In addition to the usual suspects in any discussion of travel (Expedia Media Solutions will be there, as will Travel Ad Network), a company named JiWire caught my eye with a novel model of addressing the traveler at WiFi hotspots. The six-year-old firm started as a database of public hot spots that helped people find access points around the world. In fact, it still maintains a catalog of over 250,000 hot spots. But that model evolved into an ad network that serves ads into the hot spots for network partners like T-Mobile, Boingo and AT&T.
Users logging onto an access point will get the customary authorization screen where they can get a JiWire ad experience. In some cases, viewing the ad can be exchanged for free access time. In most cases, however, the user is exposed to the ad or invited into a larger interactive experience, before logging and going on her merry way online. JiWire has a reach of 20 million monthly uniques across 25,000 hotspots in airports, hotel rooms, Starbucks locations and college campuses.
The interesting aspect of JiWire is the extensive profiling of users it has massed over the years of different kinds of users occupying a range of venues. While not strictly based on behavioral tracking per se, the profile ultimately suggests a richer kind of geo-targeting that takes into account how environment in some measure indicates not only who you are but what you are likely to be doing. "We think about audience more than anything else," says David Staas, senior vice president of marketing. "We use WiFi as an enabling technology to do that, but our real approach is understanding what our audience looks like and even what the different groups of audiences are within that business traveler segment."
Through relentless surveying of users as well as layers of third party data about demographics, venues, DMAs, etc., JiWire is aiming for a tighter granularity than just "traveler." "We understand what a WiFi user in an airport vs. a WiFi user in a café is like," Staas says. Among café WiFi users according to JiWire data, for instance, 35% are actively purchasing something online while they are in the café. They tend to connect for one to two hours and at least once a week. And surprisingly, about a quarter of them are planning to buy a car in the next year.
But the geo-location precision of WiFi hotspots can go even farther. The network knows how to parse airport audiences between those waiting at the gate and those in the airline members clubs. It makes a difference. "If you are in the executive lounges, we know your title is much higher - CEOs and C-level," Staas says. "You will have much higher household income and these are people who have top level purchasing decision power. In the cafe footprint is going to be small to medium sized businesses. They will be very senior level within that category, but it's going to be much more on the SMB side."
Both audiences will be buying things for their businesses, but of a very different sort. JiWire might serve the executive in that members-only lounge a white paper for business outsourcing. In the cafes marketers might give a user an hour of free access in exchange for sitting through an on-ramp multimedia presentation. The precision of the geo-location allows for personalized creative that could direct people to nearby store or dealer locations.
In a campaign last spring for Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student software, the JiWire network was able to target venues with high percentages of parents with school-aged kids. It even was able to dynamically serve localized ad units that recognized both the user's location and environment. Ads into airports and hotels served creative that referenced local landmarks -- even schools -- and offered localized greeting cards to send to family.
Staas says that by layering geo-location with demographics, survey data and then knowledge about mobile use within venues, ad performance can increase 3X or 4X over the average online banners. Layer in localized messaging and venue-specific creative and the performance can be 10 time the average.
Of course this kind of nano-targeting is interesting in part because the target audience generally is affluent enough to make for a more acceptable ROI even in smaller campaigns. But the next steps are also intriguing. As WiFi-enabled handhelds like the iPhone proliferate, then there is the potential for an even larger venue-specific reach. But then the next step is to go out of the airport and into the air itself. In-flight WiFi is enormously promising as a venue where advertisers could know with a high degree of certainty what that user is doing and what her next steps and likely needs will be. "There is a very captive business traveler with three hours to kill," says Stass. Imagine the possibilities.
The OMMA Behavioral panel "Your Travel Itinerary" will drill more deeply into the possibilities of mining the travel segment, and it convenes on July 30 in San Francisco.