The rapid growth of smartphone adoption in the North American market means that very soon, the majority of mobile users will be walking around with very small, always connected laptops in their pockets and purses. Naysayers suggest this spells the end for many other forms of media. While that overstates matters, smartphone usage will invariably change the way media consumed. But suggestions from some quarters that digital place-based media is rendered immaterial by smart handsets are simply wrong.
There's no end of screens and devices looking for your attention the moment you head out the door of your home or office. There's good news. All that technology is evolving, adjusting and converging into what's called location-based media.
Smartphones, geo-based mobile services, proximity devices and place-based digital advertising screens have evolved into a powerful opportunity for brand marketers to reach, influence and engage consumers at just the right moments, meaning, throughout their day.
Ad-supported video screen networks in places like bars, restaurants, health clubs, convenience stores and retail locations are marketed on the idea that they capture the attention of otherwise hard to reach, active consumers when they are outside their homes. That's why agencies have dubbed the emerging medium digital out Of home (aka Digital OOH).
Meanwhile, as those screens have proliferated in venues, so have signs, window stickers and tent cards that are trying to drive location-based mobile check-ins or proprietary app downloads.
It didn't take long for the industry to figure out it made a lot of sense to integrate the marketing and have screens drive awareness and smartphones feeding screens with content. Location-based media was born.
Location-based media is basically any digital channel accessible to a consumer where they are in a defined geographical area:
· Digital OOH screens in the line of sight of consumers in a broad spectrum of venues;
· Geo-based mobile media through sites or in-app services that understand where you are, and tailor the experience according;
· Proximity marketing using Bluetooth (now), Near Field Communications (soon) and WiFi that can transmit offers and information to phones and activate running consumer relationships with marketers and brands.
· Digital audio: targeted in-store audio channels (think retail radio)
At first glance, they all look like siloed, disparate technologies, but the common thread is the consumer. Every day, people use these technologies to get to the content they want, when they want it. A retail store can have a Digital OOH network of screens throughout the store showing specials or how-to videos, be playing audio about a hot new product, be promoting offers and free content via Bluetooth networks and offering store wayfinding and promotions through the in-store WiFi network, all while consumers are surfing for product reviews online through their smartphone and receiving mobile offers for that zip code from a competitive retailer.
These networks are smart, local, relevant and effective publishing and sharing platforms that extend what a retailer, brand (and a consumer) is doing in the online world into the real world, during a real consumer situation. Think of it as a digital overlay to your daily life and what you want or need to accomplish.
It's one thing to go online and see who is the "mayor" of a fast-food chain location, but a wholly different thing to see the mayor's face up on a screen in that cafe, or a tweet about the cafe's newest smoothie on a different screen at the gym down the street. A woman at the gym sees that, retweets that with her smartphone app, and then heads over there after spin class. The consumer is engaged, her social network has the message, and the cafe made a sale. Nice!
These mediums are so well matched because just about any venue with a screen or other location-based medium is tagged with extensive profiling data. By knowing location, viewer numbers, demographics and consumer behaviors, these "location-based" networks are hyper-local by nature. Targeting and delivering content on a granular, hyper-local level is a massive chore with most mediums, or just not possible. With emerging content management and location-based ad targeting platforms, we're talking about a few clicks.
Some location-based networks have started forging partnerships with mobile and social companies to take advantage of these capabilities. For example, Groupon is signing up with networks because these screens get geo-targeted offers in front of people in new, different ways, driving activity and enrollment.
A bar network in New York increased spirits sales by 50,000 through 3D screens and NFC offers. Earlier this year, a Toronto company sold 16,000 discount vouchers in two weeks using a promotion running on customer-facing location-based screens.
As emerging technologies such as NFC find their way into personal handsets, it's expected Digital OOH screens and smartphones will have an even more integrated relationship. Over time, media analysts are predicting downloads of offers, utilities and additional information from digital screens and other location-based media will be common.
The global agency Kinetic recently released research indicating 60% of the consumers they surveyed were interested and willing to interact with digital posters.
"Because NFC transmission is so quick," the report indicated, "it's easy to imagine consumers walking past a poster carrying a promotion or attractive content, pausing momentarily or swiping as they pass, to download the content. That content can then be instantly passed from handset to handset by momentarily touching phones together, opening up the potential for a vast range of viral, social, location-based, interactive marketing experiences."
According to a May 2011 study by JC Decaux, consumers have high expectations of the digital medium, and "are keen to engage and that brands will benefit from creating a dialogue with consumers." Compare this to their feedback of online, which was seen as "an interruption to their experience".
No one thing can make that happen. It's an integrated, location-based media play that starts with awareness from largest, hard to miss screens at venues, and uses enabling communications technologies to start real consumer engagements through smartphones.
Location is about the moment -- about influencing consumers to do things not later that day or on the weekend, but right here, right now.