More on Geofencing and Location-Based Messaging

I got a couple of responses in via email to my earlier post on geofence-triggered mobile ads. Matt Silk, SVP of mobile messaging company Waterfall Mobile took an interest in the post, as his company just announced a deal with WaveMarket to add location functionality to its messaging platform. We did a short interview via email:

On the value to consumers of location-based ads:

“For consumers, that’s a simple answer: context. Location is a way to put messages in a relevant and immediate context that makes the consumer’s life easier and better… On the surface, I would love more targeted ads! With trusted brands and the right controls in place I would have no problem letting a brand locate me to give me a better ad experience. The key is the controls, however. Just visiting the brand’s mobile site is not explicit consent to locate me in real time. I would want to dictate how often and in what hours a brand can locate me. In the messaging world, users give consent to receive text messages, and can stipulate a certain number of messages per day/week/month… Regarding getting a real-time location before messaging, that should require additional consent. This is the old concept of permission-based marketing where you must ask me for permission before getting closer to me. Well, gaining my real-time location from the carrier is extremely personal so I am only going to give that up if a brand can offer me some significant value in return.”

On using location simply as an excuse to message customers:

“If a brand doesn’t have something compelling to say in a text message they are better off not sending it. Period. All the user has to do is reply STOP and then that customer is lost. Again, context is everything. Location by itself is not an excuse to message. Brands should tread lightly in the LBS space, because they may soon find they don’t have compelling enough content, or the resources to manage the campaigns, to really do the hype justice. We’ll get there, but we need to take some baby steps first.”

On using geofencing vs. “range searching” (i.e. “location all users within distance X of point Y” for message targeting:

“Geofencing is a specific use case within the realm of location. You need to be locating a phone (with high frequency) to trigger a geofence, because one is totally dependent on the other. Same goes for the “range search” functionality. By “range search” I mean “send a message to all phones within X meters of location Y.” Again, range search requires either high frequency pinging (aka tracking) so you know where the phones are at a given time, or a single massive “locate everyone” investment. In other words, both geofencing and range search depend on frequent location pinging.

High frequency location pinging has implications on device battery life. That’s certainly a downside. End user having to download a tag [an app that runs in the background of smartphones to provide updated location info] is also a downside. Also, device coverage is limited here; while the number of smartphones or open handsets is growing quickly, it’s not near a majority.

However, if the end user has controls to manage his or her privacy and they have visibility into how their location is being used and which brands can track them, and when they get messages, I envision a whole new ecosystem of brands giving their customers incentives to be tracked. The brand says, “we can send you more relevant, highly contextual messages about deals, etc. if we know where you are.” The users either will or will not accept those terms. The benefit is that brands develop location profiles of their customers, and customers get better service.

In the near term, I think a good middle ground for marketers is pinging the carrier networks for real-time location prior to doing a marketing blast, and then tailoring the outbound messages accordingly. Take a big retailer for example: they could craft a blast for their entire list, with default more generic messages for people not near a store. People near a store get a very targeted message, and everyone else gets the normal marketing message.”

Now while I’m not sure I completely agree with everything in there :), I think there’s a very valuable point at the end of Matt’s comments: location is a tool for marketers, not a shortcut. Location information needs to supplement the rest of the mobile marketing toolkit, not supplant it.

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