WPP Mobile Exec: Location Already ‘Not Special’ in Ad Tech

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WPPBy the end of 2014, marketers are expected to spend more on mobile advertising than on newspaper and radio spots combined. And yet, the mobile gap — the lag between what marketers will spend and the amount of time consumers spend on smartphone — remains. The challenge for brand marketers is in quantifying the massive influence, which mobile marketing spending has in the brick-and-mortar stores of the offline world.

Michael Lieberman is chief executive North America at Joule, the global mobile practice at marketing megalith WPP. The firm, which spun out of WPP’s Out-of-home agency Kinetic in 2009, has worked with Unilever, Paramount Pictures and AT&T, among others.

Street Fight caught up with Lieberman at the Place conference in New York earlier this week to talk about the copy-cat syndrome among mobile-local ad tech, how brands have ditched geo-fencing, and why influencing consumers’ impulse purchases in stores might be the next big growth market for digital marketing dollars.

You mentioned that among your clients, the practice of using location data to help identify audience on mobile had become nearly ubiquitous. How prevalent are some of the more direct forms of local targeting among the brands which you represent?
I would say that very few of our clients are doing any form of geo-fencing anymore. We just didn’t see the bump in results in the idea that advertising around the store means you’re going to hit people who want to go into that store. Unless you’re doing exploding offers or layering another form of targeting. It’s just a false premise. Having said that, I would say that about half of our clients are doing some form of competitive conquesting in a local format.

But yes, nearly all of our clients are using location as a data point to identify their audience. And I believe that it’s just as good an indicator as where someone browses online.” With cookies, it’s often even worse: you’re still being sold data by a network and there’s no context to it other than this person hit a certain webpage and now they’re in my audience. But location — if its the right dataset — is giving you all of that, and little bit better information on what a consumer might want.

As mobile advertising spend grows, and mobile marketing becomes more central to a brand’s media mix, one would expect some consolidation in the ad technology market. From a buyer’s perspective, do you see a long-term play for the handful of companies, which specialize in place-based advertising on mobile?
Location is already not special. Among the companies that are offering [solutions,] very few actually have a technology that is differentiated. They may evaluate location data a bit differently but very few have a meaningful technology that’s in any way proprietary. When everyone is getting the same exact data from the same exact places, it’s hard to be different in terms of what you do with it. And, if someone is, then five seconds later everyone is copying it.

Overall, I would say that it’s going to be hard to be a location-only company over the next few years. Even the [companies] that are around today are looking around to find new ways to expand. The question for them they avoid being co-opted by someone who does everything.

Often, we talk about the potential-size of the mobile advertising market through the lens of time-spent. And yet, that mode of thinking tends to neglect the unique capabilities of the mobile space. What innovations could help make mobile a better marketing channel — rather than just an alternative?
As we get better at mapping the app environment, and improve deep-linking into apps, we’re going to start to be able to bring functionality to search as opposed to just information. If, for instance, I search for a movie on a Friday afternoon, the result should present a link that directs me directly into my Fandango app. Eventually, we’ll get there. But today, we can’t largely because we haven’t taken the time to map the ecosystem.

We’ve seen a bunch of new metrics that want to help identify — albeit, inconsistently — when consumers show up in-stores. Do these hackish metrics help or hurt in the long run?
I’m not a huge believer on the “did they show up in-store metric.” If they already have a propensity to shop at a given place, you’ve already tilted the odds in your favor. But what I do like about that metric is that it’s getting clients to start thinking about measuring mobile in a real-world way.

The low hanging fruit here is driving a user through some form of ecommerce transaction like a booking or movie ticket purchase. But you’re still missing 90-some odd percent of the transactions out there. That’s why everyone is so interested in what’s happening in-store. Even just a slight shift in the way a retailer thinks about how consumers engage with a display, a product, a set up or an actual point-of-sale could net millions and millions of dollars for the company.

There’s a lot of talk in marketing press about indoor messaging, and the power of Beacons. How meaningful are these technologies for brand marketers today?
No one is doing it — or at least, no one’s doing it at scale. If you think about everything that has to go into implementing [in-store messaging], there’s so much that has to come together: a retailer has to install the technology in the store, they need to already have an install base in app users that have the app open, with bluetooth on. A bunch of things need to come together today to have it actual make a significant impact on your revenue as a retailer.

The entire mobile marketing sector needs to improve by leaps and bounds, and until we see the data at scale it’s going to be hard to see what’s valuable.

So what’s the next big thing in mobile? What’s the big market the ad technology world will be changing in the next 12 months?
You’re going to see a lot of focus on at-retail budgets, which has been ignored for over a decade. No one has brought the people who run a store any innovation outside of POS in a long time. I do think there’s missed opportunity there, in that we generally assumed all of your purchase decisions have been made before you walk in the sotre which goes against pretty known data point and experience.

However, now you now have a bunch of [technology] companies who have all decided that they can grab a beacon and do this, and they’re going to revolutionize a brand’s ability to monetize and structure their store. You’re going to see a boom there. Whether it’s successful or not, is a whole other story.

There’s a bunch of different technologies that say they can help us measure and market indoors. What looks best to you?
For the most part, the technology is completely non-differentiated between beacons, wifi, and cameras. I don’t know that one company can do it better than another — and that’s going to muddy the space. There’s always a place for data and technology to make us smarter and better marketers. Whether this is what is going to do that is an open question.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.