“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Eli Portnoy, general manager at Thinknear.
Advertisers at national brands tend to think of location as a targeting tool. If they need to reach people in Los Angeles, for example, they might buy some mobile ad inventory for devices with an LA area code or GPS coordinates that place them in the area.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it takes a short-sighted and overly simplistic view of the possibilities of mobile location advertising. Brands that only think of location as a tool for reaching the right people, in the right place, are missing the bigger opportunity to tailor the message in ways that speak to the moment.
In other words, big brands need to target consumers based not only on where they are, but also on what they are doing and what is happening around them. Then they should use all of that contextual information to customize the message.
The Street Corner Vendor
Whenever I’m in New York for work, I see at least a half-dozen street corner vendors selling a wide variety of goods that may or may not be knock-offs. What I’ve always marveled at is how attuned they are to the needs of passersby. I remember very clearly watching one quickly shift his merchandise from sunglasses and hats to umbrellas and ponchos as the sun disappeared behind storm clouds and a few big wet drops of summer rain began to fall.
So imagine you, the brand advertiser, are this street corner vendor. You’re conveniently located in the area where you want to be seen so you’re targeting the right consumer. But is prime real estate enough?
No. Just as a street vendor wouldn’t push sunglasses during a summer storm, you shouldn’t talk to consumers about allergy medicine on a day when the pollen count is low.
Contextual Data Is Key
Once a brand is certain that its location data is reliable, it’s time to think about other data, too. This can be as simple as the time of day, or as complex as weather and environmental patterns. For example, if you can ascertain that a consumer is across the street from a liquor store and you respond by running a beer ad even though it’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday, you did a poor job of connecting your location data to contextual information.
On the flip side, if you know a consumer is near a large city park on a high-UV day, targeting her with a sun damage warning within an ad for sunscreen, along with information on where to buy it nearby, shows that all digital synapses are firing in sync. Targeting the right people with the right message is how you can own the moment of consumer interaction with your brand.
It’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to undertake this sort of specific targeting without the use of good, reliable data. If Los Angeles is your target area, your platform would need to identify the devices in the areas nearest the beach, where people are more likely to be out in the sun, and target them on sunny days, but it also needs to turn off those sunscreen ads on rainy days.
It’s even more challenging for brands trying to promote the same products in multiple markets. If it is hot and sunny in Los Angeles but cold and windy in Chicago, a smart data-driven platform could target sunscreen to LA but an extra-moisturizing body lotion to Chicago, all within a few milliseconds of automated decision-making. By connecting reliable location data to weather information, these campaigns focus more on the moment than the mere location, essentially running themselves.
Make Location Pop
Location can help brands make even the most ubiquitous messages feel more relevant for a consumer. Say for Valentine’s Day, for instance, a chocolate company wanted to run a campaign focused on the theme that “Love is everywhere.”
Rather than filling the company’s Web and mobile sites with generic photos of happy couples sitting on a park bench or strolling in the rain, users logging on to get information about the product could be treated to images of the cities in which they were currently residing or visiting, depicting how in-love couples might spend their time locally.
Since location information indicated a consumer was in San Francisco, for example, there would be an image of a couple canoodling on Baker Beach, with the Golden Gate Bridge clearly seen in the background. Consumers from New York City may see a couple kissing in the middle of Times Square.
This is location targeting at its most accessible: The images in play were inexpensive and easy to create – and may even have been stock photos, in some cases – and it would have been extremely simple to identify a few key landmarks and determine which were closest to the consumer, before displaying the most relevant image given each consumer’s geography.
Context could play an even bigger role by superimposing the time of day and weather conditions over these images of romance, such as a particularly sunny or wet day that mirrors what the consumer was actually experiencing. This might make the brand’s message more resonant.
Location is one of the most powerful tools that brands can employ in their marketing strategy. Its power will continue to grow if we think of it less as how to target a consumer and more about how to tie a brand to a specific moment.