Privacy Regulations Shift Location-Based Approaches from Push to Pull Marketing

Brands from retailers to restaurants are set to spend more than $30 billion on location-based marketing in 2020. Why? Because it works. According to a report by Factual, roughly nine in 10 marketers say location-based marketing drives higher sales.

Most brands have adopted push marketing as their preferred location-based tactic. Push marketing is exactly what it sounds like; it “pushes” brand and product information to prospects and customers through channels like SMS, email, in-app notifications, and display ads. The campaigns are triggered by the geodata from consumer devices and can be personalized based on that data.

The location-based push approach, however, is under threat. It relies on granular consumer data that is becoming increasingly difficult to track and collect. As privacy regulations put consumers in control of their online information, brands must rethink their location marketing strategies.

Data privacy online is changing

Privacy regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) have a direct impact on ad targeting and traditional online marketing. GDPR limits data tracking and collection by brands and advertisers. Although it’s focused on European citizens, the regulation applies to any company doing business with those citizens, so even US companies are affected.

CCPA went into effect Jan 1. The data privacy law is essentially a GDPR equivalent for the state of California (though GDPR is an opt-in model while CCPA is opt-out). CCPA could significantly limit data tracking by any brand or business targeting California consumers. Under the regulation, businesses are required to disclose the data they collect and to delete it at a consumer’s request. Consumers can also opt out of tracking altogether.

The privacy regulations don’t stop there. California is one instance of ongoing state-by-state efforts to give consumers ownership and control of their data. In fact, 11 states are currently working to enact privacy and security laws.

Beyond regulation, data privacy changes are also coming from the technology industry itself. Companies like Apple, Mozilla, and Google have all launched new privacy controls for their browsers that basically block cookie tracking. While this won’t hurt mobile tracking much given the limited role of cookies in the mobile environment, it can constrain a marketer’s ability to understand identity, weakening campaign personalization on all screens. Additionally, Apple is taking privacy even further than the browser. Their new iOS alerts users when an app is receiving location in the background, which is causing many people to share less location data.

The impact on push marketing: go after ‘near me’ search

With the regulations and changes that limit marketers’ ability to reliably track users, location marketing must evolve. Push marketing is likely to become less effective as brands continue to lose access to consumer data.

A tried and true alternative is pull marketing. Pull marketing is an approach that attracts in-market customers to your brand or product. Rather than pushing a brand on the audience, pull marketing draws in customers by using less intrusive methods that don’t rely on personal data. One of the most common forms of pull marketing is search advertising (paid and organic).

For location marketers, the biggest pull marketing opportunity is the “near me” search. “Near me” searches are local consumer searches — on Google, Yelp, or Bing — for products and services nearby. They typically involve a brick-and-mortar store and happen when a consumer intends to make a purchase offline, which is where most consumer spending occurs. In fact, over 80% of consumers have done a “near me” search, with 88% of these searchers calling or visiting a location within 24 hours.

As push tactics are negatively affected by changes in data privacy, “near me” searches where consumers are actively seeking brand information represent strong opportunities for pull marketing.

Examples of pull marketing

To win the “near me” search experience, there are plenty of pull marketing tactics brands can adopt as location-based marketing strategies. Two of the most valuable are:

  • Localized store listings. Accurate and built-out store listings drive better localized search results for in-market, “near me” shoppers. NAP (name, address, phone) is the critical information for ranking well in local search results. Although NAP only mentions three pieces of information, there are six that need to appear correctly at the top of Google and Bing results: address, phone number, opening hours, business name, website, and zip code. Listings must also be accurate across all directories. Photos that show off the best parts of your business and what that location has to offer also support your findability.
  • Market your reviews. One of the best ways to optimize for “near me” searches and convert prospects into customers is by acquiring and merchandising reviews. Brands should encourage loyal customers to leave reviews by asking them in person, through email, or on social media. Engage with customers and consumers online, asking questions or talking about your brand. And, of course, it’s a good idea to reply to both positive and negative reviews. On platforms like Google and Yelp, brands can also mark positive reviews as “helpful,” making them more visible to “near me” searchers. Marketing reviews can increase conversion rates by as much as 270%, according to Spiegel Research.

We are just beginning to see the impact of data privacy changes. Consumer awareness and interest in digital privacy is growing, and more privacy laws and regulations are sure to come.

Data is critical, but so are the privacy rights of consumers. Brands that actively seek non-invasive alternatives to push marketing for their location-based marketing strategy will be better positioned to earn and keep their customers’ trust.

Paid search and SEO have repeatedly proven themselves able to deliver high-intent purchasers to brand websites and physical stores. They’re also largely untouched by privacy regulations, cookie blocking, and the absence of location data.

Norman Rohr is SVP at Uberall.

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