What ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Can Teach Us About Geotargeting

marcustewksbury“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Marcus Tewksbury, global vice president for product strategy at Experian Marketing Services.

In the highly addictive, long-running television series “Battlestar Galactica,” there is a pivotal moment where warring factions from the human colonies and Cylons converge on the location of the long-lost but revered Temple of Five. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that knowing the location of the temple itself is insufficient. For the path forward to be revealed, they must be at the right location at precisely the right time.

For us here on Earth, we too must master the convergence of time and place in our marketing programs. As with the battlestar’s search for the temple, we need to know both to plot the optimal path to purchase for our customers. For example, take my affinity for a certain restaurant chain with a “down under” theme. If that restaurant chain knew I was walking up to another steakhouse around dinnertime on a certain Thursday night, could they lure me away with a special offer at that very moment?

This isn’t a legend of Kobold. These types of programs are being run today. The combination of time and place can power very impactful campaigns.

With mobile marketing ascending faster than a Viper on the tail of a Heavy Raider, the need to use geotargeting is being thrust upon us. Geotargeting gives us the opportunity to engage with customers in the physical world at their moment of truth. To do that, marketers first must understand how to use geodata. Below is a quick reference of some of the most widely adopted formats, ranked from broad vicinity to pinpoint precision:

Geotargeting Outside The Store

User registration: Somewhere along the line, the customer registered and supplied a name and address. This is the oldest form of geotargeting, dating back to the days when postal mail was king. While it is frequently used for tailoring offers, it doesn’t deliver location data at enough granularity or within the context of time. Therefore, is not appropriate for timely, mobile-based offers.

Cell tower triangulation: As our phones roam from tower to tower, they reveal a rough proximity of our location. This technique was made famous recently with the plotting of the potential paths of lost Malaysian flight MH370. This type of data can be useful for promoting things like closest store.

Location services (GPS): When it works – at locations with clear sky views or open Wi-Fi – GPS provides a pinpoint map location. Marketers can use this data to identify opportunities to engage customers based on their precise location, at a certain time, such as when a customer is about to visit a competitive steak chain.

Geotargeting Inside The Store

Hot spot: The free Wi-Fi connections at Starbucks are now about more than keeping us planted for our next cup of coffee or those delicious cake pops. Picking up Wi-Fi on our mobile or portable device connects us to that location. Are your sales dipping at 2 p.m.? Prompt your most likely shoppers: the ones already in the store.

Wi-Fi triangulation: Once you know someone is in the store, the next step is to pinpoint exactly where. By using the “triangulation” technique described above with Wi-Fi routers mounted in-store, shopper location can be tracked to a section of the store, or even a specific aisle. The only requirement here is that Wi-Fi be needs to be enabled on the phone. For many phones, like the iPhone, this is enabled in default mode. Messaging someone using this technique, however, requires that they have downloaded your app and consented.

iBeacons: iBeacons – Apple’s implementation of LE Blue Tooth – can be as small as poker chips and be cheaply mounted throughout the store. Each chip can be programmed to detect exactly where someone is standing. So a consumer may be shopping the cereal aisle, but the technology is specific enough to tell the difference between them standing in front of the Captain Crunch or Fruity Pebbles. The limitation here is that the shopper must have downloaded and authorized the appropriate app.

Where To Start

Just as effective retargeting depends on knowing both where a customer visited and when they did so, the same thing can be done in the “real world” with geodata. If you are new to geotargeting, but eager to start, there are three first steps you should take.

First, insure that you have a viable mobile app. Beyond store installations, an app on the customer phone is a basic essential for any in-store engagement.

Second, enable timely messaging. What makes geotargeting so compelling is the ability to touch a customer so close to their moment of truth. That moment won’t wait for a list of names to be shifted from one platform to another before blasting out a message.

Third, solicit and respect customer preferences. Much of the technology here is brand new, and we are still discovering their potential applications. What isn’t new, however, is ensuring that how you use the information is in the best interest of your customers and used with their approval.

With geodata sources forming the arrow pointing the way, it’s time to fire up the FTL drives and jump into experimenting with the use of geotargeting.

Follow Marcus Tewksbury (@tewksbum) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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