Changing Gears

Location-based marketing in the wake of GDPR.


By Alfie Atkinson, Managing Director MiQ

With its vast distances and relatively sparse population, Canada has a rate of mobile usage that is among the highest in the world. This unique environment has meant that targeting Canadian consumers already requires an alternative digital marketing strategy – one that doesn’t depend entirely on user-level data. As privacy and regulatory forces continue to drive marketers to be innovative in their data strategies, location-based marketing is likely to be the first wave in a digital marketing sea change.

As industries become more lucrative, antitrust regulators step in, and new governance frameworks arise. At this point, unless you’re an online advertiser or a privacy crusader, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is unlikely to be keeping you up at night. But this new regulation will have long-lasting effects on how companies collect and use an individual’s data for advertising and analytics purposes. GDPR is about the processing of ‘personal’ user-level data and is designed to give individuals better control over how their data is being used by organizations and advertisers. User-level data identifies an individual, not by name, but by their online behaviours, such as website visits or online purchases.

GDPR in Europe will further highlight the need for transparency of data usage here in Canada – either directly by impacting Canadian businesses advertising to EU residents or indirectly by reinforcing existing Canadian privacy laws.

The internet and smartphones have made data more accessible and more valuable for digital marketers than ever before. Before GDPR, companies were free to collect user-level data about individuals unless they specifically opted out of the process. With GDPR, this will now be an opt-in arrangement. Marketers must ask for and receive clear and unambiguous consent from consumers to use their data. As a result, marketers will need to collect different kinds of data and develop new approaches to targeting, which is one of the reasons location-based marketing remains in the spotlight here in Canada.

At the most basic level, location-based targeting is simple. It uses GPS to detect a consumer’s whereabouts and then delivers up mobile ads that are relevant to that specific location. The most accurate approach to geolocation relies on device-level location data containing latitude and longitude.

People generally opt in to providing access to their location data when downloading an app, because it often enhances the functionality of the app (think Apple Maps or Yelp). At the most recent IAB Privacy Unplugged Workshop in Toronto, Sonia Carreno, President of the IAB, said that “by requiring consumers to opt-in to sharing their location data, marketers can analyze and react to consumer behaviour in a privacy-compliant way.”  Location data is often shared with technology partners and offers a way for marketers to influence and connect with consumers while they conduct their real-world shopping. It also provides a means to track the effects of digital marketing efforts in physical stores.

Marketers can use this location data to drive consumers into their stores with a coupon or target fans in a stadium with game-related promotions, for example, vastly improving the user experience. The most sophisticated solutions can look at a consumer’s full journey – such as where they go before and after a visit to a store, providing key insights to retailers.

One such location analysis of auto buyers and car dealerships compared how visits at dealerships changed on weekends and holidays. For the majority of the six brands examined, dealer visits proved higher on weekdays than weekends, and the majority of dealer visits (62%) occurred between 4 pm and 6 pm. Visits also increased significantly on public holidays by about 2.3x. This kind of data provides vital information to help automotive companies know when and where to target potential car buyers to influence their behaviour.

In the wake of GDPR, it is imperative that we begin to reimagine the value of location data to not only stay compliant, but also stay on the front lines of consumer marketing. By connecting and analyzing data in new ways, businesses and marketers can go beyond media strategies and start to drive real-world business outcomes.

Alfie Atkinson HeadshotAlfie Atkinson

Alfie Atkinson launched the MiQ Canada team in early 2014 and has been the driving force behind the phenomenal growth of the Canadian business ever since. With more than a decade of digital media experience spanning UK and North American markets, Atkinson has built a career around innovation.