Toronto firm brings direct mail marketing online with unique privacy service

A Toronto-based startup is offering digital direct mail marketing with a unique privacy-protection service.

While traditionally, direct mail marketing has relied on snail mail, Bering Media has brought the method online.

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The Toronto firm, acts as an intermediary between Internet service providers (ISPs) and advertisers looking for location-specific promotional opportunities online. Bering can connect an advertiser promo with the appropriate ISP location, without revealing any personal or proprietary information about the folk being targeted.

A double-blind network architecture — a transaction-based system run in the cloud — makes this possible, says Nicolas St. Pierre,

What does that mean in English?

Bering allows a business to display its advertising to people they intend targeting, but doesn’t share back information about the actual location, name or address of people being targeted, St. Pierre says.

The company has attracted both investors and clients in its first 18 months of operation.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Tech Capital Partners became lead investor in a financing round that ended Jan. 20. That fundraising effort also brought in capital from the GrowthWorks Commercialization Fund and the Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund.

The direct mail method is a large percentage of the land-based advertising market, says Jacqui Murphy, partner with Tech Capital. That same spending method hasn’t occurred in the online marketing world yet, but this technology makes it possible.

“What they’ve developed on the privacy architecture side is quite compelling,” she says. “Everything you read these days points towards advertising becoming more relevant for people.”

Tech Capital manages $95 million in venture capital and also vouches for Bering Media’s management team. They’ve got a good rolodex of industry contacts, Murphy says, and it when it comes to domain expertise, “these guys have it in spades.”

Bering Media works with ISPs that provide wired broadband access, St. Pierre says. The firm doesn’t examine any users’ browsing habits, or personal data. Rather it just uses the location with the service provider as a basis for the advertising they want.

“We don’t get your information, so there’s no trust issue between the user and us,” he says. ISPs “don’t share your information, all they share is that you match the criteria for a marketing campaign.”

The startup has received business development assistance from MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto-based business incubator.

Likewise, the person receiving a pitch can’t identify what market an advertiser is targeting. So the advertiser’s proprietary information is protected too.

It included help in creating and funding a white paper on the importance of privacy to the firm. It would be an important document Bering Media left with potential investors and clients.

“We wanted to make sure they had a reputable third-party opinion on their product,” says Krista Jones, practice lead of ICT for MaRS, “and whether it really did work in the local advertising market.”

Technology startups must build privacy into their products and services from day one, she adds. Otherwise, they will have to later revisit their business process or rework the product to accommodate it. Clients and investors expect privacy as a standard.

Bering Media was exhibiting at the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Privacy by Design conference Jan. 28. St. Pierre gives MaRS credit for giving legal advice, networking opportunities, and introducing some customers.

“They’ve been absolutely instrumental in us being successful,” he says.

The location-based platform can cut down to neighbourhood level. Web surfers will see the local ads appear on Web sites they are surfing.

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