As the online world slowly moves to a more privacy-focused environment free of cookies, startups building alternative ways to help businesses manage customer identity and build marketing around that are getting attention. Zeotap, a customer identity platform built around a company’s own (first-party) data that combines this with other data sources to create more complete pictures of users and what they do, is today announcing that it has raised a further $18.5 million.
This is an extension of a Series C round for the firm coming from a single investor, SignalFire, from its Breakout Fund, reserved for growth-stage investments. Founded in Berlin with operations now out of New York, Bengaluru in India and the UK, Zeotap has now raised $60.5 million for the round, with other investors including the likes of SingTel (via Innov8), Here (the mapping company), Iris Capital, the European Investment Bank, and a number of others participating.
Zeotap is not disclosing its valuation, but PitchBook notes it was close to $158 million post-money in the first close.
Zeotap started life initially as a platform aimed at mobile usage, specifically helping carriers broker deals with third parties that wanted their customer data. Over the years this has widened and evolved to a bigger opportunity not just to exchange data, but a place to draw it all together to build more useful customer profiles.
Projjol Banerjea, founder and CPO of Zeotap, said in an interview that the opportunity Zeotap is targeting has become especially urgent this year, in the wake of the global health pandemic.
“You have two companies right now,” he said. “Those that are using the current market as an opportunity to reassess marketing and drive efficiencies, and double down on streamlining their business. And those that are more resilient and seeing the current time as an opportunity to scale. Whichever category you fall in, customer data is important.”
The company is currently active in 14 markets, he said, with products aimed at publishers, brands, and data partners. Zeotap’s platform essentially covers a few key areas. First, a customer data platform based around an organization’s first party data about its own customers, which provides a unified customer view for an organization based on what it already has. “This is much harder to do than you’d expect,” Banerjea said. “Managing consent is top of mind here, while making the most of first-party assets.”
Second comes ID resolution. Zeotap claims that it hosts the largest marketing identity graph in the world, with a “network of identifiers that can locate a customer across different channels.” This can include offline phone numbers, email and home addresses, alongside browsing activity. “We can provide a bridge to the digital world for offline names,” he said, adding that Zeotap works with some 112 providers to pool data into a single, unified customer view.
These then come together in Zeotap’s universal ID+ product, which he said is “fully consent based and tokenized, with no data leakage.” This essentially is sold to clients whose marketers can then help their efforts “transit across the ecosystem without any exposure for the customer but also for any of our partners.”
A lot of the regulations that have emerged, and the reasons cookies are being depreciated, are to provide better protection for consumers, to give them better transparency around how and where their data is being used. Approaches like Zeotap’s may not completely eradicate that bigger issue — and some might argue that for the foreseeable future advertising and marketing will remain a cornerstone of how the web works — so much as create a system that makes marketing, and the big data profiling that underpins it, more secure, Banerjea explained.
“ID+ is designed for us to be able to connect the dots without exposure,” he said.
Zeotap essentially has two types of competitors at the moment, he said. Larger marketing clouds that have grown by acquisition, where a number of activities sit in silos but under one bigger umbrella; and those that have grown big businesses around the managing of customer identity, such as Liveramp (the company formerly known as Acxiom) and The Trade Desk.
But in an $87 billion industry, and at a time when having an online strategy is a do-or-die imperative, there is perhaps room for another.
“COVID-19 has catalyzed a transformation in the marketing mix as brands invest in their data and learnings to redirect traditional TV budgets to more effective channels,” said Chris Scoggins, venture partner at SignalFire, in a statement. “Our investment in Zeotap is testament to our belief in the company’s leadership, vision, and its rapidly evolving customer intelligence platform (CIP) with a built-in identity solution for the future of marketing named ID+ .”