CRM Startup Iris Mobile Builds Cross-Device Linkages Using Mobile Phone Numbers

marc-grabowski-irisChicago-based Iris Mobile provides a CRM platform that helps retail industry clients identify and personalize messaging to their customers across devices.

The system works partly by taking a phone number from a customer record, and then pinging the phone associated with that number to establish a device link. Iris then tries to deliver offers most likely to maximize lifetime value for that person.

This week the company hired Marc Grabowski as CEO. Grabowski was the COO at Nanigans and ran North America media sales at Yahoo, so he knows a thing or two about both SaaS and media sales models. He plans to bring that business knowledge to the project of ramping up the Iris platform in the marketing industry.

Iris employs less than 50 people and has an undisclosed number of customers. It has raised $3 million to date from a group of Chicago-based angels and VC firms, including Origin Ventures.

Grabowski spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What problem does Iris solve?

MARC GRABOWSKI: Advertisers are going through the same path of acquiring data on mobile as they’ve done on desktop. The difference is all the experiences on desktop live within a single browser, so it’s much easier to aggregate information on a user basis attached to a cookie. On mobile the experience is disparate. It’s app, it’s browser, it’s messaging. Cookie-based targeting doesn’t have the same impact. To aggregate all that experience together and have a single unique identifier, you have to go beyond the cookie. You have to go beyond the device identifier. You have to go to look at the only identifier that’s really pure in mobile, and that’s the cell phone number.

We’ve built a platform that allows advertisers to combine mobile experiences around a single identifier and market to them on mobile and integrate with their CRM, so they can use it across other marketing channels as well.

Who is the target customer?

We’ve found a strong niche in retail and ecommerce for a number of reasons. In both retail and ecommerce, the customers need personalization. A retailer’s product catalog can be 10,000 to 30,000 items. And though they may focus on a target segment – millennials, boomers, whatever it may be – their customers almost always vary.

It’s a big challenge for retailers and ecommerce companies to understand which product should be coupled with which consumer, and which sets of products lead to better lifetime value. We’re coupling the data attributes associated with each consumer to the different products in the company’s catalog. So, one customer profile, say it’s women in New York aged 21 to 24, have specific interests and are most likely to go down a specific product path. And that may differ from a similar profile of someone in Los Angeles. It’s being able to parse out the type of consumer, what we know about them on the mobile device, coupling that with what the brand already knows about a customer in CRM, and serving the right creatives to that person.

Do you rely strictly on phone numbers provided by your customers to connect users across devices?

We’re a SaaS platform and this is all opt-in. We are hosting the databases on behalf of our clients and advertisers. They can be anywhere from a couple hundred thousand people for one advertiser to several million for another advertiser. It’s all double opt-in. The value of it being double opt-in, as unique from cookie-based targeting, is that you can tie a lot more data to a specific person.

You tie all this data to a phone number – not to a pixel that’s fleeting. This is just something that has much greater permanence. Even when you change mobile phones, that data now persists.

Do you need to create partnerships with wireless carriers to match phone numbers to devices?

Historically the company had been doing messaging for mobile. There is a technology that is able to ping the device, determine the device type, carrier and operating system. It can understand all of those pieces before communicating with a customer.

How is that ping experienced by the customer?

It’s not. The customer doesn’t know the phone is being pinged. But remember, this is initially double opt-in. The person has double opted in to receive communications. That’s a huge focus.

Who is in the competitive set?

Anyone who would be competitive is a company that is looking at growing lifetime customer value. Our focus is to help brands identify customers, decide which customers are better customers and what the purchase chain looks like to increase their value.

Anyone who is working with brands on CRM, especially on mobile CRM, we would call our competitive set. Retargeting falls into that, especially if it’s someone who has already established themselves as interested or a customer.

What about the emerging group of solutions that are just focused on cross-device measurement? Are you competitive with them?

The question companies have to ask themselves is, do they want that golden identifier to be owned by someone who they’re going to have to buy inventory from.

This solution creates independence. All the data on behalf of advertisers is stored in separate domains, it’s all segmented and there’s no cross-pollination. We’re not creating behavioral segments. We’re not creating profile segments that get used across advertisers. But what we are doing is we’re allowing a single advertiser to build its data set, and then use automation and predictive analytics to determine which segments they need to be targeting which offers.

It seems like we’re living through a period of walled gardens, in paid media anyway. Are you fighting against that?

We’re not fighting against that. We’re trying to give the advertiser an option where they can keep this unique identifier on their site. Most CRM companies are not inventory originators or publishers. And most advertisers would like their CRM data, which is their richest source of data to be kept off-site from a major inventory originator.

We fall into that category of CRM – specifically for mobile – but we are CRM. To give you a working case, you can create this data set and create Custom Audiences on Facebook with it. You can create Tailored Audiences on Twitter. You can slice and segment your data however you want, parse it into groups and then target your audience on Facebook or Twitter because it’s all keyed off the mobile number.

You don’t have to disclose to the inventory side exactly what that data’s comprised of, but that’s the flexibility advertisers want. We have to be able to interoperate, and that’s an important piece of the company. But advertisers don’t want the inventory originator to own that data set.

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