Apps May Be Underestimating Location Targeting Power

In all the discussions about user sensitivities to location tracking, we  forget that most of us are agreeing to have our locations tracked by multiple apps. This is a missed opportunity, says app messaging service Urban Airship. “It’s clear that 60-70% of app users opting in to share their location is not uncommon,” the company states in its newest “Good Push Index” report on best practices in the app messaging space. In fact, a higher share of app users seem to be entrusting  publisher with their location information than give app makers access to their push notification channel. But many are opting in to both location tracking and push messaging, which means that a majority of apps could be reaching more than half of their user base with location-aware targeted messages.

But most aren’t.

Even among companies using audience segmentation in their push messaging, only 31% segment by current location. The potential for push messages keyed to location is enormous, some of Urban Airship’s clients attest. It's not just a matter of using location as a real-time trigger. REI is quoted recalling how tests in retail markets targeted people who had been near its stores in the past three months with notices of an upcoming product demo. The company also used the system to send Garage Sale messages. Responses to these location-targeted pushes were 4X greater than non-targeted messages. A U.K. gambling company attests to similar 4X lifts in engagement when location was used in targeting the push.



One app in the retail category, SnipSnap, lets users convert paper coupons into digital coupons. During the Black Friday 2013 weekend the app sent 400,000 push notifications, which included location-aware notes, netting 150,000 coupons saved to phones and 75,000 redemptions. SnipSnap gets a 10% to 20% lift in redemption rates when users opt-in for location-aware reminders.

While Urban Airship of course is encouraging push messaging as app engagement and retention devices for marketers, for consumers such messaging can serve as a media consumption platforms in its own right. Very often the information in the alert itself is all a user needs or wants. As Urban Airship itself points out, sports is one category where higher targeting of messages actually results in lowered engagement rates. “A primary function of sports apps is to give users game time alerts, score updates and league rankings for their favorite teams – all highly targeted notifications – where users get exactly what they want just from the push message without having to open the app.”

The platform provider and perhaps the app maker sees this as a missed opportunity to engage. Well, yeah, but I don’t need to engage the app to appreciate the media brand. In fact, the way the lock screen now works on iOS turns it into a customizable RSS screen for me. I know that if I tap the screen in the morning I will see my IFFT-triggered weather forecast, a pollen alert and a handy direct link to the morning edition of my new favorite news app, Yahoo’s News Digest. Messaging is saving me from the ritual app-poking to catch up on essential details. It is creating, unwittingly perhaps, a new mobile content layer, where I don’t necessarily expect a push to pull me anywhere. I just want it to form a new surface layer of at-a-glance information.

All this spells a great future for the lock screen widget. Android already has this capability in KitKat, and Apple inches its way toward it by allowing widgets in the pulldown notifications screen of iOS 8. And of course Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS was ahead of the curve by bringing rich app content to the top screen tile level, so users didn’t’ even need to interact with the device to get critical information.

In my mind this is yet another way in which we are seeing the app infrastructure -- which seemed so marvelous five years ago -- creak, crack and bend towards a less silo-ed approach.  

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