Marketers need to head in a different direction when it comes to location

Chances are, if you asked most marketers, agencies or ad tech companies to give an example of how they can harness the power of mobile and location, they’ll point to the tired example of “man walks past Starbucks and gets served a coupon offering him 10p off his morning latte”. To think of location in such crude terms is underselling its opportunity.

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It was interesting – perhaps even telling – that one of the most salient points raised at the IAB’s Mobile Engage conference this week was made by someone who’s only been in the mobile industry for eight months.

Former Trinity Mirror managing director of digital media Ian Dowds, now UK, France and DACH vice president and general manager for brand at ad network InMobi, bemoaned the temptation by the marketing industry to talk about location in terms of that point in time, rather than tapping into location history to build up patterns of user behaviour.

Dowds said too often location-based marketing messages are irrelevant: “Being near a retail location does not always mean I’m about to shop. I could be on the school run, or a work lunch and this is absolutely not the time to talk to me about retail.”

Using location to understand when it might be necessary not to contact consumers should be given equal priority to understanding when they can be targeted. Brands should be using location data to provide utility to consumers, not just to zoom in on them like snipers with money-off vouchers just because they can. Not only does that devalue the power of location, but such a small-minded approach cheapens the brand in the eyes of the consumer.

For marketers, thinking about location should go beyond campaign level. The Google Now app sets the current benchmark when it comes to having an ongoing location strategy. “Always on”, if you prefer.

Currently, my Google Now cards are telling me how long it will take to travel to my next meeting, what the length of my journey from work back home is looking like later on this evening, that the current temperature outside is a balmy 23 degrees so I won’t need to wrap up on my commute and it’s served me with reviews of some local eateries should I get peckish before I jump on the tube. All I needed to do was hold down on the home button on my phone.

That wealth of useful information provided very little user input – and much of that information can be utilised by brands using simple APIs. Yet few brands are using location to make themselves relevant to consumers. In fact, a lot of the brands are using location in their marketing communications are just pissing people off.

Consumers don’t want to be served with a search ad for a holiday in Barcelona when they’re on holiday in Barcelona. Consumers may be 100 metres from a shop front, but that doesn’t mean they want an interruptive geo-targeted message popping up screaming for attention that there’s a special offer on muffins NOW and they must hurry themselves in-store to purchase one THIS INSTANT. Nobody wants a crass GOLF SALE sign on the screen that’s most intimate to them.

Marketers need to recognise that the benefits of location do not just lie in the here and now, but instead use location – with opt-in permission and sensitivity – to build up insights on what makes their customers tick. Let’s move location in the right direction.

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