Mobile Marketing and Your Digital Geo-relevance

Why businesses must establish their digital "being" now and keep an eye on the intermediaries that can connect them with passionate, influential mobile device junkies.

Date published
May 26, 2010 Categories

Einstein has given me some doubts about where I am. He demonstrated that time and space is really quite malleable. It leads to the conclusion that you can never really be sure that you are where you think you are; you can also never really be sure you are when you think you are.

Fortunately, we have these little computers we carry around called mobile phones to tell us both when and where we are…relatively. It turns out that these devices are fine for fixing us in time and space, unless you are standing too close to a neutron star.

These devices are also good at telling advertisers where we are, where we want to be, and where we’ll be in between.

Is “Mobile” Necessary?

The term “mobile” already seems a bit quaint. It’s like calling an automobile “out-of-home transportation.” It’s not necessary. It’s a car, and we “drive.”

Likewise, a device that is with us always really doesn’t need to be called “mobile.” All we have to do is “be” somewhere. The rest is implied. When I turn on a device that has GPS capability, I begin to “be” somewhere in the digital sense of the word.

Famed VC John Doerr admitted that we don’t have a word for the next mobile/social/new commerce “wave.”

“Geo-relevance” is written more frequently these days. And I like the double entendre: we can know what businesses are relevant to us geographically, but mobile device users are also making themselves more relevant wherever they are “being.”

Blue Clover Studio’s Tim Hayden prefers the term “mobile lifestyle” to describe what he calls “passionate and influential” smartphone users. He also likes the term “digital out of home.” My personal mobile strategy has been limited to adding a mobile theme plug-in to my blog, so I’ve asked Tim to give me his view of the mobile space.


Just as mobile devices determine where individuals are “being,” business can “be” somewhere in a digital sense as well. Let’s consider some ways businesses can use their “being” to connect with customers.

All we need is some intermediary to figure out when we are “being” in the same place as a business is “being,” and magic starts to happen. Because of the Internet, that business can send a message through this intermediary suggesting that I start “being” in their store instead of nearby. Coupons, menus, and hot new products may entice me to shift my location, and my digital beingness along with it.

Intermediaries find interesting ways to connect where a business is being to where a prospect is being.

Though subtle, the distinction is important.

You “are” where you physically stand. You are “being” where the Internet thinks you are. Where you “be” is different from where you live or where your computer is. As a business you can “be” in many places.

Tim imagines a day not too far in the future when a smart roadside billboard can be a place where your business is “being,” reaching out to passing mobile devices.

Your Friends

We tell our friends where we are “being” by communicating a business’s location. An e-mail with a link to a map is sufficient to establish a bar, coffee shop, or restaurant’s geo-relevance to others. There are some other, more interesting ways of borrowing a customer’s geo-relevance to enhance your businesses digital location.

Foursquare, Gowalla, and Whrrl are popular “being brokers,” encouraging visitors to build a business’s being by associating it with their being, sharing it with all of their social connections.

As a business, you should start by encouraging customers to check in through Foursquare or Gowalla. Install Wi-Fi. “Being” somewhere does not an ad make, so check out Foursquare for Business for opportunities to advertise to visitors and their social network. Brightkite is another, more venerable being broker.

Search and Place

Search engines with geographic features such as maps and routing act as the intermediary for your future being. If you want a hamburger; if you need a new dry cleaner; if you want to know where to buy a lab coat in a strange city, search combines prospect intent via keywords with their location. Search is your place intermediary.

Search engines do their best to establish a business’s digital being automatically, but you should help them legitimize and optimize your locations. David Mihm of packed a great amount of local search strategy into his presentation (download) at InnoTech Portland this month.

Mobile Devices “Wire” Our Touchpoints

Tim offers the example of a nightclub that issues cards with RFID chips in them. When a card-carrying patron comes to the door, the host can see on her terminal who has come and their preferences for seating, drinks, and appetizers. Tim believes that these “smart touchpoints” are well suited to leverage the digital location defined by our phones.

Tim asks businesses the question, “How can we have compelling touchpoints, beyond the device that will bring people back to the device to engage us?”

Mobile Applications

“I applaud anyone who is reaching out to mobile users who are passionate and influential,” says Tim when I ask about the value of mobile apps.

He prefers promotional microsites designed for the small screen. They can have more impact and are often easier to implement.

Some businesses are a natural fit for apps. There are services, such as MobBase, Kyte, and Mobile Roadie that can make it easy for any business to develop a third-screen presence.

Ad Networks

As I write this, I’m receiving the news that the Google AdMob merger has been approved. The Mobile Marketer article, “Google becomes world’s largest mobile ad network: 9 implications,” spells out the implications.

Because of Google’s self-service search advertising model, this merger bodes well for small and medium-sized businesses that want to begin leveraging mobile advertising.


Tim falls squarely into the “privacy is dead” camp. While we should have more control of our privacy on our personal devices, Tim acknowledges that where we “be” reveals plenty about us.

Influential smartphone users leverage the wholesale transparency implied by this utter lack of privacy. These users produce “earnest to visceral” user-generated content. They are building a public personal brand for themselves, and are exactly the people that businesses of all sizes should reach out to.

It’s hard to think about mobile marketing when we’re just getting our heads around search and display advertising. Still, businesses must do what they can to establish their digital “being” now and keep an eye on the intermediaries that can connect them with passionate, influential mobile device junkies.

Thanks to Tim Hayden, chief strategy officer and partner at Blue Clover Studio, a multicultural online and offline branding firm.

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