Beacon marketer Swirl raises $18M from Twitter Ventures, others

Beacon marketing firm Swirl announced today it has closed its third funding round to date, bringing in $18 million from investors including Hearst Ventures, SoftBank Capital, Twitter Ventures and others. The investment more than doubles the company’s total raised to date, which now sits at $32 million.

As a location-based marketing platform, Swirl allows brands to reach potential customers at relevant real-world locations like a store, mall or other venue. Retailers install beacons—small devices that use Bluetooth and similar technologies to connect to shoppers’ phones—at strategic locations near displays, aisles and departments. Customers who opt-in (usually by installing the store’s mobile app) can then receive notifications calling their attention to sales, linking to information about nearby products, or offering coupons and other deals.

Swirl’s platform is compatible with a variety of different beacons and leverages an “Audience Network” of app publishers to make it easier to reach customers. Essentially, this means that a shopper doesn’t need to have a store’s own mobile app to receive beacon notifications—they can be delivered through any other app in Swirl’s network. It also means that stores can form partnerships with specific brands to promote their content in-store. So a shopper at Lord & Taylor might receive beacon notifications through the Reebok app about a deal on Kenneth Cole shirts. Or something like that.

Swirl’s own data shows that shoppers who receive beacon content are pretty likely to interact with it and make more purchases. But the sticking point is that customers only receive the content if they have an appropriate app—and even with Swirl’s network of app publishers, many shoppers will still need to somehow be convinced to install one. That’s why Twitter’s participation in this deal is interesting. Social networking apps have a much broader base of users than apps specific to brands and retailers, so an app like Twitter would be well-positioned to become the default delivery channel that brings beacon content to a much larger group of shoppers.

This is only the second investment Twitter has made with its venture arm, which still doesn’t even have a website. But with Facebook already piloting a similar beacon tie-in through its location-aware Place Tips feature, it’s easy to see why Twitter would want to stake out its own territory by betting on Swirl.

Related: Bluetooth Beacon Handbook