Is the U.K. Moving Ahead of the U.S. in Location Targeting?

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targetThe BBC recently reported on the ways that location analytics are being used to great effect in U.K. marketing campaigns. Included in the story is a carrier that’s able to identify the precise neighborhood where young fashionistas are most likely to look at fashion sites or apps on their mobile devices; an agency that is able to determine the exact bus stops at which its clients’ ads would be best-received; a text messaging campaign that targeted commuters near the Royal Albert Hall; and even a company that closed some stores and expanded others based on mobile data collected about customers.

Each scenario was a win-win for both businesses and consumers. The bus riders, for instance, got to see ad content that was relevant to them, while the advertisers could be assured that they were wasting less money on poorly-targeted billboards; and music loving commuters were able to access a free MP3 of a classical composition while the storied music hall added more names to its mailing list and sold more tickets to its concerts.

The United Kingdom is smaller than Oregon (although apparently Brits resent the comparison) and there are almost five times as many Americans than Britons. We are the home of Microsoft and Apple, of Google and Amazon.  If the American Revolution were fought based on technological powerhouses alone, we’d win in a heartbeat. Yet some advertisers in the U.K. are pulling off the sorts of campaigns that we only dream of here. It’s easy to chalk that up to the comparatively small size of the market, but that’s selling ourselves short. There’s no good reason that we can’t roll out the same location-based ad tech that has proven so successful in the U.K.

Start Thinking Patterns
People are creatures of habit, traveling the same route to work every day: getting on and off at the same bus stops everyday (not to mention passing the same billboards, going to the same offices, filling up at the same gas stations). As the aforementioned bus station campaign demonstrated, these locations can be highly analyzed. By examining the data generated at one bus stop versus another, it was easy to conclude certain things about certain groups of commuters. As data from Google demonstrates, 59% of  commuters are using their phones while waiting for their ride (it is in fact the number-one location reported by consumers as a place they use their phone). This use creates data, which in turn can be hashed, anonymized, and analyzed en masse to identify what sort of material will most likely appeal to a critical mass of riders in that station, at that time.

Think about it: from September to May, the 8th Street Subway stop in New York is flooded by NYU students who are taking the train to Brooklyn or points further uptown. It wouldn’t be difficult to figure out that students getting on the train during the day are going a different place than students getting on the train at night or over the weekend — and that the demographic of people taking the train over the summer is quite different than during the school year. Seeing the patterns in this information and using them to target the people we know are waiting for the train, when we know they’re waiting (and also acknowledging that the people getting on the train one stop up, at Union Square, might be targeted with entirely different content) would not only be easy to do but also certainly drive significant results.

Expect the Unexpected
The BBC article starts by noting that more “young people are … [more] likely to check out fashion sites and apps on their smartphones [in a southwest London suburb] than almost anywhere else in the U.K.”  This was certainly surprising to fashion retailers who considered the suburbs awfully, well, suburban, and likely spent very little of their advertising budget catering to these residents in public places where many of them would gather.

The act of cross-referencing location with behavior or stated interests will yield a lot of surprises — and even more untapped opportunities.  It’s on marketers to take that information and use it wisely. Put another way: when presented with evidence of shark activity in a place where sharks aren’t normally active, it’s important to proactively do something about that evidence, rather than keeping the beaches open (like the politicians and business owners in Jaws). The facts might be hard to believe, but the proof is in the data. So, don’t just sit on it; act on it!

SONY DIGITAL CAMERAAs co-founder and president of Vistar Media, Jeremy Ozen is responsible for strategy, business development, marketing, and key strategic accounts. Ozen was previously at Goldman Sachs European Special Situations Group in London monitoring a portfolio of venture investments. He has a BAS in Materials Science Engineering and a BSE in Finance from University of Pennsylvania.