DigitasLBi’s Ilicco Elia On Cracking The Location-Based Marketing Code

As geo-data and proximity marketing tools like beacons power advertising from mobile to IoT, DigitasLBi Head of Mobile Ilicco Elia spoke at Mobile World Congress on the evolution of location-based advertising.

The tools associated with location-based advertising have become an essential part of sending “the right message to the right person at the right time.”

Part of the challenge for agencies is how to respond to the increased demands for location technology to power ads from mobile devices to out-of-home billboards is figuring out what providers have the best data.

The second challenge, as DigitasLBi Head of Mobile Ilicco Elia, in a conversation with Mediamath Product Strategy VP Michael Weaver at Mobile World Congress last week, is balancing the expertise of mobile and integrating it with other channels.

Following his MWC appearance, we checked in on the approach to location-based marketing taken by Elia, who before arriving at DigitasLBi in 2011, helped chart Reuters’ interactive product and branding strategy over the course of 17 years.

GeoMarketing: In your Mobile World Congress discussion with Mediamath’s Michael Weaver, you set about “cracking the location-based marketing code.” What are you specifically looking to solve?

Ilicco Elia: There were a couple of themes we concentrated on. One thing we discussed was how brands are still desperate to get people in to stores.

I am still surprised that luxury brands, for example, have a target for in-store purchases as well as a target for on-line purchases. I would have thought they would have just wanted people to buy and not care whether it came from online or offline.

The challenge is how to get one channel to influence the purchase on another channel. It is not necessarily simply getting people online to go into a store. It could also be the other way around. It could be getting people at the store to complete a purchase via a store brand’s online channels as well.

The problem we have to solve is driving this seamless behavior between online and offline channels. That’s a big part of cracking the location-based marketing code.

Does that involve breaking down the silos between singular disciplines like mobile or desktop display or TV media buying and planning on the part of both the agency and the brand clients?

Well, I’m Head of Mobile, so it’s a bit weird for me to say “No, we don’t have to worry about [breaking down or maintaining silos].” If there is a Head of Mobile at a particular retailer, the problem we see is that it means the other channels do not take part in crafting a campaign that takes mobile elements into account because that means that someone else is taking care of it.

It is a fine line between this approach and integrating mobile specifically into other activities. I can say that having a Head of Mobile — or someone specifically in charge of a particular channel — allows you to concentrate on that specialty. The solution involves integrating that specialty alongside others and ensuring clear collaboration.

Is the idea for you that mobile is central, since it touches on so many other aspects of consumers’ lives, including social media? Ultimately, it’s about being mobile-centric, but not mobile-only, correct?

Exactly. And that is sort of a problem, because mobile is so central. Whenever I go on a pitch with any new client, I am always involved in every single conversation we have. The mobile team is obviously not just me. The mobile team is always involved because it is so central to whatever a client is likely to do.

How does location typically factor into those wider conversations with clients?

Location is one of the contexts and signals that you use to either deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. If it’s 9am and I am in a location, it means I’m going to work. Understanding what I’m doing is even more important than where I happen to be at moment. I could be walking past a restaurant or a department store, but if I’m arriving at work, an ad for those kinds of businesses might not appeal to me in that moment.

Is the value of location technology best used for understanding the context of where a person is to serve an ad in real-time?

There are several different ways to think about location.

One important way is to understand the historical location patterns a consumer leaves in order to better understand their profile from a marketing standpoint. Your location history is a signal that shows attention and engagement over a period of time. Understanding your history is more valuable than simply knowing your location right now. When that history is combined with your current location, it potentially offers a prediction of your future locations, thereby enhancing the context in which an ad is served.

How have you dealt with the challenges of using location data to enhance the context of a campaign?

We did an interesting advertising campaign with Delta Airlines some years back. We used location-based data to determine who are loyalists of Delta Airlines.

If you go to the Atlanta airport and you consistently go to the Delta terminal at that airport, it’s really not worth it for American Airlines to advertise to you because you’re locked in. You have the Delta card. You collect Delta points. It’s likely you’re going to fly Delta.

Similarly, if you’re an American Airlines person, but consistently go to Terminal 3, which is the AA terminal, it’s not worth Delta advertising to you.

What you need to do is your focus on the location data to determine the “switchers” — the people who have the propensity to switch to another airline brand. That would be for the Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Those people are not brand loyal, or they’re less likely to be brand loyal. Therefore they’re more likely to susceptible to advertising to make them change.

We were able to take that location history, look for all the switchers, and see any correlation between those who moved from one brand to another. We found out that there was a high correlation between people who switched and the area in which they lived.

The advertising campaign that we ran was actually an outdoor billboard effort based the routes to the airport. We weren’t trying to get them to change their next flight. We were trying to put the idea in their minds that there is an alternative way to get to an alternative carrier the next time they fly.

The billboard ads were placed based on location data from mobile phones that showed people living in a certain area and the location history knowing that they went to multiple terminals. That’s how we found and reached the switchers for Delta.

The location tech space is increasingly crowded. How do you evaluate the geo-data source that works best?

You actually evaluate them by testing to see how accurate and effective the signals you’re getting are. You do a trial run. Everyone says they have millions and millions of data points and locations. You basically have to run several campaigns to see what’s best.

We look closely at the data and evaluate whether it’s authentic. Then, we determine whether it had good enough reach as well. Sometimes you get location data from an ad server, but the only time that ad server fired is when somebody is looking at the web page or in a shop. Given typical consumer behavior, that’s not as often as it needs to be, so the signals from that bidstream data might not be very accurate or actionable.

How meaningful are proximity marketing tools like beacons?

You use beacons to determine whether somebody is in a particular aisle of a particular supermarket can be valuable. The use of beacons depends on one thing: what do you want to achieve?

If it’s simply to determine the flow of people around your shop, there are definitely cheaper ways to do that with tools like wi-fi positioning. Beacons are useful when you want to create a more interactive experience around a particular product.

There are certain barriers to using them, of course. A consumer has to have downloaded a brand’s application, then they need to have Bluetooth turned on. Plus, you have to have the beacons in the right spot in the store. That’s three barriers, therefore you’re going to reduce of your total reach by perhaps 10 percent.

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.