Building Relevance With Geo-Fencing

With local marketing, it’s easy to talk at a 20,000-foot level. But if you’re a brand that wants to play in local and isn’t sure how, geo-fencing is a good way to start thinking about your options.

Let’s start with the basics. For a long time, you’ve been able to target your customers using a simple kind of geo-fence. It involves drawing a circle of a specific radius (say, two miles) around a specific location and providing notifications or promotions to users within that fence based on what’s nearby. This isn’t bad, but it’s a bit of a blunt instrument. In order to get good results this way, you have to target users who have already signaled their intentions by searching on something or viewing specific content.

Today’s geo-fencing allows you to dig much deeper into what’s relevant to your customers. Rather than a circle, you can now draw any shape around a geographical area. In other words, you can isolate stores, neighborhoods, football stadiums, or just about anything else.

Needless to say, every brand will have different spaces they want to target. The key is finding a relevant location for your brand. This is an area where people will share intentions and allow you to find a higher percentage of people interested in your products or services (and more precision means better conversions, and hopefully more ROI).

For example, neighborhoods often contain houses with similar characteristics and a similar price range. If you are a realtor, whenever your customers enter a neighborhood that fits their profile, you can provide them with notifications about homes they may want to check out while they are there. A textbook publisher, on the other hand, may want to target only people who live on college campuses.

Not surprisingly, a variety of vendors can help you with these things. Some, like Maponics and Urban Mapping, offer off-the-shelf products that allow you to target people as they move around neighborhoods, convention centers, and mass transit systems. Others, like Urban Airship, allow you to send push notifications based on a granular understanding of people’s location over time and their stated preferences and in-app behaviors – in addition to where they are right now. And if you need to fence off a not-so-obvious location, like a fairground where a music festival is taking place, don’t worry. You can also work with vendors that create custom geo-fences (we’ve used Placecast to do this successfully in the past).

Once you know your area, you have two major ways to reach your customers: text messages and push notifications through location-aware apps. Texting is more popular because it works on all phones, though it may need more outside promotion to gain users and could have some cost to consumers depending on their data plan. Push notifications work whether the app is open or not, and use the IP network for a much lower, sender-only cost. No matter which you choose, it’s always important to make geo-fenced notifications an opt-in for your customer – nothing will damage your brand more than spamming. To avoid this and other potential minefields, I suggest teaming up with an experienced digital agency, though I may be biased, and get up-to-speed on messaging best practices.

If you’re looking for inspiration on ways to use geo-fencing, the best place to start may be your favorite brick-and-mortar retailer. The reason? Pressure. As e-commerce has taken off, retailers are seeing their stores turned into virtual showrooms for companies like Amazon and Many stores – like The North Face, Target, and Best Buy – are fighting back by using one of a number of platforms (such as Localpoint from Digby or Shopkick) that allow them to hit customers with offers whenever they enter a store. Retailers can also use new indoor targeting solutions, such as Meridian’s partnership with Urban Airship, to send messages targeted to specific aisle locations within stores.

Probably the biggest opportunity for brands moving forward lies in platforms that take these geo-fenced locations and combine them with behavioral data. In my next column, I’ll dive deeper into this possibility. As always, if you have any experiences you’d like to share, please get in touch.

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