Agencies, Marketers Find Inspiration In Location Data

But the buy side is still in the exploratory stages of geo-marketing, says Beeby Clark+Meyler’s James Mullany.

BCM's James Mullany
BCM’s James Mullany

For the longest time, digital advertising has been associated with the word “cheap.” The description typically applied not just to the cost, but also the quality. In other words, marketers have tended to view online advertising as valuable for the efficiency in targeting and placing, but not so much for its worthiness as an attractive branding vehicle.

That sentiment has been even more true in the case of mobile advertising, particularly given the rise of programmatic media buying, which has tended to focus on real-time bidding and low-cost direct response ads that aim to capture clicks above all else.

The wider application of location data into both the creation and placement of digital ads could elevate both the immediate tactical and long-view strategic branding elements of mobile marketing, says James Mullany, a senior analyst at East Coast ad agency Beeby Clark+Meyler. Still, Mullany, speaking shortly after moderating a Street Fight panel on the topic of geo-data, mobile advertising, and creativity, says the industry has a long way to go when it comes to making fuller use of location data and related tools.

It’s a view that fits with BCM’s roots, which go way back in attempting to connect the varying goals of digital media buying and creativity. Marrying the competing elements that go into online advertising is baked into the DNA of the decade-old independent shop, which was formed by Tom Beeby, Michael Clark, and Stuart Meyler. That trio emerged from Modem Media, which is widely considered among the first digital ad agencies, notes Anna Baskin, who heads business development at BCM.

BCM's Anna Baskin
BCM’s Anna Baskin

“We are a data-inspired digital agency that believes in the seamless integration of media and creative,” Baskin says, explaining how the agency’s philosophy has carried over from its Modem Media roots. “As such, we handle everything from media planning/buying to creative execution, and analysis, all under one roof.”

The idea of mixing and matching various advertising disciplines is something Mullany says that all agencies — independent and otherwise — need to get used to, particularly as mobile and location assume a more central spot within media plans.

Have agencies embraced the notion of location as a factor when creating as well as placing advertising?

James Mullany: Yes, but many can still do better. Too often, the geo-targeting capability of a media vendor is limited to ZIP code targeting.  While ZIP code targeting is a start in the right direction, there are ways to get even more targeted with location data.

There are multiple ways to access location data, which may be causing some advertisers frustration in identifying how to go beyond the standard ZIP code targeting. For example, location-based data can be accessed via check-in information from Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook.  There are also companies that are focused on attaining location-based data via less consumer-facing approaches, such as fingerprinting.  Fingerprinting overcomes the mobile cookie dilemma and looks at the characteristics of IP and location information to associate a user within a certain geo-fence.  All of these companies have different data sources and methodologies for identifying location. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, it is important to understand this when engaging a location marketing partner.

At BCM, we work with the client to ensure that the chosen solution aligns with their objectives. For example, if you’re looking to pinpoint a user within a location such as a building or a stadium, that requires a very different approach from targeting users within a ZIP code.

So is this more of a marketer issue or a problem that media buyers can solve?

I think the media buyer issue is being solved for now, or within the next twelve months. Twelve months ago, I think it was a media buying issue, because it could be difficult matching the right data company with the right media buying platform at scale. Through mergers, acquisitions and platform enhancements, it is becoming easier to scale programs.

Is the decision to use location as a determining factor in the media play ultimately a question of scale? Whenever it comes to targeting, it’s always trying to figure out the right kind of scale and how narrow to target a certain segment.

From my point of view, [scale] isn’t really as much of an issue. For us, if the plan works, it works and that’s the same if you’re spending $10,000, or a hundred times that.

In terms of scale, I’m not as concerned about it. Mobile traffic and revenue shares have grown drastically over the past 5 years; scale is no longer an issue. The majority of consumers that our clients want to do business with are on a smartphone already and the majority of them are already using location services.

The other thing that is important to consider with scale is how much waste there is in some less targeted media options. As we get more targeted, it is typical that the aggregate number of people we touch may shrink, but the impact on the business will grow since we are reaching more qualified prospects. Location is a powerful variable in helping refine our target to eliminate waste and extend reach among highly qualified segments.

How much has Facebook’s advertising, particularly its focus on mobile, been driving the use of location-based advertising and mobile in general?

Facebook is definitely a big player due to its massive reach and the fact that it has become a mobile-first company. The ability to find qualified, reliable data sources and then match it to a media source at scale can be challenging.

Facebook is perfectly positioned to overcome that challenge due to its massive scale and mobile first consumption habits of its audience. Frequently, Facebook users will check-in on Facebook to major airports and hotels or in different cities from their home city. We can categorize this user into a “currently active travel” audience.

Based on this definition, relevant messaging is now available in all forms for car rental and hotel companies as well as local attractions, dining and shopping offers, among many others. For example, if your consumer is in an airport and you serve specific messaging for a hotel because all the flights are cancelled. Depending on where you are, all of a sudden that message becomes a lot more important.

As an agency, how does geo-data or location influence the work you do, whether creative-wise or in terms of placement/buying?

Location helps define our audience, which is the most important piece of the media planning puzzle. It defines the creative solution we provide to the audience because, based on their location, we know a lot about where they are going and what they are doing. This is a much more powerful variable than a traditional demo target. Once you have this powerful audience and tailored message, the media buying process is rather simple. Focus exclusively on reaching that defined audience throughout the media consumption behaviors, whether that is desktop, mobile, tablet or connected TV’s.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.