Foursquare Introduces ‘Attribution’ To Measure Offline Results

Company’s entry into location analytics segment adds further momentum to the attribution revolution.


Foursquare began as a “check-in app” and later evolved into a Yelp competitor. More recently, it has introduced location intelligence and become an ad platform for brands, relying on its first-party data for targeting.

Now, the company is introducing a formal product to measure the offline impact of online or traditional media advertising. Foursquare is calling its new product “Attribution.” The beginnings of that offering were on display last fall in the company’s prediction of iPhone sales, based on foot traffic volumes to Apple Stores:

With all eyes on the brand new iPhones launching tomorrow, we were wondering if our foot traffic data could indicate how sales would do this weekend. So our Place Insights team looked into foot traffic at Apple stores leading up to the launch of the iPhone 5, 5S, and 6 and analyzed it alongside Apple’s public sales data . . .

Based on these early indicators, Foursquare predicts that launch day foot traffic will be about 360% of a typical Friday. This likely means that Apple will sell 13–15 million iPhones this weekend, surpassing all previous records.

In a blog post (February 23, 2016) announcing Attribution, Foursquare president Stephen Rosenblatt discussed which Super Bowl advertisers saw increased foot traffic and location visits following their ads on TV: Hyundai, Taco Bell and Red Lobster. According to material provided by Foursquare:

  • Hyundai, the official auto sponsor of the NFL, had the greatest lift of all auto brands, with about five percent growth in the week following the Super Bowl versus the two weeks prior.
  • Taco Bell and Jack in the Box also saw strong lift in the week after the Super Bowl (~10 percent and seven percent, respectively).
  • Traffic to Red Lobster grew 12 percent in the week following the Super Bowl.

Attribution uses Foursquare’s first-party data to measure real-world foot traffic in the aggregate. It employs a control and exposed methodology to determine incremental lift in store visits:

We link the digital and physical worlds by integrating a simple pixel within any digital ad unit, and then noting the frequency of visits to certain places, and how it differs between exposed and unexposed groups. Because our data is first-party, we can easily access and analyze it. Whereas industry standard analyses report weeks after a campaign is complete, we can deliver our reports as frequently as daily, giving marketers the ability to adjust all factors mid-campaign and optimize performance in near real-time.

Foursquare is far from the first company to measure location visits. PlaceIQ, Placed, xAd, YP, NinthDecimal, Factual, Verve, Google, Facebook, Twitter, ThinkNear, UberMedia and others are doing versions of this. Indeed, 2016 may become the year of location optimization and “LROI.”

Though not widely understood outside of a small group of insiders, location accuracy has become a way that these companies attempt to differentiate from one another — both in terms of audience targeting and offline attribution. (See, for example, Factual’s “Suspicious activity over Greenland.”) In his post, Rosenblatt argues Foursquare has more accurate data than any of its competitors:

At Foursquare, we have better location intelligence than anyone in the world, with unparalleled scale and accuracy. We have the largest and most accurate foot traffic panel of millions of phones; 65 million crowd-sourced commercial locations in our database (used and trusted by 100K partners including Apple and Twitter); proprietary technology that senses when phones enter those locations; and a resulting one billion place visits observed every month — completely organic and non-incentivized.

Foursquare’s introduction of Attribution adds more momentum to the arrival of location analytics. Indeed, we’re in the midst of what might be called an “attribution revolution.” And traditional online metrics such as impressions, CTR, engagement and response rates, for many industries, will increasingly be replaced by real-world measurement.

(Some images used under license from


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