Apps & Marketing

Geolocation: Then and Now

9 min read

Gone are the days when location, location, location applied only to brick-and-mortar businesses. Location has played an increasingly important role in the virtual world, with personalization steering the customer experience journey. More specifically, geolocation data has provided marketers with an added layer of information to help form the customer experience. When combined with other demographic data available today, it provides the key to a marketplace in which targeted messaging can work wonders for an advertising campaign or brand activation.

“When we started, people were doing geolocation based on WHOIS data, looking at who IP addresses are registered to in public databases, to target whether somebody was a U.S. user or international, and that was the bulk of it. What we did to make it different is figure out where routers and endpoint equipment were to develop a rich map of the internet,” says Rob Friedman, co-founder and EVP of Digital Element, the Atlanta-based technology company that helped pioneer the geolocation space in 1999, when its NetAcuity technology was introduced, so users can be geographically targeted by IP address.

“Now, with mobile and people opting in to share their location with GPS, our customers are comfortable with even more micro-targeting in order to help consumers find what they are looking for and get advertising that’s relevant to them,” he says. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Digital Element recently announced it delivers 10 times more unique global locations than its nearest competitor. Netflix, Hulu, Pinterest, Sony, and the BBC are just a few of the hundreds of brands the company works with.

The benefits of geolocation in the marketing world are many—including localizing content by user and area, enhancing analytics, detecting fraud, and managing digital rights—using a few different methods such as geofencing, geo-conquesting (when one business poaches a customer from another via location-based ads), and proximity marketing. While IP-based geolocation is accurate at a granular level, it cannot disclose the actual identity or address of the associated user, so the data obtained is privacy-sensitive.

“Geolocation is a great way to drive consumers to specific locations for activations and rewards,” says Alen Paul Silverrstieen, CEO of the Canadian technology firm Imagination Park. Its ImagineAR augmented reality (AR) platform allows stores to create an AR activation (which can include coupons, sweepstakes, and a scavenger hunt) to gamify the experience for shoppers. “By leveraging mobile phones, AR delivers the rewards and messaging right into the consumer’s hands,” he says.

During the 2018 holiday season, ImagineAR was used by the Mall of America, the largest mall in the U.S., to engage shoppers in a scavenger hunt with the prospect of winning a gift card. This also assisted in directing traffic flow to specific stores within the mall. Silverrstieen adds, With the ImagineAR mobile app, consumers are required to opt in to participate in the location-based engagements as well as approve the privacy notice. As the locations are preset by the brands for each campaign, the location is already known in advance and the consumer acknowledges their individual participation in the AR engagement.”

MobileGroove’s chief analyst and founder Peggy Anne Salz says that most mobile users are willing to share their location information if permission is sought ahead of time and they receive something of value in return. The average consumer expects a personalized experience, what she calls the “sense of self-entitlement. Getting what you want, when you want it, is not even a question. A mobile website has to load in a second, so we have very little patience with mobile as a channel—and we have even less patience for something that isn’t relevant to our context or location.” Salz adds, “Location combined with other data is a way to supercharge that content for that experience. The magic is when companies understand how to combine all the data intelligently because then location becomes the ingredient in an entirely different algorithm to amaze us.”

However, an issue recognized by many digital marketers is that of data exhaust, as reported by a 2018 survey released by Digital Element in partnership with the Location Based Marketing Association. A 68% majority of respondents expressed some degree of concern regarding data exhaust, while 28% didn’t know the amount of data they threw away; 61% responded they were not using all of the data available to them. “There’s a lot of data exhaust because businesses are just throwing away data that they could absolutely be using. This data is equally applicable in the mobile world, serving a really important function to provide more relevant than blanket content,” says Susan Daw, Digital Element’s VP of marketing and communications.

A frustration echoed by Salz on the user front is that despite all the location data available to brands, many do not effectively present a satisfying personalization journey. As an expert in app marketing and user engagement, she is well aware of the data being collected but doesn’t see the current uses as fully realizing the potential. An ongoing debate is the security and reliability of the apps that consumers share their details on. “Advertising linked to location is a huge business, and app publishers who have location have valuable rich data. But they have to be careful about selling that data to other marketplaces just because they have it,” Salz states. She stresses that companies must ask, upfront, for permission rather than tell users after the fact. This holds true in the wake of several cases of privacy infringement and data breach concerns, including the Weather Channel app.

“Our hallmark has always been not jeopardizing any individual’s privacy,” says Friedman, sharing that Digital Element’s next focus is on more audience segmentation based on IP addresses (to bridge the gap between web and mobile traffic for better targeting) and attribution linking some of the mobile information with the IP address to ascertain whether certain actions net the desired results. He says, “In the end, it’s about whether you are able to give a better experience to your customers instantly and then determine if your actions can have you generate even more revenue. Everybody wins.”