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The value of harnessing location intelligence for marketing and advertising is undeniable. Since 2013, the percentage of Americans that own a smartphone has increased from 35% to 77%. Thanks to these high adoption rates and the utility the mobile ecosystem provides to end-users, smartphone usage is saturated and ubiquitous. As a result, the location insights gained from smartphones empowers marketers to deliver more personalized and relevant customer experiences than ever before. By leveraging location data, marketers are not only able to identify and target the right audiences more effectively, but they also gain invaluable insights about their customers, prospects, competitors, and store performance. 

Although the power of location data is clear, there’s still a lot of confusion that exists about where and how it’s derived, and what it can and can’t do. When it comes to location in advertising and marketing technology, it’s often assumed that all data is created equal, which isn’t the case. For marketers to reach the full potential of their location-driven strategy, they need to understand where the data is coming from and the quality and scale of that data in order to determine the best sources for their given use case.

Where is the Data Coming From?

Smartphones deliver a significant amount of location data from two primary sources: Ad Exchanges and Location SDKs. As a first step, marketers should ask where the data is coming from as the answer will determine how accurate and scalable that data really is. 

  • Ad Exchanges: Each opportunity to buy an ad programmatically through an ad exchange produces a “bid request.” Bid request data can include, but not limited to, timestamp, location, operating system, and device type. Individually, each bid request isn’t that useful, but across millions of bid requests per second, the amount of data being generated is astounding.
  • ​Location SDKs: Location-focused software development kits (SDKs) provide apps with the most precise and actionable location data that can be executed across a variety of channels. Different Location SDKs have different capabilities, but some are architected in a way that allows for precise measurement of entry and exit events into pre-specified areas called geofences and can do so without draining a user’s battery. With end-user consent, well-built Location SDKs monitor and process location data in an always-on state, even while an app is closed and in the background.

Data Quality

Both sources of data are useful and serve a purpose depending on the goals of the campaign. The sheer volume and variety of the data derived from the bid stream can be beneficial for advertising purposes. However, the data is incomplete and difficult to validate for accuracy because it’s passed down from publishers. 

Depending on how the Location SDK is configured, the data being collected can paint a more complete picture than the bid stream can provide. For example, the data derived from Gimbal’s Location SDK is collected in the foreground and background of an app, therefore making the data more comprehensive because it harnesses both passive and active location signals. This can also capture dwell-time (length of stay) at places of interest and can connect with more precise signals such as beacons to validate device location. Just as all location data isn’t created equal, the same can be said for Location SDKs. It’s important for marketers to do their research to understand how the technology company sources their data and what it’s capable of.  

While bid stream delivers data at scale, Location SDKs offer more comprehensive and accurate data. Both sources of data are useful and serve an important purpose depending on who the marketer is trying to reach and the ways in which they are trying to engage with their audience.

Making the Right Decision for You

When it comes to location data sources, there isn’t just one ‘right’ answer and oftentimes, the decision is to leverage different data sources for different use cases. Before implementing a location-driven marketing strategy, it’s imperative to determine the end goal. If your goal is to get impressions, regardless of the audience, the bid stream can provide you with the ability to reach large scale audiences, albeit limited accuracy, in real-time. If your goal is to differentiate your messaging based on if someone has (or has not) visited your store before, you would need to leverage the data derived from a Location SDK that provides a more accurate and complete picture of those specific users.

The way in which a location data strategy is implemented is tied directly to your campaign goals. With over 58% of retailers in North America saying they plan to invest in location-based marketing in 2019, it’s important for marketers to be well informed so they can pick a technology partner that fits their unique needs. 

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