EPrize Says HelloWorld

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helloworldFriday’s announcement that ePrize, a provider of multichannel engagement and loyalty solutions, has rebranded as HelloWorld represents more than a new company name.

It also underscores the introduction of a “rich engagement platform” combining mobile CRM, live event activation, loyalty programs and in-store activation capabilities.

The architecture of this platform comes from components either built in-house by HelloWorld or purchased over a two-year buying binge.

“All of those acquisitions [were part of] the plan for the platform,” said HelloWorld CEO Matt Wise. “If we could find elements in the marketplace that were built, we bought them. And in areas where there wasn’t anything we thought was strong enough, we built.”

Wise spoke with AdExchanger about the rebrand, his company’s technology and the complexities of obtaining consumer permissions in a multichannel world.

AdExchanger: So why “HelloWorld?”

MATT WISE: HelloWorld comes from two distinct parts. We help brands engage with consumers. When a consumer engages with another consumer, the first thing they say is, "Hello." Our platform has promotions that spark interest in a brand, and that’s like saying “Hello” for the first time.

If you see someone on the street you haven’t seen for a year, you say: “Hello, let’s get dinner and catch up.” We have a loyalty platform that uses the same concept: reengages the brand, motivates them to enter back into the relationship. So we thought “Hello” worked really well. And we thought “World” played well with some of our brands that want to speak with the entire world at the same time. Other clients want to use our platform to speak with a very small segment. People who were within 500 yards of my store at 10 in the morning, that’s the world [they] want to speak to.

The other element is “hello world,” from a programming language, is used as the first program’s test of an application, to see if that application works in a new environment or in a new language. For our clients, that’s what we’re doing. We take  a marketing idea and put it out into the field to see if it works, and if it doesn’t what do we do to change it.

You’ve been acquiring company after company over the last two years. Are you guys done shopping?

[The rebrand] does not necessarily mark the end of it, but we’ve assembled the major portions of our platform we were looking to acquire. We remain in the market for other niche technology plays that could augment the platform.

Which functions did you build and which functions did you buy?

We had a promotion solution unto ourselves. We built components for interfaces on messaging across multiple phases for email, social posting and mobile CRM. We had loyalty elements, but we bolted in mobile CRM and brought in live events, and we brought in analytics. The live events [activation] and mobile CRM are the two largest components we bought.

Historically, mobile CRM has been out there and we’ve done connections for many of our clients. The ability for mobile CRM to interact with our promotions platform and our analytics platform is relatively new. That’s what we’ve been assembling over the past 24 months. The name change reflects the aggregation of all of those pieces together.

What complications come with this sort of integration?

With all of the components, the big challenge, especially with the acquisitions, is [different] programming languages sitting on the technology stack. We took a relatively creative approach to integrate the platform. As opposed to rewriting everything, we actually constructed everything with APIs so our internal systems talk to one another. It’s been a great asset because as we integrate with larger clients, it’s easy for us to swap out in-module. If someone else has their own email solution, that’s fine. We can just disconnect our email module through the API.

So clients can buy functionality a la carte?

They can do one of three things: They can license the platform in all its functionality, they can license just part of it like mobile CRM or they can do just one project. So if they want to just roll out one promotion, then we’ll execute one promotion and they can license the platform just for the duration of that promotion.

Who controls the platform? HelloWorld or the clients?

Nearly all of the clients that work with HelloWorld leverage the platform. We [manage the] platform for many of our clients. Others are using the products themselves and pulling all the levers. But some of the larger brands just don’t want to do that, so they hire us. Out of 1,000 clients we served last year, my guess is approximately 20% are using it all by themselves.

HelloWorld’s platform integrates with numerous data sources, from email to purchase histories to point-of-sale solutions. How about third-party data?

That is an option and having us feed information to your third-party databases is an option. So it goes in both directions.

Does HelloWorld also integrate with ad strategies to influence media buys?

We’re not seeing that yet. It’s possible that would occur in the future. The big difference is generally we’re dealing with known consumers. We have [consumers’] explicit permission to talk to them. It’s much different than the media world where [it’s more anonymous].

The product allows you to stretch online to offline, so if you want say target someone who went to a social site, checked in, or participated in a program and you want to retarget them on the Web [you can do that].

How do you track consumers across devices and in both offline and online environments?

Consumers are usually proactively engaging. There’s less of a need to quote-unquote track them because consumers are checking in. They may be using an app that allows for location-based messaging. They’re actively turning that on, saying, "When I’m close to the store, you can message me.” So we don’t have to track them. They’re raising their hand.

So the implications of a cookieless environment don’t apply to HelloWorld.

We do use cookies to speed the process so when you come back to the site, you don’t have to start all over from scratch, but unlike an ad network, we’re not trying to find that person again. For HelloWorld, people identify themselves.

What are the complications for brands that want a unified marketing strategy dealing with both known customers and anonymous prospects?

There will always be a need to advertise and project your message to consumers who aren’t part of your relationship already. I think once you get that relationship started, the big difference, which the mobile phone has revolutionized and the Web will adapt more proactively, is distinguishing consumers in your database versus those who are anonymous but known to you, and those who have at some point started a relationship.

How about just asking for an opt-in?

The challenge with targeting practices on the Web is that everyone wants to find one size to fit all. Hey, opt in and opt out of targeting in general? That’s too broad. The consumer who browses a car site isn’t the same as a consumer who comes to a car site and says, “Send me information,” when a car they desire comes up. Those are two different levels of permission.

Most of the companies on the Web right now want to find one giant bucket of permission. The reality is some consumers will be thrilled with mixing the data because they’ve already given permission to brands, and some will be very offended with mixing data because they haven’t started that relationship.

We have to realize there are different levels: There’s truly anonymous, then there’s permission to gather generally available information, then the third level is you’ve started a relationship and you’ve given the brand permission to communicate with you and retarget you on the Web.

Whose responsibility is this to make those discernments?

Ideally, organizations like the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) or the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association). They continue to work on them. It’s not an easy situation, and there isn’t a simple solution. I was on the board of directors on the IAB seven years ago when we were tackling a lot of those issues, and they still existed.

But publishers are becoming more amenable to the different grades [of permissions] and on the mobile phone, they’ve taken a much more proactive approach generally in putting the control in the consumers’ hands about where they establish their relationship.

Part of that is because you’re required by law, if you’re going to contact someone you need explicit permission. That’s changed the mindset of messaging on mobile devices. Where it gets a little gray is display advertising on handhelds defaulting back to the web standard and ideally, there’d be multiple standards in there.

Given this persistent gray area, how should brands deal with the complications around permissions today?

We’re telling clients to think of it the same way you think of conversations with another human. If they tell you something directly to you, you can repeat it back to them. If you overhear someone’s conversation and you talk about it, that’s creepy and uncomfortable. Or if you open up the conversation with: “Hey you didn’t tell me this but I overheard it.” That’s really what we talk about with behavioral tracking that can occasionally make a consumer uncomfortable.

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