The Mobile Marketing Challenge: An Interview with Eli Portnoy

Mar 26, 2014

Article ImageMobile marketing is tricky business. Location is important, but much of the location data available is inaccurate, making it difficult to push mobile marketing to the right person at the right time--instead of fifteen minutes too late. EContent talked to Eli Portnoy, general manager of Thinknear about the challenges of mobile marketing and the trick to getting location right. 

Q: Is location everything in mobile marketing? 

A: Location isn't everything when it comes to mobile but it is the most important factor. Think about it. The phone is a portable device we carry in our pocket and is a part of what we are doing all day and every day. You have your phone with you when you are commuting, when you are at work, when you are seeing friends, when you go home. It's ubiquitous. And you use it to interact with your world and what's important to you. Amazingly, this portable device that people are using everywhere they go is capable of very precise location capabilities. This is a very powerful tool to help companies to understand who their consumers are and what they are doing. Location enables this insight. 

Q: What is the main problem that prevents companies from obtaining and using accurate location data? 

A: The hardest thing about using location in mobile is that it's not always possible to capture, yet it's very valuable. Users have to have their GPS on, give the app permission to use their location, have a clear line of sight to a GPS satellite, and so on. In effect, not every impression can have good location, but companies are willing to pay for the information and so publishers have an incentive to pass location even when it's imprecise. So, companies are trying to infer location, which is good. But because of the way location is passed right now, there is rarely an accurate mention of the method used to derive a location. So, ad networks see a lot of location to the extent that a majority of impressions come with a latitude/longitde, but only a fraction of those latitudes/longitudes are actually accurate to within 100 meters.

Q: How can companies combat this?

A: It's important to be focused on weeding out the good data from the bad data. This requires effort. One best practice is to look at the clustering of impressions to understand the probability that the number of impressions in any given spot can be possible. For instance, in any spot in Manhattan, you'd expect a significant number of impressions, whereas if you see a spot in a rural part of Kansas with 10,000 impressions, you should be suspicious. 

Another good rule of thumb is to score apps based on the number of impressions they are sending with location that clearly isn't accurate--for instance, in the middle of Lake Washington or when half their impressions happen in an orange field in California.

Ultimately, the only way to actually do location right is be extremely focused and put a lot of energy and resources behind solving the location accuracy issue. That's what we do at Thinknear and it's all we care about: getting accurate location data.  

Q: Can you give us an idea of just how accurate it is possible to get with real-time geolocation? 

A: When an ad call is made from an app developer, they pass it to the networks and the ad call typically includes the app name and the user location. We make decisions on which ads to serve, if any, based on that location information. But, before we make the decision, we assess the accuracy of the location information. If it's accurate and the location context fits one of our campaigns, then we serve the ad. 

Thinknear recently did a study and looked at tens of millions of impressions where we asked people who clicked on our ads to give us their location. We then pulled it from the most accurate source and compared it with the location we saw in the ad call. We found that 32% have location data that's accurate within 100 meters (325 feet). That is about as accurate as possible.  

Q: When planning a mobile campaign, what do companies need to know about targeting users at the exact right time? 

A: The key thing to remember is that location is not just about targeting, but can also be a very powerful story-elling tool. If you know where someone is, you can speak to him or her in a way that is relevant. It's kind of like the street vendors in New York City who sell DVDs and sunglasses when the weather is nice, but quickly flip their carts over and sell umbrellas when it begins to rain. Context is important. So as a marketer, don't just think of location as a way to figure out whom to talk to, but also as an added layer of what message you deliver and how you present it.