Why publishers need to drill down on location to compete with Facebook

Facebook’s announcement that its conversion tool is helping advertisers measure the impact of campaigns on offline purchases should have publishers worried, as they find themselves on the back foot again with the tech giant continuing to chip away at their advertising market share.

The social network’s latest claim is that brands can re-engage customers based on their interactions through offline channels like stores and call centres. But Facebook isn't the only one – publishers can and should be doing this too.

It’s high time the gloves came off and publishers started fighting back to woo advertisers and their agencies away from Facebook – in this instance doing so by exploiting the abundance of real-time location and behavioural data they have available. Data which is often overlooked or ignored completely.

This simple fact is that a potential goldmine exists in creating custom and predefined audiences based on people’s location, and then aggregating customer behaviour. In fact, with the right tools publishers can offer marketers precise in-the-moment targeting, transparency and verification on what their target audience is doing offline.

Unfortunately, it looks like another case of Facebook beating publishers to the punch, and doing so by monetising data that publishers have always had access to, but have struggled to generate revenue from. It’s money for old rope.

Publishers must fight back. But in order to do so they must get better at utilising transparent location data to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. To that point, they should also be exploiting the serious lack of transparency associated with Facebook. Brand safety is such a hot topic that being able to verify audiences based on location will undoubtedly appeal to marketing directors who want to get under the skin of their target audience.

With real-time analytics and heat maps, publishers can help brands to push relevant notifications to consumers. Audience visits to different locations can also be measured more accurately and this information shared with marketers. They can also serve brands that want to understand who has visited which store and analyse how this correlates to clicks and campaigns to improve attribution accuracy. This can also be combined with third party sales data and brand studies to measure both the ROI on product purchases and ad campaigns.

Ultimately publishers must act more like the tech companies that threaten them. Doing so will mean using custom-built technology more intelligently and moving away from a simple cookie-based approach, but the payoff will be an increase in ad revenues. They will also boost their relationships with third parties if they license this location and behavioural data to brands, agencies and ad tech firms.

One media group (Trinity Mirror) which has more than 260 national, regional and sports titles as well as websites is using location data technology to tailor its digital content for local areas. It is providing customer specific offers based on proximity to outlets such as cafes and supermarkets.

Location technology can help marketers determine who the most responsive audiences are, when is the best time to serve them an ad and how well-positioned publishers and brands are to provide context to people’s whereabouts. The information can then be segmented to serve dynamic and personalised messaging.

For instance, is someone currently relaxing at home or working? If you are an automotive brand trying to boost sales of a new car, this insight can be invaluable because it will affect how much time someone has to read your ad. If somebody is in a coffee shop or commuting to work they might have extra time, so the content can be more in-depth.

Publishers should also think about collaborating and working more collectively to fight back against Facebook. There’s a lot to be gained by sharing location data, and as a result revealing dwell times in different locations and on specific apps. What are audiences doing in Waitrose, what apps are they using and where else do they shop, live and commute to?

The power of location data has probably been underplayed by publishers and marketers in the past but, as Facebook turns its attention to location, you can bet both parties are starting to appreciate its potential and value. Ultimately, there’s a lot to play for, but publishers stand to win big if they act fast.

Rami Alanko is founder and chief executive at Beemray

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