Gimbal’s Kevin Hunter

Proximity specialist Gimbal has acquired Phigital, a developer of mobile apps that promotes and connects location marketing with a brand’s own imagery and digital presence information in order to create a fuller online-to-offline experience for smartphone users searching for places to go. Read the release.

Financial details of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. Based in both New York and San Francisco, Phigital raised $3.5 million last year. In January, media consultancy PSFK promoted the Phigital app for its Future of Retail New York Tours, a showcase of local shopping in five neighborhoods. Phigital’s role was that of a “mobile guide” that included maps, social sharing, and content about individual businesses featured in PSFK’s list.

Mobile Marketing, Not Mobile Ads

Instead of simply highlighting one-off mobile ads sent to smartphone users, Phigital’s services allowed brands to present a permanent set of managable media assets — such as photos, videos, and textual information — that would encourage and interest users anytime they happened to be looking for a specific business type, such as a clothing store or a hotel.

“What we’re involved in here is something that is much more content-based, and it’s about generating awareness,” Sam Cole, Phigital’s president, told GeoMarketing back in February. “So the conversations we have with clients is in terms of adapting the traditional marketing funnel where you talk about building discovery, consideration, transaction, and then brand loyalty.

“The problem today is that, when you think about location-based marketing, it tends to be much more focused on blast notifications that basically confuse location with intent,” Cole continued.” Just because you’re passing by a Starbucks doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to buy coffee. What Phigital does is enable brands to deliver pretty targeted experiences to consumers that include a mix of locations, actions, rich media content, and incentives. In that respect it’s much more about a larger marketing strategy than generating advertising.”

Gimbal’s Expansion

For Gimbal, the idea of helping brands move beyond ad hoc ad campaigns into total, everyday marketing mode with location underlying their messaging, is the reason it’s chosen to buy Phigital.

“A lot of our customers were asking for the ability for Gimbal to deliver rich media experiences and content associated with all the fantastic things we can do in terms of bridging the digital and physical worlds,” said Kevin Hunter, Gimbal’s COO, adding that Phigital had integrated Gimbal’s technology into its own platform over a year ago. “And we continue to have many partnerships in that area. Some customers want to leverage their existing partners, while others want a turnkey solution. At the end of the day, we realized we needed to bring [Phigital’s] functionality in-house to serve the needs of our customers who want the power to create rich user experiences in addition to the geofencing and proximity marketing services we already offer across our platform.”

While known for its work with indoor beacons at sports stadiums and shops, the San Diego proximity services provider recently began expanding into out-of-home services as well. In August, it struck a major partnership with Elle magazine to provide geo-targeting and in-store deals promotions on behalf of the publication’s advertisers, including Barnes & Noble, Levi’s, Vince Camuto, and Guess for a mobile-based program dubbed “Shop Now!”

Gimbal — the name refers to the support system of a gyroscope, which is particularly useful for orienting a device for location and direction — was spun out of Qualcomm Retail Solutions in May 2014.

Gimbal's Jeff Russakow
Gimbal’s Jeff Russakow

At the end of July, Gimbal’s transition from Qualcomm appeared even more complete, as CEO Rocco Fabiano, who led the company from its incubation period under its former parent, handed the position to Jeff Russakow. As president and CEO, Russakow, who has held top posts at Yahoo and Findly, will be expected to solidify Gimbal’s gains in the increasingly crowded proximity marketing space. This is its first acquisition under Russakow.

As Phigital built out is marketing services while using Gimbal’s proximity tools, Gimbal saw the opportunity to create a complementary and seamless set of offerings in-house, Hunter added. The goal is ensure that consumers use location apps in a way that is informative and entertaining — and ultimately, that the marketing is appealing enough to keep them frequently interested and engaged, Hunter said.

“Consumers increasingly expect stimulating mobile experiences that are tailored to their preferences and informed by their physical context. As these location and proximity-triggered experiences are becoming mainstream, customers want the ability to create such experiences directly and easily, on the fly,” Russakow, said in a statement. “Gimbal’s expertise in macro- and micro- location, combined with Phigital’s rich experience platform, further solidifies our position as the industry-defining platform for location-relevant mobile engagement.”

Next Steps

As for how the two services will go to market as one entity, Hunter said that there’s a lot to be worked out when it comes to combining the teams and the companies’  respective products.

“We’re bringing the majority of the Phigital team over and they’re great people with great background,” Hunter said. “We think it’s going to help us continue to drive our leadership in the market where there is an exchange being created between people and places. And we’re in a great position to help unlock the value of that for brands and their customers.”

In a statement from Phigital, the company is telling clients that its platform will be integrated with Gimbals. Once that’s complete, the combined features will be available to developers and marketers early next year. In the meantime, the app and platform will continue to be available as they are now.

The entire engineering team is now part of Gimbal and will operate under Phigital founder Paul Cheng, who is joining Gimbal’s executive team as the SVP & GM, Marketplaces.

“Phigital was founded with the vision to provide brands and advertisers with a full creative suite for building and orchestrating more engaging consumer experiences through mobile and connected devices,” said Cheng, in a statement. “Incorporating the Phigital capabilities into Gimbal’s leading location and proximity platform creates a powerful end-to-end solution for delivering rich content at the right time and place. We are very excited to join the Gimbal team.”