Geo-targeting: revving up mobile marketing

I regularly receive SMS alerts from an independent fishmonger that I support. They’re owner-run, only support sustainable fishing, affordable, and the fish is far fresher than the supermarkets with their elaborate cold-chains. The problem is that they are located in a part of Cape Town that I don’t often go to, and am unlikely to go to just to buy fresh fish, irrespective of how enticing their offers are.

Sure their regular SMSs keep them front of mind for when I am in the area, but how much more effective would it be for them to send me personalised offers when I am in the area, perhaps based on what I have previously purchased (tuna, yes please; hake, not so much, thanks)? Or, if I have driven past the shop three times and not popped in, a super-duper offer to entice me, once a loyal customer, back into the store?

Done well, this geo-targetted mobile marketing could make me feel valued as a customer, get me back in the shop to see new products, increase sales for the fishmonger, and make me a loyal customer once again. Who knows, I may drive past just to see what specials pop up on my smartphone.

Done badly, this could be a super-creepy, very annoying service that at best makes me unsubscribe from the service, and at worst makes me find a new fish shop, complain bitterly and publicly in person and online, as well as taking the shop to task for spamming me.

So the devil is in the detail and as with all marketing, the detail starts with getting your customer to opt in, making it very clear what they are opting in to, and then making it very easy to opt out. When it comes to personalisation, there is a fine line between creating a connection with a customer and coming across as a downright stalker. (What do you mean you hope I enjoyed my leftover tuna mayo sarnies for lunch today?!?)

From the point of view of the marketer, clever processes need to be put in place to make it appear that they are sending me a suitably personalised message, when in fact it’s the same message sent to a group of customers with a similar profile.

So that’s the deal with the devil that mobile marketers have to make. On the one hand, the very personal, “take it with you wherever you go” mobile device unlocks the ultimate in customer targetting and personalisation: geo-targetting. But, the flipside is that a badly implemented campaign has a similar potential to anger and alienate customers like never before.

Of course in my example above, a mechanism would have had to be put in place for my fish shop to pick up my location when I was in the neighbourhood. First prize for them would be for me to agree that they locate me automatically as soon as I enter a certain pre-defined area – this way they don’t have to rely on me checking in to know where I am. Personally I would need to have a very trusted relationship with a company or brand to do this, and the benefits to me had better be pretty good. I can see this working well for extremely aspirational lifestyle brands, but also even mom ‘n pop shops, like my fishmonger, where a personal, off-line relationship already exists.

Other options are for companies to tap into existing social media location services such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. While the element of personalisation might be slightly less in these instances, savvy marketers should know enough about their customers to pinpoint what deals will entice them to their business.

Finally, as mobile advertising and mobile ad networks become more sophisticated, it will be increasingly possible to target advertising by location. For instance, you could do a search on Google for a plumber in central Johannesburg and have a web ad for a plumber pop up on your screen. Add time into the mix and things get more targeted: searching for a restaurant at 7 am in the morning and you’re probably looking for a breakfast venue, while the same search at 5.30 pm implies you are probably looking for a dinner deal.

So, while I would argue that geo-targetting as a mobile marketing tactic is still approaching the runway, it is poised for take-off, and done right can up the rev count of most marketing campaigns.

First published on Vomo.