Location targeting – Being Contextual

Location is finally becoming central to our digital identities and our connected selves. Consumer mobile devices are now packing in GPS functionality, on-the-go data consumption is at an all-time high, and location-based social networks (FourSquare, Gowalla)  are growing fast. This trend is going to impact marketing dramatically in the coming years, mostly because it provides a point of context.

Media planners understand the importance of context. The environment of an outdoor placement or the juxtaposition of an online banner ad can make or break a message’s success. To best target an audience, knowing their location is incredibly important. It can be argued that it is the most critical piece of information to know about someone.

With increasingly powerful mobile devices, we are in the early stages of creating what sci-fi author Bruce Sterling calls a spime – an always-on, broadband-enabled device that knows where it is in space and time. These ever-present devices will make sending a message to a receiver at a time of perfect reception entirely possible. Not only will this transform marketing, but it may actually improve the lives of consumers as well.

Currently the technology is rudimentary and fragmented, but several startups are attempting to simplify it. GeoAPI, recently acquired by Twitter, is creating a digital library of exact locations (currently it has 16 million). This geo-database can help a startup looking to get into location-aware services. Similarly, SimpleGeo sees itself saving developers months of work by building and scaling location infrastructure for them. Xtify lets you location enable your web application without writing any native mobile software. Atlas CT provides a number of SDKs and APIs for easy development of location-based apps. Other players like Navteq and Foursquare are crowdsourcing Points of Interest for their own APIs.

While these API services are paving the way for creating an open-source digital representation of our world, this information alone will not suffice. If networks were to push advertising based on location alone, it would most likely be spam. This is because location isn’t the same as context, or the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event or situation.

Developers are beginning to release examples of applications that combine location with a specific context. Happy Hour app takes the motivation of finding a quick drink and provides. GateGuru (think Yelp for the airport) drills down to an average user’s layover experience. Brightkite is experimenting with targeting users with advertising through predicting context using past behavior. We are creatures of habit, and once enough check-ins are captured, ads can be served through pattern recognition.

At the end of the day, a vast amount of data is important, and this is a why all eyes are on Google this year. The company is pushing hard into the mobile space with its recent announcements for Google Goggles, Favorite Places, Nexus One, and even an attempt at acquiring Yelp. While these moves are impressive, they only scratch the surface of what the company intends on accomplishing. Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience, has in mind the ultimate goal of intuitive search, or presenting information to users before they even know what they’re looking for. The only way to accomplish this is through taking a user’s total context, and that is only possible through powerful, always on, mobile sensors – our mobile phone. Essentially, Google hopes to bring its behavioral targeting of the web to the physical world.

Google is in the same boat as every other service hoping to target the future of mobile consumers. To be able to reach an individual in that moment where an advertising message is considered relevant is the next step in marketing. With startups and giants alike laying the essential locational groundwork and building upon it, perhaps this will be soon to come.

Watch out for more in this space…..

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~ by digivine on January 20, 2010.

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