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Aerial view of manhattan with digital circles rising up from specific spots in the picture

The Weird, Wonderful World of Geotargeting and Location Targeting

What’s the weirdest museum you’ve ever been to? If you haven’t visited the National Mustard Museum in my home state of Wisconsin, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out. It’s got everything: An exhibit on the history of mustard, the “exquisite Gibbons Collection of sterling silver and porcelain mustard pots,” and thousands of varieties to try and buy—from root beer mustard to Pear mostarda to gingerbread Dijon.

While quirky destinations like these are fun for townies and tourists alike, creative marketers can also benefit from understanding the significance of such local attractions—especially in today’s industry, which is slowly but surely transitioning toward more privacy-friendly methods of serving tailored messages to consumers.

Unconvinced that America’s Favorite Condiment Museum has anything at all to do with winning marketing strategies in a cookieless world? Stick with me here and let’s take a look.

Geo-Based Targeting: A Must-Have in a Privacy-Compliant World

Like the Greeks and Romans prescribing mustard to cure the bubonic plague, geo-based targeting can serve as a balm for marketing organizations transitioning away from third-party cookies (except that localized marketing actually works…no offense to our Hellenic ancestors!)

How, exactly? Despite Google delaying third-party cookie loss to 2024, the fact remains that our industry is in the midst of an identifier crisis. News coverage of data breaches and data privacy regulation, combined with updates to iOS and Android that have increased the transparency of mobile data collection, have levelled up consumers’ understanding of how companies collect and use their data. As a result, consumers (understandably!) want more control over how companies gather and leverage their personal information and online behavior. To accommodate consumers and regulators alike, the marketing world is on the brink of a tectonic shift away from a targeting world that revolves around the third-party cookie.

In their place, marketers must lean into other targeting methods. Contextual and geo-based targeting, for example, are both not only tried-and-tested, but often more cost-efficient than user ID-based targeting. We’ve already taken a closer look at contextual targeting, so let’s examine some of the ways geo-based targeting strategies like location targeting, localized marketing, and geotargeting can help advertisers reach their audiences.

Location Targeting and Geo-Targeted Creative

Location targeting might seem basic to some marketers, but it’s hard to understate the power of doing it right. Targeting by country, city, or even zip code presents advertisers with information that’s ripe for personalizing brand messages: language, food, weather, sports teams, music, history, landmarks—the list goes on. This type of targeting presents the opportunity to build custom creative with specific audiences in mind (sometimes referred to as “localized marketing”). Advertisers can use information about different locales to relay brand messages that feel thoughtful and personalized, but not invasive. Consider the following examples:

Billboard ad that reads "train like an out-of-service streetcar: Stop for no one"
In Toronto, Nike built a brand awareness ad around local transit frustrations.
Display ad that reads "vitamins. electrolytes. get that jawn." with a photo of a vitamin water bottle beneath
In Philadelphia, Vitamin Water featured a piece of locally-loved slang to get their message across.
Billboard ad with an illustration of a woman on a bike drinking red bull and text that reads "because there's no loophole inside the loop."
In Chicago, Red Bull made the iconic Chicago Loop the star of a billboard ad.

If you’re from Toronto, Philly, or Chicago, seeing one of these ads may have made you smile—which is exactly what localized media is supposed to do! At its best, a localized ad feels like being seen by a brand—like the two of you are sharing an inside joke—and elicits positive associations that come with knowing that brand spent time and money to connect with you and your people.

Those warm fuzzy feelings are priceless from a marketing perspective, and for that reason, ads with localized creative might be some of the most enjoyable and unobtrusive that consumers can come across. They’re just targeted enough to feel tailored, but not so targeted as to feel creepy (i.e., “How did you know I was just talking to a friend about wanting to visit Dijon next summer, internet??”). And in the modern marketing world, that’s a crucial balance to get right.

Privacy-Compliant Geotargeting

Of course, just because we live in a certain zip code doesn’t mean that we spend all our time there, and advertisers can get even more granular in their geotargeting based on consumers’ real-time location data and/or locations that they’ve recently visited. In a privacy-first world, using first-party data is a no brainer here, because consumers generally understand first-party data collection as something that’s meant to streamline their digital experience (like Weather.com remembering your zip code or the Kohl’s app knowing that February in Chicago is sweater weather, not swimsuit season).

Brands can also tap into second- and third-party data to power geotargeting campaigns, but this is where marketers must tread lightly, as the use of that data opens up privacy concerns. This kind of geotargeting uses information like GPS data collected from mobile apps to serve ads to customers when they enter specific geographies. But location data, in the eyes of regulators and consumers, is personal data—and that means marketers must be extremely careful about how they gather, utilize, and store it. Under pieces of legislation like GDPR, CCPA, and COPPA, there are rules for how companies can interact with location data. If brands don’t comply, they run the risk of legal consequences and subsequent loss of brand loyalty once the news gets out.

The issue gets even more complicated considering that due to the complexity of the media supply chain, many data providers and brands simply don’t know that they’re violating these regulations. For example, fraud detection platform Pixelate recently released a report claiming that 70% of the top 1,000 most popular apps directed at kids on the App Store and Google Play share GPS signals or IP addresses with marketers, implicating those marketers in potentially violating COPPA. There are a lot of companies out there that have no idea where their data comes from and they’re using it anyway—don’t be like those companies!

Despite privacy concerns, the location data industry is growing at breakneck speed. According to eMarketer’s 2022 Location Intelligence Report, 90% of global companies that use location data expect its use to become more important in coming years, and location data is seeing rapid adoption in the retail, CPG, travel, finance, real estate, and logistics industries.

So, how can marketers tap into second- or third-party location data without running the risk of violating consumer trust and data regulations? Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Understand the regulations that apply to your brand and review your data collection, storage, and use practices to make sure they comply (get a legal expert involved here if possible).
  2. Thoroughly vet the data partners you decide to work with to ensure that they’re following guideline number one.
  3. Prioritize working with consumer data in a way that honors consumers’ right to control their personal information—i.e., even if something isn’t technically illegal, if it doesn’t provide control and transparency for the consumer, find another way.

An example of guideline number two in action: Basis is integrated with intelligence and measurement company Cuebiq, which allows Basis marketers to build audience pools based on mobile users’ location behaviors, and measure in-store visitation resulting from ads. Cuebiq prioritizes privacy by always asking users to opt into sharing their location before collecting it, and by providing users with multiple options to opt-out of location sharing at any time. Plus, Cuebiq was one of the first location providers to join the Network Advertising Initiative, a group that maintains and enforces high standards for data collection and use, which is another good sign that they’re serious about privacy.

All in all, geotargeting can be a huge boon for marketers, but with great power comes great responsibility. And failing to uphold your responsibility to consumer privacy can result in catastrophe (kind of like the catastrophic shortage of mustard France is experiencing right now—but that’s a story for another day).

Geotargeting: Wrapping up

Like people in the market for a house or apartment, the marketers of the future will constantly be thinking about “location, location, location.” It’s hard to overstate the importance of place, and one thing’s for certain: Location targeting, localized marketing, and geotargeting will all be significant players in the digital advertising ecosystem of the future.

Like 9th-century monks in Northern France making bank on mustard, marketers who tap into geo-based targeting (in privacy-friendly ways, of course!) will find themselves very well off, indeed.

Interested in learning more about how to transition away from third-party cookies and into the future of privacy-friendly digital advertising? Check out our guide, Beyond Third-Party Cookies: Your Guide to Overcoming the Identity Crisis.

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