From The Dream Of A 'People Meter' To The Reality of a Place Meter

by , Oct 18, 2012, 10:10 AM
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Oh the places we will see! Following the principle that mobile phones are essentially the real world metrics people meters analysts have been dreaming of for decades, the hot analytics startup Placed is using a custom panel of 36,000 triple opted in consumers to find out what businesses people visit most in various cities.

The results show remarkable variance in offline behaviors and preferences across regions. In New York, for instance, the aggregated data showed that Dunkin' Donuts was the most visited business, followed by McDonald's, Starbucks and CVS. But in Houston, Walmart, McDonald’s, Kroger, Subway and Walgreen’s occupied the top slots.

Nationwide, only Walmart and McDonald’s showed up among the top ten most-visited in all ten reported markets. Target was present in the top ten in six markets, but never broke a rank of #7. In the fast food category, beyond McDonald’s there was notable fragmentation, with Subway appearing among the most popular in seven cities but others like Jack In The Box (3 cities), Whataburger (2), Sonic (2) and Wendy’s (2) appearing less frequently.

Placed released the sampling to promote its Placed Panels product, which lets any business create its own custom panel, with its own app and outreach to potential panelists. Most businesses would likely want to create an incentive system to encourage use. The aim is to allow businesses to measure their own customers and the places they go. The geolocation technology has detailed business profiles of locations so it can infer from the panelist’s positioning exactly what business the consumer is visiting. The analytics can be especially valuable to online businesses that are trying to get a read on the real world offline behaviors of customers. The publisher can then use that data to deepen its own audience profile and sell its online audience to advertisers based on its offline tendencies.

Over 200,000 people have downloaded the Placed Panel app for Android and iOS, the company says. Upon activating the app and joining, the user is invited to engage in different panels that clients have formed. The user accrues points that can be exchanged for sweepstakes entries and other exchanges of values. Placed CEO David Shim tells me: “The Panel App measures location data throughout the day optimized to register significant locations.  This data is then processed through a set of models that then infers the user’s offline behaviors and is presented in our analytics to the panel creator. The Placed reporting is designed to only provide aggregate level information down to market, preventing reporting down to a single panelist. At no time does the panel creator have access to an individual user's location. The panel creator does have the option to push questions out to the panelist, or request demographics at the time of joining the panel, but these are optional features.”

There were no panels available to me when I tried the app this week, apart from Placed’s own default panel that offered me points for just using the app and extras for connecting with my social accounts. To its credit, the app was scrupulous in its explanations at every step about what it was doing -- offering me control over how my information might be shared across the social nets, for instance. I am not much of a fan of accruing abstract “points,” so that appeal was wasted on me. But the system allows the user to set and forget it.

Placed Panels appears to be an interesting example of how the hundreds of millions of mobile devices now in the world can be harnessed in genuinely meaningful ways. For years, media mavens speculated about the ideal “people meter” measurement device that really could tell who was watching or not watching the active TV set in a room. This model gives us an early glimpse of how location-awareness is another kind of profile. The places you go reveal a good deal about who you are -- and especially how valuable you are to specific marketers. For the last decade, behavioral tracking was measuring mainly clicks on a browser and inferring from that interest and intent. The cell phone is that mouse in the real world, where entering a business equals a click.    

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