Local merchants have spent the last several years acquiring social media followers and email subscribers with the faint understanding that these things were valuable, but in most cases, with little idea how to take advantage of them. Circl is an AngelPad alumni startup launching out of stealth today to help address this problem by closing the loop between online promotions and in-person visits.
Circl, which calls itself an intelligent promotions platform for local businesses, focuses on optimizing marketing decision making by measuring the effectiveness of various promotions and distribution channels at bringing a customer into offline stores. The platform has been in private beta for several months now with several hundred merchant testers, and has attracted signup requests from more than 1,000 businesses, ranging from local businesses to large national retailers, according to the company.
“As someone coming from the online marketing world where metrics and ROI are critical, it’s clear there is a lot of catching up to do in terms of showing local businesses the results of their online marketing efforts,” Circl co-founder Soso Sazesh says.
The key to Circl is its simplicity for both the the consumer and the merchant. There is no need to the end user to download an app. Rather, consumers simply click on a link distributed through social media or email to generate a promotion voucher. This must be done while in-store, and users must consent to their mobile browser verifying their current location.
The merchant then visually verifies the voucher, but doesn’t need to scan or record anything. Circl verifies the consumer’s identity through the social media platform or via a custom URL sent in each email. The platform also records the distribution channel used, so that merchants can monitor conversion rates of each marketing strategy.
As Circl grows in scale, the startup expects to gather a number of valuable insights, both at the macro and micro which it can then share with its clients. For example, the startup may hypothetically determine that promotions for restaurants and bars do best on Facebook, and when distributed at 2pm on Thursdays. Fashion and health promotions, on the other hand, may be best distributed by email on Monday and Tuesday mornings. More granularly, specific neighborhoods or regions may have their own dynamic that resident merchants can learn from to better inform their marketing decision making. Once a winning strategy is determined, Circl merchants can choose to automate their marketing through the platform.
One thing working in Circl’s favor at this early stage is that it does not need network effects to be useful. That means that the platform can have one customer in North Dakota or in Sweden that signs up and can still get value day one from the service. And because the end user doesn’t need to download an app or signup, they can begin immediately.
The challenge for Circl is that it requires that a merchant have an existing audience on either social media and/or email, with the more channels available the better. Without this distribution already in place, there’s little that the company can do to help. In the future, Circl has plans to help its existing customers increase their followings on these platforms, but at present, the product is simply about helping quantify and optimize marketing to existing audiences.
As the startup has attracted its initial customers, the biggest challenge has been one of education. Namely, local merchants are incredibly fatigued and leery of daily deals platforms or other local marketing startups. Thank Groupon, Living Social, and the dozens of other copycats that have inundated these business owners over the last three years. Circl is something entirely different, and is far better aligned with its customers, but convincing merchants of that fact is no easy task.
Circl is available on a free 30 day trial and is then priced at $99 per month for a business with up to three locations. Larger “enterprise” accounts are available on a negotiated basis. Although the company evaluated a number of monetization structures, including subscriber-count and marketing volume metered approaches, and conversion-based pricing, but at the end of the day decided that a flat subscription was both simpler and better aligned with its small business customers.
Circl works well for any business with retail storefront, but that does not require an appointment. This has led to early adoption among clothing retailers, car dealerships, restaurants, and nail salons, among other categories.
The startup exited the AngelPad accelerator and has grown its team to just four people, including two co-founders. Circl has yet to announce any outside funding.
Online marketing has been heavily focused on data and ROI for sometime. But online to offline marketing has lacked the same transparence. Cirl is a simple solution that closes the loop in this category, allowing merchants to invest in online promotions campaigns and for the first time have confidence in their ability to track the results they drive.