How Breakfast-Buying Insights Made a New Business for This Mobile Ad Firm

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A still for an ad for Subway, whose breakfast foot traffic was the subject of some analysis by mobile ad firm xAd.
A still for an ad for Subway, whose breakfast foot traffic was the subject of some analysis by mobile ad firm xAd. Credit: Subway

During coffee, bacon, egg and cheese hours from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. last year, visits to Subway and Dunkin' Donuts rose from the first quarter to the second while visits declined at Starbucks and McDonald's.

That's based on changes in foot traffic teased from the pool of location data at mobile ad firm xAd, the sort of insights that the firm and others say are increasingly valuable.

According to the company, Subway's share of foot traffic among the quick-serve restaurants measured rose to 14% from 12%. Such foot-traffic share rose slightly to 21% from 20% at Dunkin' Donuts, fell to 17% from 19% at Starbucks and declined to 48% from 50% at McDonald's.

Now, in a bet that this kind of information can be a gold mine for hedge-fund investors, real-estate developers, ad agencies and retailers, xAd is expanding its business beyond mobile ad targeting to include the broader world of consumer insights. And the company is changing its name to GroundTruth, a term used throughout various scientific fields and even in military circles, usually referring to information gathered through empirical evidence rather than inference.

The new label speaks to the current emphasis on data accuracy and validation in both the mobile location data sector and the ad industry at large.

Advertisers cared a lot less about how precisely locations are pinpointed "when we were just talking about targeting," said Monica Ho, chief marketing officer at the renamed GroundTruth. But when it comes to using consumer visits to measure campaign results, decide to lease a storefront or invest in a company, clients demand precision, she said.

"That's where we really see the change, and we want to make a bold statement about that," Ho said, adding that the company's shift reflects clients' requests for information that helps better understand consumer behavior and shopping patterns. "All of the conversations we've been having have been data first," she said.

One-third of companies are commercializing or sharing their data to create revenue, according to a Forrester report published last week, and much of that falls under the blanket of "insights." Companies from across the spectrum of business, from Monsanto to Siemens' railway division to LexisNexis, have launched insights divisions and services.

Spinning mobile location data into information that provides richer pictures of consumer behaviors is nothing new. Competitors of the company formerly known as xAd such as Foursquare and PlaceIQ have published reports showing visitation trends among football fans or legal cannabis imbibers out west.

Indeed, Foursquare introduced its own analytics service aimed at retailers in March, providing data showing visits to their stores in comparison to competitor locations. "Discover the places your customers go before and after they visit your store to help inform your marketing tactics and product strategy," Foursquare's website says, naming H&M, Taco Bell, TGI Fridays and Equinox as beta partners of the service.

In 2016, Forrester predicted that the emergence of insights providers "will cannibalize existing data and analytics markets -- so existing players must launch new service offerings or partner if they want to thrive."

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