Location Is Mobile's Cookie - And Footfall Could Be Its Metric, Thanks To Beacons

Very interesting to see what Starbucks and Asda are doing with mobile advertising. Tracking click-throughs has kind of worked, in a very limited way, on the desktop, when it's the only metric deployed -- but let's face it, when did you last click on an ad? So it was never really going to stand much of a chance on the much small mobile screen.

I've blogged before that mobility is all about location, and so a person's whereabouts becomes the nearest thing to a cookie telling the brand what they may be most receptive too. It's not a perfect science, because there is no such thing as a guaranteed response. However, coming up to land from the tube and seeing a mobile advert pointing out the station has a Starbucks offer or parking up at an out-of-town shopping centre and seeing the local Asda has flat-screen tv Christmas deals running that day are more likely to be pertinent because they are served to someone who has the ability to act on the information. 

Certainly the initial campaigns by Starbucks and Asda have led each brand to say they are encouraged by response rates. Crucially, these are not being measured in those who have clicked through on a tiny screen, but far more usefully, those who have stepped into a store. The 60% rise quoted by the tech vendor, xAd, sounds like exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a supplier and isn't repeated by the brands. However, reading between the lines of statements, it seems that both brands are happy to be on the record stating they have seen a rise in footfall.

The obvious question here, of course, is how you measure that footfall. More importantly, how do you measure incremental footfall? If you're advertising within a mile radius of a superstore, you might be reaching people who were coming anyway. And what would you compare it with? I can imagine we're at a time of footfall increasing in the run up to Christmas and so if you compare shoppers to last week, you may well find they're up anyway. Compare numbers to last year and you might just find that people have got more cash this year than last.

What's really needed here is something in the stores that can (anonymously) identify devices as they cross the threshold and even go on to welcome the shopper if they have signed up to be a part of its loyalty programme and consented to being recognised and sent individual rewards.

What's needed is simple -- beacons. Whether it's iBeacons or another technology is up to the store concerned but a way of knowing that people who have been targeted by your advertising have subsequently elected to walk through the front door would complete the circle. On the one hand, brands know they have advertised locally, they may also see that particular store's receipts are up on the day too. Without knowing how many people advertised to came in to a shop, though, you're always going to be open to conjecture as to whether it was just a good day. Trust me, the advertising agency or vendor will take any random uptake in sales as being ascribed to them and write off any dip as the result of poor stock levels and bad weather.

That's why having the data is so important -- because, to quote a cliche, it really is the oil that the digital age runs on.

So, these are interesting times. Asda has confirmed it is looking into beacon technology and so one can easily imagine it, and other stores, piecing together their early attempts at localised mobile advertising and beacon pilots to see if they can close the loop between message, consideration, footfall and purchase. 

Mobile has always promised to offer a great deal, but struggled in the world of tiny banners and buttons. Add location to in-store beacons and I truly think we'll find out what mobile had up its sleeve all along.

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