Waze Says Its Crowdsourced Navigation Data Brings Clarity for Marketers

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Tapping into geolocation data has become essential for hyperlocal marketing strategies — but according to the folks at navigation app Waze, understanding what consumers are really up to when they travel around is a crucial next step.

It can be easy for brands to make presumptions based solely on the fact that a specific person passed by a certain store — and then use that information to later retarget the person with ads on a mobile device. The problem is that not everyone who is in the vicinity of a store or business is there to shop. Jordan Grossman, head of brand partnerships at Google-owned Waze, says that understanding how context and intent tie into location can better inform brands about what consumers are really up to.

The crowdsourced, navigation app has some 65 million monthly active users in more than 185 countries, and, through its aggregated data, Waze sees itself as a resource for insights on location-based marketing. Grossman says agencies in 2017 will start to ask new questions about location data, which Waze can help answer: “It is not just enough to know where someone is anymore,” he says. “You need to know what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are doing it.”

There has been an industry assumption, Grossman says, that all providers of location-based marketing solutions offer essentially the same information in terms of accuracy and relevance. However over the past 12 months, brands and marketers have begun to ask more about what their data sources are, what differentiates the data from info that others provide, and how accurate the data is.

Further fueling this closer inquiry into data resources, marketers have learned that despite advances in geolocation technology, there is still room for fine-tuning. “When you’re triangulating with Wi-Fi, cell phones, and potentially GPS, the margin for error can be up to, or greater than, three-quarters of a mile,” Grossman says.

That presents a bit of a quandary, he says, for an industry that had adopted certain assumptions about the relationship between marketing and location. Some brands and agencies essentially accepted that consumers were at the sites that publishers identified, Grossman says. Those marketers also believed consumers engaged in the activities that publishers claimed they were doing. Taking those assumptions to heart, he says, marketers might try to target consumers with campaigns — even though they might have an incomplete grasp of what consumers are actually doing. As good as geolocation technology is, it can still be a bit in accurate in figuring out where exactly a person is.

The nature of the data Waze provides, Grossman says, can bring some clarity to this picture, though he admits it may take several components to solve this puzzle: “We’re only claiming to reach drivers in real-time. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or be everything to everyone,” Grossman says, asserting that Waze can connect brands to consumers in what would otherwise be a dark zone. “People shouldn’t be on their phones while they’re driving, unless they are using Waze,” he says.

The navigation app crowdsources details about traffic, road conditions, other hazards and points of information volunteered by users. Details on intended destinations, for example, come from the user rather than being inferred by a third-party. That input, supplied in real-time by Waze users, addresses several issues, he says.

Waze's Jordan Grossman
Waze’s Jordan Grossman

“Once you can confirm the data is accurate and valid, as a marketer the next question is how to use that data,” Grossman says. Waze aggregates its user-supplied information in large groups that demonstrate repeated behavior. According to Grossman, those groups, which may number in the tens of thousands to millions of users, can be further segmented to help brands interact with consumers.

A segment of Waze users who say they want to go get a meal, for instance, can offer insight on people driving to casual, quick-serve restaurants. This can be an opportunity for rival restaurant brands to send offers to the consumer while they are on their way. A consumer goods company that makes products to fight indigestion could send ads to people heading to establishments known for fatty or greasy foods, Grossman says. “This will be the year of deeper focus on personalization.”

Advertisers should strip back the mobile journey to look at it in segments, he says, and realize that no single mobile information provider can provide answers to every location-based marketing need. Still, knowing whether a consumer is sitting on a couch or navigating a trip to a mall with the intent to make a purchase can go a long way towards deciphering what people plan to do: “Understanding context of what someone is doing and consuming on their phone can lead to understanding intent,” Grossman says.

Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.