40 percent of Crowdtap users are engaged at the highest level (level four), which means they’re sampling, winning rewards, and throwing branded parties. 

Agencies like Weber Shandwick, GolinHarris, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, and Mullen have used the service in partnership with their brands. Some of them use it for instant feedback during the pitch process, others use it for retargeting. “You can ask in a poll of women of a certain age, for example, ‘Do you drink diet soda?’ and then go back and have a discussion with the diet soda drinkers,” Evans said.

Even though the service essentially turns savvy “brand influencers” into free advertisers, Evans said he doesn’t see that as a risk. Crowdtap isn’t spammy because of its gaming aspect. Many of the sharing aspects require a “double” opt-in, and only ask that you share with four friends, instead of everyone in your Facebook feed. He said the authentic offline interactions—the samples, the parties, and the shared photos—keep users loyal, not just to the brands but to Crowdtap.