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Geotargeting Marketing in an Age of Data Control


Geotargeting Marketing in an Age of Data Control: Futuristic, or Just Creepy?

Geotargeting Marketing in an Age of Data Control: Futuristic, or Just Creepy?

There was a time, not too long ago, when geotargeting capabilities seemed endless. Every week a new piece of tech got the marketing industry all aquiver, dreaming of how geotargeting marketing would bring us more consumer insights and allow us to target consumers with an even tighter focus. We referred to this approach as “personalized,” optimized for conversions.

But when the mechanisms behind this personalization came to light, the picture became muddied. Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal spooked the public with how much data companies had access to and how it was used to push them specific messages. Then, GDPR came along to tighten the reins and put the power back in the hands of the consumer. In this new world of data control, geotargeting marketing seems not so shiny—and geotargeted content for some seems like one step too far.

Do we, as marketers, really need to know the finite details of our audience’s lives in order to market to them?

Imagine this: You’re walking along the street when your phone beeps. You take it out, and it’s not a message from mom—it’s the boutique across the road inviting you in to look at their sale. Or maybe you’ve logged on to a website to do some browsing, and it tells you the date, time, and weather where you are. Helpful or creepy?

Both of these situations are examples of geotargeting. As technology advances, we can get even more granular in our targeting and conversion aims. Knowing where your customer is—whether they’re walking down the street, or via their IP address when they log onto your website—can help to personalize their journey. Today the real question isn’t what geotargeting can do, but when it’s appropriate to employ it.

What Do We Mean by Geotargeting Marketing?

As you can gather from the prefix, geomarketing uses content targeted by location. It can be as broad as a country or state, or as specific as a perimeter around a building. We’re not talking about programmatic advertising necessarily—although programmatic certainly brings in location as a targeting mechanism—but other means of communication, from emails to pop-up offers to push notifications on phones.

The central idea is that by understanding a consumer’s real-time, or past, location, marketers can achieve the holy grail of delivering the “right message at the right time.” A prime example of geotargeting is Google Local Business—you know those options that appear when searching for “sushi near me”? That’s geotargeting. Google can tell by your IP address where you are and will only give you options for businesses that are easy to reach from that location.

But geotargeting marketing is not just for local businesses. Larger companies can use it on a regional basis to target campaigns and speak more precisely to prospects and existing customers.

Some marketers argue geo-specific content is cheaper and more effective than other types of content when looking to acquire local customers—and they’re right, to an extent. If you operate a store in Manhattan, then customers searching in Miami are hardly going to visit you on a regular basis.

Certainly, marketers have been making the most of geotargeted content for years through global SEO, location-specific landing pages, and even separate sites for separate countries. There are of course SEO concerns (Marketing Profs provides a useful breakdown), but from a content perspective it can be as simple as transcreating existing content to speak to a specific region. And, of course, location is key to personalizing advertising—the more relevant an ad or offer is, the more likely it is to drive sales.

But none of that information is new, and none of it is particularly creepy. If I’m looking for services in Australia, I want to read about Australian services. It’s obvious, and most consumers will accept that level of location-based marketing.

It’s the extension of this personalization, now enabled by technology that’s caught up with desire, that starts to set off alarm bells for people and raise GDPR concerns.

In-Store Personalization: Sales Booster, or Stalker Behavior?

Take, for example, geofencing. A marketer sets a digital perimeter around a target area, such as a store or an event, so they can target communications in a given zone or a given context. It uses mostly GPS technology—not IP addresses as with geolocation—to cordon off an area with a virtual fence. When a device moves into or out of the fenced area, triggers are sent and the user will receive a message, usually a push notification set up by the marketing team.

Of course, in the GDPR era, geofencing faces a lot of issues around permissions and opt-ins, so it’s likely we’ll see less of it while companies figure out their policies.

Then, there are beacons. Beacons, or BLEs (Bluetooth Low Energy), have loads of potential, but they also raise questions about potential intrusions into their privacy. This technology uses small physical boxes placed around an area whose sole purpose is to detect a device such as a phone as it moves around the location. The beacons send a signal that a device is nearby, and then a server sends a push notification, a text, an in-app message, or even an email—again, as decided and written by the marketing team.

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