Digitas’ Leary: Brands Still Figuring Out the ‘Right Level of Local’

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digitasFor brands, mobile has become more than a medium for advertising; it’s an invaluable source of customer data. From loyalty programs to in-store wi-fi tracking, mobile presents brands and their agencies with an unprecedented ability to aggregate and analyze information about their customers as they move throughout their day.

It’s an opportunity, which Digitas, a digital wing of marketing conglomerate Publicis, is seizing. The agency has run mobile campaigns for brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, Goodyear, and Whirlpool, and just rolled out Mobile Context Graph, its own proprietary data product. 

Brett Leary is VP of mobile at Digitas, and oversees the agency’s mobile strategy.  He spoke with Street Fight recently about the need to analyze location in terms of “context,” brands’ budding interest in shopper analytics, and “the right level of local.”

Brands have just started to dip their toes into local this year. Where are you seeing the most interest from brands today?
We’ve definitely seen a lot of interest from clients that have a brick-and-mortar presences, for whom driving traffic is a big deal. They want to get people inside a store to engage a product or customer service representative. We’ve see a lot of interest from quick-serve restaurants (QSR) and retail clients.

But when you look outside those categories and start to think about mobile and location’s impact on service-oriented businesses. They are trying to figure out how location and other contextual data can be leveraged by us to enhance their customer’s experience. In a service business, where the content strategy is very important, how does the location help direct our content plan. Are we looking for dynamic content capability to change based on a user’s whereabouts?

Traditionally, “local” has been silo-ed, largely kept separate from national campaigns. In considering mobile, how has the way marketers view “local” evolved?
Location is definitely a very important piece of data — yet to us it’s just one of the elementary contextual data that we use to better understand consumers, and more importantly, help us identify the moments that really matter in a consumer’s life. We’re not just interested in where a person is for location’s sake, but also what that location can tell us about where they are in a purchase cycle . If we overlay location information with the content a user consumes or the actions a user took with their mobile device, you can start start to get a much more accurate view of why that person is there, or what they’re doing, and perhaps predict what their next move is within that situation.

Mobile devices have opened up huge amounts of location data to marketers. How are brands using location data beyond targeted advertising?
From a shopper-marketing perspective, a lot of companies are very interested in the phone’s ability to act as a conduit between the physical and digital world. We’re starting to see technology and approaches to using location in interesting ways. Storefront analytics, for instance, have started to pique [brands’] interest. There’s lots of interest in helping us analyze data at a local level. The in-store proximity tech that are at play, whether it’s wi-fi mapping in-store or Bluetooth audio beacons that are used by companies like Shopkick. All of that creates very interesting ways to engage a customer. Think about the data that’s generated, when you start to tie that data to customer journey and understanding what got them there that becomes very valuable to marketers like us.

Privacy advocates and even some folks in congress have had choice words for shopper analytics firms. What impact have privacy concerns impacted brands investment in hyperlocal technology?
I would say starting they’re still a little bit wary about the privacy implications here. No brand wants to perceived as creepy in their interactions with customers, so they will treat lightly in implementing this. They will look to see some more aggressive or innovative brands that may test things like simple geo-fenced text alerts, and evaluate their effectiveness before they start doing location-based behavioral targeting.

Loyalty and CRM strategy is a big focus at Digitas. How do you approach some of the new tools emerging from the startup ecosystem?
We’re extremely focused on connecting loyalty/CRM activities, and all the heavy lifting that goes into those programs, with consumer experiences that occur in the digital world. As far as the startup ecosystem is concerned, when we look at loyalty tool, what we’re trying to figure out is how do we apply this solution to solve our client’s problems. How do they fit within their existing technology stack? What’s the consumer experience? That often gets overlooked in this space when we get enamored by being able to target people on the corner of the street or paying with a phone. We want to make sure that we’re delighting a consumer, not creeping them out.

More and more, loyalty plays are  going after the enterprise market. What has the reception from brands been like?
Yes, we’re forming strategic relationships with some of these young companies. Whether it’s really early stage and we’re just performing tests, or more mature, funded startups, when were using their solutions on behalf of our clients. But with the companies of the size that we have, they tend to manage loyalty in-house. This is their gold, and they protect it with proven, scaled technology in the background to manage it.

Okay, now for the wide-open closer: what’s holding back brands from investing in hyperlocal today?
There are definitely concerns about privacy implications: how can we be assured that we’re not violating consumer privacy. But, for the most part, it’s a question of efficacy and information: Can we reach enough people at scale to really make a difference?

If most consumers spend the majority of their time within a few miles of their home, they likely know where their local coffee shop is: so, why would we need to throw up a Starbucks ad in front of their face when they walk by? Does ZIP-level targeting suffice, or do we need to go down to the hyperlocal level? Companies are still trying to figure out what level of local we need to get to in order to make things work.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.