Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Is the time right for a revolution in ethical location-based marketing?

By Alex Froom, CEO, Zipabout

The world as we knew it fundamentally changed in 2020. As we move from a Coronavirus pandemic world towards an environment where Covid-19 is endemic in our communities, marketers need to adapt, and consumer-facing brands should be looking for unique ways to reach customers and make them feel not only safe but valued while on the move.

Traditionally, busy platforms and carriages have been very effective ways for brands to win eyeballs via billboards and other out-of-home (OOH) media. But that channel was particularly hard-hit when lockdown restrictions were imposed at the onset of the pandemic, prompting advertisers to slash spending. Sales recovered as traffic returned but total expenditure on OOH declined 28 per cent last year to $29.1bn, according to Zenith and advertisers are expected to remain cautious about the sector for at least another two years

Location-based marketing can be a very effective mechanism for reaching consumers, especially while on the move. And we’re becoming even more reliant on our smartphones to tell us where and when the best is time to travel safely.

However, here’s the catch. Location-based marketing usually works by tracking the geo-location of smartphone users via apps. App providers and their partners have traditionally used this data to build a profile of consumer mobile behaviours for advertising and marketing purposes. Location adtech companies certainly made hay while the sun shone for sector, despite controversy over the amount of inaccurate GPS data which were flowing through programmatic exchanges. But then the sun seemed to set on location as data privacy and user consent issues rose to the fore, GDPR became a ‘thing with teeth’, and suddenly third-party data for tracking purposes lost its appeal.

So, in this new era, how can advertisers still reach their intended audience outside of the home without using any intrusive tracking of mobile data or similar? The answer lies in an entirely new generation of ethical geo-targeting within contextual native advertising.

Native advertising with geo-targeting can breathe life back into digital media planning

If “trust is the new oil,” especially in a digitised world, then permission and consent factors have paved the way for native advertising to become the main form of ‘ethical advertising’. Brands can now use contextual targeting to reach the end consumer on their phones while on the move without exclusive reliance on third-party app data.By using first-party geo-location intent data accurately generated through traveller interactions, an ad experience can be enriched further by taking users’ physical context into audience targeting. And because the content complements the in-app experience and their physical location, customers are more likely to engage. Right place, right time, relevant message – it’s an exciting new way of approaching traditional OOH.

Good native advertising relies on all sorts of data to be effective, but the best native experiences come from creating great experiences that offer more personal context, for fewer targets. It’s not just about leveraging users’ location, but also in understanding user journeys and the practical context of their daily experience. If a marketing trigger is native to a bus or train operators’ mobile timetable, for example, you can present the ad within a contextual environment that is relevant to the user’s journey – one which is dependent on time and location – and importantly one where the user has opted in for journey information which can include marketing offers. Advertisers that want to earn commercial opportunity will find ways to use ethically obtained location intent data to help us reach our desired destinations, not get in the way. When it comes to creating great native experiences, less data equals more opportunity.

It’s mobile location marketing, but not as we know it

Zipabout works with transport operators using new digital technologies to transform the passenger experience. We’ve been powering National Rail Enquiries’ personalised travel messaging service using WhatsApp and Messenger. Anyone using the service is also opted-in to receive rewards – like a free cup of coffee – from station retailers such as Upper Crust, an SSP brand, during their journey. This is part of a retail pilot that rewards customers for making the sustainable travel choice or taking an alternative service if their chosen train is predicted to be busy.

At the heart of this ethical adtech model is our unique prescience technology which accurately predicts where people will be through their interactions with transport information. We can add the audience’s physical location to contextual advertising without intrusive tracking or sharing of that location with third parties. This new generation of privacy-friendly adtech uses first-party data to allow adverts to be targeted contextually without relying on third-party apps. We’re delivering the ads to a channel that travellers already have and trust.

Contextually it’s all relevant to the passenger and they don’t feel spammed or tracked. The result is optimised media spend for the advertiser, happy customer, everyone wins!