Montreal’s Transport Society And SAP Team Up To Deliver Targeted Ads

merci-appLike their private counterparts, public organizations are experimenting with targeted offers delivered through apps.

The Montreal Transport Society (STM) is one such organization. STM wanted to increase its ridership among younger customers, so it developed an app with SAP’s Precision Marketing division, which it dubbed STM Merci. Through partnerships with local vendors, the app delivers targeted offers to riders based on their travel habits, interests and location.

Several transportation systems in Canada use an Opus card, a smartcard on which passengers load their transit fares. The STM app asks users for their Opus card number, which provides the app with a  “fair amount of information” about passengers, explained Pierre Bourbonniere, STM’s marketing director.

“The Opus card information drops into the program and so we know things like where passengers live, their gender and purchase history,” Bourbonniere said. “And then we can ask them to tell us what type of partners they want to receive offers from so we can personalize their experience.”

The Merci app, which is currently available only on the iPhone, provides real-time information about bus and metro lines and shows riders the amount of money they could have saved if they bought a weekly or monthly pass instead of individual fares.

“The Merci app follows what people are doing and advises them on how they could improve their riding experience,” Bourbonniere said.

The app also includes discount offers from more than 340 partners, such as bicycle rentals, taxis, shops and theaters. The app uses geo-location data and the offers change as users who have opted into sharing their location move around the city.

An opera house, for example, might have a number of unsold tickets that it can sell through discount offers that are pushed out to users who are within a certain distance from the theater. Acknowledging that people can get irritated by push notifications, the app is set up so that users only get one notification every 36 hours.

The app also keeps track of the kind of offers users are clicking on, and those deals rise to the top of the list the longer someone uses it. When the app was introduced several months ago, the number of users was capped at 20,000. STM reached that number four months ago and its new goal is to get all 2.5 million Opus cardholders to download the app, according to Bourbonniere.

“The name of the game for us is to influence our riders’ behaviors,” Bourbonniere commented. “Until now, we knew [the passengers’] names, but we didn’t have many ways to talk to them. Now we know their names and we can see what their behavior is and we can advise them.”

STM’s legal advisors informed the organization that it could not store demographic information such as the number of children in a user’s household or individual preferences in its database. The solution, Bourbonniere said, was to create two databases.

“One database holds the critical information in STM’s CRM system, and anything that is not mission critical is sitting in Germany,” Bourbonniere explained. “That information on its own is useless, but when you receive an offer from us and say, ‘I want that,’ it’s almost like an atom smasher. In the fraction of a second, the information from the SAP server in Germany is combined with the information from our database to deliver a bar code for you to redeem your personalized offer.”

The connection lasts only long enough for the user to receive the offer, while protecting him or her from the potential risk of consolidated personal information, Bourbonniere added. So far 50% of users have opted into sharing their location and other data, according to SAP and STM.

“Canada has very strict privacy laws,” Bourbonniere said, “But people are willing to share their information as long as they’re receiving something relevant in return, which is what we’re doing.”

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