The Importance of Where: Geo-Targeting Is a Marketer’s Best Friend

Picture the Internet marketing landscape a decade ago. It was a jumble of ad products, all of them vying to be the loudest voice in the room. When brands began to familiarize themselves with geo-targeting and the idea that they could customize messaging based on a potential customer’s location, it seemed to be an attractive alternative. Here was an ad strategy focused on relevance. Here was an approach that made sense.

It’s these characteristics that have kept geo-targeting going strong in the years since. Case studies and industry articles frequently tout its advantages, from boosting conversion rates to maximizing ROI. But a marketing plan can’t thrive if it doesn’t evolve, especially in a digitally progressive environment. Reaching consumers through the desktop is no longer a sure thing, and their preference for an omnichannel experience requires a strategy shift.

Location-based advertising is exactly that. Geo-targeting and location-based targeting are the same in a way, combining mobile marketing with location-based services (LBS) native to mobile devices, services typically used for mapping and directions, weather apps, and geo-social networking. In marketing, their applications are even more widespread. They allow retailers and brands to bypass the need to target consumers with cookies that track online behavior, instead concentrating their efforts on where customers are spending their time and using that data to inform ad messaging. If a consumer is waiting for a bus near a Starbucks and is served an ad about the latest seasonal drink, that’s an impression well spent. Content is nothing without context, and location-based advertising ensures that marketers get both.

But is this really the best approach? Some believe it’s even more effective to deliver ads related to areas where consumers spend time than it is to zero in on an exact location. The latter presumes the consumer is in-market for a product, which may not be the case; if they’re rushing to work, or they’re in an unfamiliar part of town for an appointment, they might not stop to make a purchase. Leveraging information about multiple locations where they’ve been, however, provides insight into their lifestyle, preferences, and routine — data that marketers can use to create more meaningful messaging. Keeping your brand top of mind even when shoppers aren’t on your street can produce actionable results.

Taking the concept a step further, marketers are embracing geo-fencing, another iteration of geo-targeting. Think of it as a virtual enclosure determined and defined by the advertiser. When a consumer enters it, the advertiser receives an alert and an ad message is deployed. It’s incredibly useful for retailers and restaurants: deliver a coupon to a consumer when she gets near the mall, or an ad promoting a brand new fast-food location when a smartphone user enters the neighborhood. Uber is currently using geo-fencing to ensure its drivers don’t get too close to LAX airport, where they aren’t licensed to operate. With geo-targeting products, mobile marketers can develop messaging that’s unique to specific states, provinces, DMAs, or geo-fences. Retailers in major cities have used geo-fencing to ping consumers when they get within a 10- or 20-mile radius of a location, knowing customers come in from the suburbs. Hotels can use it to reach travelers on the highway. Others have employed the tactic to increase awareness of seasonal sales or special events that tend to draw a broad audience from afar. And as part of a loyalty or CRM program, geo-fencing allows brands to deliver bonuses and discounts that keep consumers coming back.

There are geo-targeting scenarios, though, that should give marketers pause. Geo-fencing isn’t yet widespread, but adoption is growing…so what happens when every store on the block is pelting consumers with location-targeted ads? Or when multiple stores owned by the same parent company find themselves robbing one another of business?

The solution? Don’t rely on geo-targeting alone. Pull in additional user data from social media to flesh out consumer profiles and craft ads sure to resonate with their recipients. Leverage environmental factors like time of day and weather to build more personalized creative. That’s really where geo-fencing belongs: in a marketing strategy that integrates multiple programs and technologies to create a cross-channel experience that’s ultra-relevant and always-on.

Omnichannel shopping is the new normal, as evidenced by the scores of consumers who now utilize every available channel to get what they need. Mobile media has become an integral part of the consumer experience.

And geo-targeting is right by its side.

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