Commentary

Why Location Isn't Enough For Mobile Advertising

There are more than a few factors that make mobile irresistible for brands, but one that gets attention and ad spend is the ability to target based on location. This isn’t surprising; location allows brands to tap into a defining characteristic of smartphones—mobility—and provides a really powerful signal to inform targeting and messaging.

While it’s a milestone for advertising technology, a step forward in the ongoing pursuit for better mobile engagement, when it comes to mobile performance location is still not enough.

Let’s be clear; this isn’t a discussion around accuracy.

Location tech has evolved to an impressive level of precision. The real obstacle is how location—a single signal, one data point among a vast data set—is leaned on to define a campaign strategy.

To rely on it above all other criteria is to miss out on a broader understanding of consumer behavior, kind of like giving the color blue all the credit for the success of van Gogh’s A Starry Night.

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The challenge is to make sense of consumer patterns in order to to find the right opportunity to engage within them. That takes more than knowing where the consumer is; you need to know who they are, where they are, but also what mood they’re in.

Will they be receptive to advertising? Will they be receptive to your advertising? As brands can potentially engage consumers around the clock, there is a need to be strategic about which moments to approach them. When you reach your audience at the wrong time, you get the wrong result.

Some might point out that location makes an effective proxy for a consumer’s emotional state. For instance, when a consumer is at a beach resort, it is likely that they are in a positive state of mind. And yes, this is true on a generalized level, but it lacks precision.

For example, a consumer is at a stadium. This is only useful if it’s paired with event data that shows what event is happening at that stadium. A sports event -- is the local team crushing it or getting crushed? Again, while location data has tremendous value, you really need more to understand a consumer’s current experience and interpret their corresponding mind-set.

The location-targeted campaign also has limitations from a strategic perspective. When prioritizing place above all other factors, you are setting artificial boundaries on where that campaign can engage.

This is why the classic example of targeting a consumer strolling past the coffee shop stumbles: too-granular audience segment. A more effective approach would be to develop a campaign designed so the creative messaging can adapt when or if the location becomes a key factor.

If there’s reluctance to break the habit of zeroing in on one specific targeting capability, it’s understandable. It’s a habit for the industry, driven in part by the gradual evolution of advertising tactics.

We’ve all suffered a bit from “next-big-thing-itis” and that’s okay—the industry wouldn’t have made so much progress if not for the people who dare to try new things.

But now we’re more than 30 years since the first digital ad and the industry is armed with a decent amount of mobile experience, yet mobile campaigns are still failing to meet expectations.

That’s why it’s time to take our focus off the next big thing and consider whether there’s a different way to apply the many great tools we already have at our disposal.

Advertisers today don’t need more data as much as they need a data strategy that makes it possible to understand consumers, to see them as humans instead of devices, and then respond to their complex emotional behaviors.

This is why mobile moments are gaining so much traction among brands—they give brands a way to humanize the data that’s at their fingertips.

There’s no question that location is a powerful tool for advertisers. Mobile advertisers—and really, all advertisers should fall into this category by now—should embrace location to help gain a clearer understanding of their audience.

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