Geo-Targeting: Old School and New School

Geographic location has become an essential targeting variable for any campaign, across efforts as diverse as dynamic site content, search, social media, and, of course, mobile, including apps.

Geographic Targeting: Old School

The current geo-targeting best practices for search and display media are straightforward and focus on targeting by country, state, metro region, designated market area, or city. You can also custom target by entering a street address and defining a circular radius or by drawing a custom boundary on a mini Google Maps interface. If you are a nerd, you can use the various longitude/latitude coordinates, which can then be copy/pasted to preserve custom targeting boundaries. This is all based on the IP address – some of which are dynamic or inaccurate.

So, how do you bypass the inherent limitations of IP targeting? In search, we often develop a second campaign, ideally with a larger targeting radius and implement geo-specific keywords. While the geo-targeted campaign may have the keyword “dive bar for self pity exercises,” this may only hit a portion of the intended geo-targeted audience. To reach the remaining audience, we typically extend the geo-target radius within a completely new campaign with extended keywords such as “conshohocken dive bar for self pity exercises.” You can also make use of location-based targeting in dynamic site content, featuring Florida trip ads or site content to the snow bound North dwellers visiting your site, or Southwest cuisine specialties to your Texas visitors.

Geographic Targeting in Social, Mobile, and Applications

But the real happening place for location-based targeted marketing is clearly in mobile and mobile applications; in particular, the social media applications that emphasize check-ins and connect you to places and people nearby. There is a world of difference, opportunity, and data between marketing location to where a computer resides and marketing location to the person who self identifies, checks-in, and announces their preferences and next stops.

As Google emphasized this week in its Google Buzz announcement, location is an immediate and important relevance enhancer. The rise of games like Gowalla, Foursquare, and others is testimony to the importance of place in a user’s digital experience. Several of these applications are opening up their APIs so even more advanced consumer opportunities and commercial targeting will soon be available.

The technology continues to evolve and remains both a limiting factor and a promise. HTML5 can allow permission-based, location-targeted ad delivery to consumers browsing on the mobile Web. Currently, it is supported in Chrome and Firefox, but not in Internet Explorer. The use of location-based data remains a point of debate, and just last week Apple posted a warning in its developer forums that if they use location-based data primarily for targeting ads the app will be rejected. Many apps already ask your permission to use your GPS location for app functionality, like the Google toolbar and Foursquare. You can even optionally geotag your tweets.

Likewise, the tremendous increase in smartphone adoption in the U.S. raises both opportunities and challenges. Not only are more people using smartphones, but the devices now cover more of their needs and their day with a multitude of rich, engaging applications – many GPS driven. The load is considerable. Our biggest limiting factors for even broader adoption are cell phone battery technology that hasn’t kept up, and the 3G/4G infrastructure that can’t currently support consumer use patterns.

The largest consumer advertisers have recognized the mobile/social shift in consumer patterns and have followed suit with extensive and growing use of social media and mobile campaign elements. Small to mid size businesses are now taking advantage of affordable, on-strategy, localized marketing opportunities they didn’t have in the past. All they have to do is participate and perhaps offer some incentives, and the community takes care of the rest.

As the digital experience and “real life” meld seamlessly for many into one thing, the opportunities for marketers will multiply as far as security or privacy concerns will allow and technology limits. For the post-baby boomer generations and for many others, the security issues surrounding place disclosure will not be an issue. This younger demo has been raised in a transparent world and the functionality of being able to find your friends or tap your network’s recommendations for surrounding hot spots far outweighs any vague concerns a minority might voice.

It remains to be seen how marketers can leverage the wealth of geographic data available now and growing. The path is clear in search and media where geography is one more variable to help fine-tune a targeting strategy. In the realm of social media and mobile apps it will not only be about buying location-based impressions or plays, but it might also be about mining the usage data, providing branded memorable or repeated experiences that are relevant for local audiences, or providing valuable tools that enhance the consumer’s mobile life. Stay tuned – you know where to find me.

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