Why You Need a Strategy for Mobile Location & How to Get Started

Having spent almost 20 years in location based media, previously as Chief Strategy Officer of OOH agency Posterscope and more recently at xAd which is centred around location data from mobile devices, I’m amazed that despite all the hype in this area many brands don’t actually have a strategy for mobile location.

Why is it so important to address this issue?


Search revolutionised the way in which the worlds’ information is organised.

Social has changed the way we connect and share forever.

And location is the bridge between people’s online activity and their behaviours in the physical world. The fact that 89% of UK purchases still happen in store makes this a crucial point and arguably location is as important to marketers as search and social.

In our business we have an analogy. Google indexed the web meanwhile xAd have indexed the physical world. Our Blueprints technology defines the exact perimeters of stores, car parks, points of interest etc allowing us to determine not just what people are near, but the building they are actually in. This is fundamental to unlocking the power of location.


My web history will not reveal that my guilty pleasure is browsing around Poundstretcher or that I have a repetitive loop of going to the gym regularly for a month followed by a 6-month hiatus. You need to see my location footprint for this. xAd’s new MarketPlace Discovery platform provides insights about aggregated real world behaviours that are impossible to pick up with web analytics or survey based research.


As a client of ours recently stated, ‘location doesn’t lie’. Being constantly connected means that while it’s amazing to be able to access almost any piece of information and content within seconds this can mean that we often do so on a whim — it’s so easy. Consequently, people research products that they have no intention of buying; aspirational items, things they have some vague interest in or topics related to friends and family for example.

In fact my web browsing history suggests I’m in the market for a new car, a Rolls Royce at that! Why? Because my kids spotted one in the street and we were intrigued as to the cost. It was so easy to find prices and then check out a few reviews. Conversely it takes much more effort to actually go somewhere. Seeing car dealerships in my location history would be a much better indicator of my intent.

Likewise no one goes to McDonalds to browse the burgers, you go there because you are a person that eats fast food. Interestingly when you compare measured visitation to quick service restaurants (QSR’s) vs people’s claimed behaviour from survey based research there is an enormous discrepancy. A recent report released by xAd in the US showed that over half of people who claimed they ‘never eat out’ in fact had a QSR visit in their location history in the last 30 days.

Your location footprint, essentially a real world cookie, is arguably a much better way of defining who you are, what you are intending to do and the products or services that you could be tempted to purchase.


Of course we are all susceptible to impulse purchases and last minute brand choice switching and there are numerous studies demonstrating that proximity to the point of purchase is key when trying to influence this. Location minimises wastage and improves effectiveness and the MMA’s SMOX study that can be found on their website is a great validation of this. xAd ‘Mobile Path to Purchase’ research also reveals that 78% of people researching retail are looking to purchase within a day, and 63% expect not to travel any more than 5 miles to make that purchase.


One of the most common business KPI’s that media is intended to influence is visitation to physical business locations — stores, restaurants, venues etc. Press and OOH are often the first media channels that brands turn to in this respect and they play incredibly important and unique roles. Meanwhile location based mobile activity brings with it the ability to deterministically connect ad exposure to store visits and to optimise against this in real time — essentially performance marketing for those 89% of transactions taking place in stores.


Location is inherently connected to many aspects of a clients business; shopper marketing, experiential, store design, catchment area analysis, recruitment and much more. As such there is the opportunity for agencies to add an incredible amount of value to brands through their location work.

So what should you think about when creating a strategy for location?

1. Do it upstream.

In our experience brands are usually very keen to be quite hands on in the development of location strategies and the involvement of comms planners and strategists is paramount. The best location strategies combine expertise from these sources as well as the mobile specialists or digital activation teams particularly as mobile location is also often a very natural integrator with other media.

2. Don’t view location as a subset of mobile or digital.

While location does involve both of these things it has more in common with press, OOH or radio in terms of its role in a media plan and the business KPI’s being influenced. Simply allocating a slice of the mobile budget to location massively understates its importance. Location should have it’s own budget, allocated early on in the comms planning process. Brands that are already taking this approach and leveraging location to it’s full potential allocate significant sums to this.

3. Consider if and how you want to defend your turf.

At it’s most extreme mobile location allows your competitors to buy ads inside & directly outside your stores. As such do you want to maximise ownership of this space in an always-on manner or pick the most important times and places?

4. Build audiences as well as proximity tactics.

Identify the real world behaviours that signify a potential customer and use accurate, verified location history data to create audience segments. Test and learn which audiences have the biggest effect on foot traffic. Also look for times and places where moods, mindsets, physical activities and mobile behaviours are most relevant.

5. Use location data for insights as well as attribution.

Collecting huge volumes of user location data and being able to match these to the associated buildings with real precision can yield a whole range of consumer insights previously unavailable to brands and agencies and often in real time. Did retailer X lose visitation share to retailer Y last weekend? Where else do restaurant Z’s customer dine out? Are the stockists of product A busiest in the morning or the afternoon? The list goes on and this data can be used to inform a whole raft of business and marketing decisions as well as the planning and optimisation of media such as mobile, OOH and direct mail.

You can check out some of these at Discovery.xAd.com

6. Get help.

A skilled location expert (from the team at xAd for example) will be able to add value at all stages of the development of a location strategy so get them involved early and deeply.

And finally make sure you do it properly. ‘Doing some location’ is actually really easy. Doing location well is very hard. There are a plethora of companies and platforms that can throw out some ads and hope they are in the places that publishers claim. Similarly they can create audience segments based on places that a person might have been near-ish in the past. Of course neither of these are accurate or scientific. Over 70% of publisher location data is inaccurate and on top of that building location-history audiences using old school geofences means that 80% of the audience is wrong for every location in the model.

Buying posters in the wrong places is not tolerated by brands and using bad location data in mobile should be viewed in the same way. Cardinal sins from my previous industry should be no less acceptable in my new one!

There are numerous examples of brands and agency teams that have taken the time to develop solid location strategies that take account of the points described here and they are reaping the benefits. The biggest common threads amongst them are thinking big, tackling location early in their planning cycles and not being bound by conventional and often irrelevant digital success metrics.

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