Place Off: A Week in the Life of the Mobile Local Revolution

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There’s perhaps no other sub-sector of local media that’s heating up as fast as location based ad targeting — except maybe mobile payments.

A couple columns back, I covered the collision of big data, mobile and local (please refrain from acronyms… “BiDaLoMo”!). That covered some location analytics players like JiWire and Sense Networks. But since then, the action has picked up. In the last week alone, I’ve had in-depth conversations with others defining this space including Placed, PlaceIQ, and Telenav.

The week started with Placed’s “Panels” announcement. As background, Placed provides tools for app developers to understand what their users are doing offline. That aids product research, market intelligence, or better ad targeting. The newest feature lets publishers take that a step further by forming groups whose location and behavior are tracked pervasively. Think comScore panels for offline; the goal is to pull in all kinds of data about how users bounce around the real world.

By recording those anonymized patterns, publishers can can build user profiles or predictive modeling for all kinds of things, Placed CEO David Shim told me. And pervasive tracking provides a richer mosaic of data than things like check-ins or periodic ad requests: “This lets publishers report to media buyers that their audience is twice as likely to visit Whole Foods than Safeway,” says Shim, “or prefers Macy’s to Nordstrom, or their most frequented bank is Chase.”

Speculating further, campaign effectiveness can be proven out though tracking the number of users that showed up at a store after seeing a given ad. In that way its value is shown throughout ad sales, targeting, analytics and ongoing campaign optimization.

Of course all this sounds iffy in privacy terms, but that’s acknowledged in the panels’ many levels of user opt-in and the anonomyzed nature of the data collection. Publishers can offer financial incentives for their users to be tracked over a defined period.

Next I got the chance to speak with PlaceIQ’s Duncan McCall about his brand new case study that demonstrates 118% in-store sales lift for auto parts company Meguire’s (3M subsidiary) after applying precise location targeting. The campaign used PlaceIQ’s data to identify areas with high indexes of the desired user profile (auto enthusiast) and nearby Meguire’s locations. Rich media ads from Medialets were then displayed to capture user interest and provide nearest store locations. The result was not only sales lift, but a $1.31 return for every campaign dollar invested, a 2x engagement rate compared with Medialets’ benchmarks, and a 150% increase in response rates such as watching a video, finding closest store, or browsing products.

“After analyzing sales from markets exposed, compared to control markets not targeted,” McCall said, “this real measurable retail ROI indicates the power of mobile audience targeting using location data.”

Last but certainly not least in scope, I had the chance to talk with Telenav Senior Director of Monetization Ky Tang, following the company’s $22.5 million acquisition of Thinknear. The acquisition brings together ThinkNear’s location targeting technology and 7 billion monthly impressions, with Telenav’s own network of consumer-facing navigation products such as Scout and AT&T Navigator. These reach 34 million users total.

But perhaps more important is Telenav’s “Drive to” advertising. This is a closed loop performance metric that goes way beyond the click, to actually measure when an ad drove someone (literally) to a merchant location. Up to 40 percent of clicks lead to drives. ThinkNear can meanwhile target with sub-100 meter accuracy, boosting CTRs 4x on average. Its “Situational Targeting” also overlays myriad contextual data sets to boost relevance. This will all come together in Telenav’s newly launched Scout Advertising.

“ThinkNear can layer on more insight and context to any location,” says Tang. “Whether it be raining in the park or a sunny day at a baseball game. It takes that context into consideration in its ad logic and ad targeting.”

These are just 3 events in as many days (not to mention Esri’s acquisition of Geoloqi), which paint a picture of the pace and level of development of location technologies. Triangulating these, we can expect lots more investment and innovation in the space to come.

Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and others.

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Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at