Geolocation: A BIMA Boston Recap

by | Mar 20, 2018

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting on BIMA’s Geolocation panel at Havas Media’s Boston office. Accompanied by panelists from other location-focused organizations and complete with a room full of bright media buyers and marketers, we engaged in a conversation about the state of location data in our industry.

In my research leading up to the event and in subsequent client meetings since, it’s clear there is still considerable confusion about what location data is (or means), where it comes from, how it can be used, and who is “winning.”

Location data today carries the same undifferentiated stigma that ad networks did back in the day. Buyers are overwhelmed with seemingly identical products (or at least, claims), and vendors swear they can solve everything a marketer ever wants or needs with a single tool.

So why the disconnect? And is location data more hype or hope?

Let’s Set the Stage

If you’re reading this post, you clearly don’t need to be convinced that mobile has eaten the world and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Countless studies have shown that smartphone penetration continues among Americans and that more and more of us rely on our devices for pretty much everything. Even stats from our own location management platform point to a growing trend of Bluetooth services being enabled, allowing for marketers to tap into more and more location services available from consumers.

For our conversation in Boston, location data referred to signals given off by a mobile device as a proxy to where individuals go in the physical world. While location data isn’t particularly new, the applications and use cases continue to evolve – which makes things both exciting and… complicated.

Location Data Sources

Source #1: Bid Requests

Ad exchanges enable publishers to offer up their inventory programmatically through trading platforms and allow advertisers to bid on inventory in real-time. Most ad inventory is bought and sold this way and allows advertisers to reach consumers regardless of the apps and websites they frequent.

Each opportunity to buy an ad on an ad exchange produces what is known as a “bid request.” Some of the data in a single bid request might include things like:

  • Time (07:11:22 UTC)
  • Device Identifier
  • Location (in the form of latitude/longitude coordinates)
  • Connectivity (WiFi / 3G / 4G)
  • Device Type (make/model)
  • Operating System (iOS, Android)
  • Ad exchange name (PubMatic, Nexage, Smaato, etc.)
  • Name of the mobile app or URL of the website (
  • and more…

Source #2: Location SDK

Software development kits (or SDKs) take advantage of the tools baked into the Operating Systems of each smart device on the market today. Companies like Gimbal have developed their own Location SDK and are able to collect location data from non-bid stream activities.

What’s unique about Gimbal’s Location SDK is its ability to collect location data at all times – even when an app is closed and in the background on someone’s device.

While the latter may appear self-congratulatory, it is helpful to note that there are advantages and disadvantages to both data sources. Much like marketing in a broader context, there are no silver bullets, but used wisely, savvy marketers can use the tools and channels they have at their disposal to be more effective.

Advantages of Different Sources

Bid Stream

  • Advantages
    • Scale – sheer volume of ad inventory being bought and sold
    • Variety – location data coming from many different apps and websites
  • Trade-offs
    • Brief, incomplete snapshots of a device
    • Only useful for mobile advertising applications (tied to a phone’s Advertising ID)
    • Single source of input (geofences) may lead to inaccuracy
    • Difficult to validate accuracy of 3rd-party data being passed from publishers

Location SDK

  • Advantages
    • Always-On – collect location data on users while apps are inactive, in the background of a phone
    • Dwell Time – determine length of stay at places of interest
    • Proximity – ability to connect with additional, more precise signals like beacons help validate and pinpoint device positions
  • Trade-offs
    • Scale (potentially)

Ultimately, media professionals and brand marketers must choose which sources are best for their specific objectives. For example, fellow BIMA panelist Dan Marques, Senior Director of eCommerce & Online Marketing at Talbots, made the point that they use a relatively “unsophisticated way” to identify over 90% of the people who make an in-store purchase – without using location data.

Current Applications of Location Data

Organizations are inundated with copious amounts of data today, most of which goes unused (or worse, unseen!): customer data, transaction data, engagement data, measurement data, demographic and behavioral data, usage data, and more. And those are just 1st-party data they generate on their own. Adding additional sources can be overwhelming without a strategy to do so. Below are the most basic ways organizations we work with are implementing location data in their platforms.

1.) Targeting (Audience Creation)
Where people go in the physical world can be a powerful signal of intent. Think about it, when was the last time you traveled somewhere without a purpose? Even if it was to head out of town and jump off the grid for a while, there was a reason for that action. As a result, we think about geofences and beacons like pixels for the real-world whereby marketers can create audiences for the purposes of targeting (in real-time), re-targeting (in the future), attribution, and automation (see below).

2.) Attribution (Footfall Measurement)
For years, marketers have been trying to solve John Wanamaker’s quote “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Location data can help attribute the number of unique mobile devices served an ad that later visited a point of interest. As the industry progresses, technology providers with cross-device solutions will begin to decouple the impact of mobile-only campaigns to offer a more comprehensive understanding of a marketer’s mix.

3.) Automation (Systems to Stay in Touch)
In the ad tech space, most agencies and marketers are interested in the above two applications since the goal is to reach people who the brand doesn’t already have a “relationship” with. It’s why they purchase media (advertising inventory on channels they don’t own). But when a relationship has been established with a consumer (in this case, in the form of an app download), brands can set up marketing automations to trigger location-based workflows across their owned and operated channels. Location-triggered push notifications within an app are obvious, but other omni-channel scenarios like sending emails or direct mail to customers when they visit competitor locations are possible with marketing cloud connections.

Moving the Location Conversation Forward

So where do we go from here? Rather than make blanket statements or predictions about where the industry will head, I’d like to open up the conversation to you.

  • What questions do you have about location data?
  • How is your organization using it and what are you seeing?
  • What challenges do you face and what solutions would you like to see built?

Without an open dialogue, our industry runs the risk of stealing from Samsung’s tagline: “The next big thing is already here” without considering the bigger question of “What is actually important to marketers – and consumers – in this day and age?”