Sense CEO: SMBs Must Reach Consumers at Decision-Making Points

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As mobile advertising evolves into a core marketing medium, more and more businesses are trying to find new ways to reach consumers who are on the go. Sense Networks has developed new technology, called Retail Retargeting, that will enable businesses to change how they use location to advertise. Instead of just pushing out deals and ads when a person checks in or is in a certain location radius, Retail Retargeting will allow businesses to better know their consumers and their location behaviors to potentially market to them in advance.

Street Fight talked to Sense’s CEO David Peterson about what Retail Retargeting can do and how businesses need to shift the way they think about mobile and location marketing. 

Can you give a brief overview of what Retail Retargeting is?
We see, via our own ad network and our relationship with mobile advertising exchanges, hundreds of millions per month of location-enabled impressions where there is information in there about where users have gone. We have a platform that takes those in and looks at each one of them and says, “Oh you were at Target, you were at the ballpark, you were all these places” and remembers that over time. What that enables us to do is this Retail Retargeting concept. This is a way for merchants — especially for retailers and restaurants — to really use mobile advertising in a new way.

I think that mobile has struggled because lots of people think about mobile as an ad network where you don’t know anything about the user and you have a lot of difficulty figuring out if somebody did anything that was useful to your brand so why won’t you advertise near it? What we’re saying, is for the first time: “Why don’t you know something about that audience?” It really opens up the world of mobile to retail  in ways that weren’t previously available.”

How important is mobile advertising and location-based advertising for businesses today?
I think for small businesses, it is not that important today. But I think the reason why is that there hasn’t been a compelling product offering for why they would use it. I’d say it’s been pretty dormant, but there are signs of life.

If you look at, what are the digital offerings that small businesses have available to them so far, I think it’s pretty slim. I think one of the innovations here is Google click-to-call and daily deals. I think honestly, daily deals, the jury’s kind of out on how that’s going to end and it hasn’t played that much of a part in mobile.

I think that nobody has come to mobile consumers with an offering that makes sense. So how do you find impressions that are in your neighborhood, and how do you target? Two challenges — how do you target, and then how do you drive some kind of action that they find valuable?

On the homepage of the Sense Networks site it says that “geo-targeting is too late.” What exactly do you mean by that and how should businesses be moving beyond geo-targeting?
For me, when we say “geo-targeting” it’s really what I call “geo-fencing.” It’s this idea that you trip a ring around a store, and all of the sudden you get an advertisement. That is state-of-the-art in mobile today. That’s what a lot of people consider “awesome” in mobile.

Our perspective is that that’s too late. Usually, if you get somebody who has tripped a geo-fence, they’re going somewhere, they have something to do. So, you’re not really talking to your consumer at a point where they can make a decision. What you need to be able to do to them is to advertise in advance.

So, if you advertise to me now and you say “here’s a deal, at a place near your house,” that’s something I can entertain, that’s something I can think about. Our point with “geo-fencing is geo-targeting that is too late” is that you’re not reaching your consumers in advance of their decision. If I’m either at that restaurant already or I’ve checked in across the street, you’re not reaching me at a point where that decision is feasible.

So, you’re saying that businesses should focus more on potential customers instead of customers that are already in their store or just happen to be standing outside?
That’s right. I think I would include in that category that there are loyal customers, so people who in a neighborhood maybe use that store, but could use a little prompting to come back. So, I think there is an aspect of loyalty to what I’m saying. What I say is the anonymous drive-by in a coupon is less effective, because it doesn’t give me the decision making power and it conflicts with whatever I happen to be doing right then.

How do you think Retail Retargeting and this new data businesses have available to them is changing how they connect with consumers?
The mobile experience is a very personal interaction with the consumer. It’s one that you can interact with consumers and lots of times, when they’re on the go. I think it’s less formal than online. I think it’s a great medium for connecting with consumers and I think today it’s also exceptionally cheap… I think it offers, especially for SMB’s, that have physical points presence… I think mobile offers, because of this data, this location-targeted data, a way to talk to consumers that just doesn’t exist online. You think about location-based ads, you don’t really get them on your laptop, because your laptop doesn’t know where you are. I think mobile is an entirely new channel and holds a lot of promise for SMB’s and other people to have a physical point of presence.

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.