How to Geo-Target Mobile Audiences without Cookie Data

March 07, 2018

Collective Measures

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Cookie and mobile data collected on cell phone

How to geo-target mobile audiences without cookie data

Before launching a digital media campaign, every brand, marketer, and agency must ask themselves this question: what is the best way to reach my target audience? There are hundreds of options available today to target a specific audience online, but for many years marketers have relied heavily on user cookie data to target specific people online. While cookie data has its strengths – for example, targeting an audience based on their recent browsing history – but it comes with its share of weaknesses as well:

  • Not all 3rd party segments are relevant to your target audience
  • Consumers actively clear their cookies and have the ability to block cookie data
  • Cookies expire after time
  • Cookies are ineffective within most mobile browsers and don’t exist in mobile apps

Mobile Cookie Data: Not an Accurate Representation of User

What does this mean? Sometimes cookie data doesn’t provide the most accurate representation of a user, and you end up targeting a computer’s behavior instead of an actual person’s behavior. This is especially true when it comes to mobile.

According to internet monitoring firm, Stat Counter, “Today, more consumers are accessing the internet from their mobile devices than their desktop devices. The combined traffic from mobile and tablet devices is 51.2%, vs. 48.7% for desktop”. And much of this activity happens within apps, which do not support cookies. With consumers turning to their mobile devices more than desktop, being present on mobile is more crucial for brands than ever. The lost opportunities associated with an inconsistent approach and lack of targeting on mobile can be staggering for brands and agencies.

So how can we remedy the lack of cookie data on mobile? With device graphing and geo location.

Device Graphing: Applies Cross-device cookies For Mobile Targeting

A device graph matches an individual to all the devices they use – a computer at work, their laptop at home, a tablet, and a smartphone. Instead of counting each device as the behavior of a different person, a device graph counts them as one person, which critically removes duplication. This technology allows a company to apply the cookies from a person’s desktop to that same person’s mobile device allowing to target based on desktop behavior.

There are two ways cookies and segments can be applied from a desktop to a mobile device: probabilistic and deterministic graphs.

  • Probabilistic graphs use location data generated from WIFI connection and IP address frequency, as well as website visit frequency to try and match many devices to a single person. Probabilistic is named probabilistic for a reason – it’s probably going to happen and still uses cookie data.
  • Deterministic graphs use logged-in data, such as when a person is asked to input their email address. A great example of this is Google, Facebook, or any other social platform where you log into your own account. As this approach is very accurate in matching many devices to a signal person, and the data collected is very accurate, deterministic graphs are limited to a specific media outlet and still rely on cookie data.

While this approach is clearly an improvement from not being able to target at all on mobile, it still relies on cookies.

Geo Location: Mobile Targeting on identified mobile location

Where people live, work, play, and visit can tell us a lot about an individual. Geo-location targeting analyzes the mobile location by finding either the Wi-Fi connection, GPS signal, cell triangulation signal, or IP address of a user’s mobile device; if all 4 four signals can be captured, there is a 97% accuracy rate of hitting a targeted location down to a few feet. That said, not all 4 signals need to be captured to serve an ad – as long as one of the 4 can be found, an ad can be served to that user in a specific location. For each additional signal you capture, the more and more accurate your targeting will become.

You can also use this information to target users that have been to a specific location in the past; in that case, the same analysis is done but the data is stored and the device ID is tracked as one that visited a specific location. Marketers can leverage this data to target people who have previously visited a specific location, serving them a relevant ad at a later date.

There are, of course, limiters to geo-location targeting: a marketer needs to either target a significant amount of small locations or a significant amount of people in a few locations to get the required volume to execute. Another concern is related to targeting accuracy – if consumers don’t have their GPS or Wi-Fi signal activated, marketers can only rely on IP address and cell triangulation for targeting. Still, even considering these limitations, this approach to targeting is very precise and extremely reliable.

Usage case #1: Geo-location targeting for niche, small audiences

If you’re a tractor manufacturing company and want to reach farmers, the amount of digital content online isn’t as robust as something like fitness or food content. The number of farmers buying tractors online is also slim, which means the volume of relevant segments or cookies will be low. Geo-location targeting, however, provides an opportunity to directly target the farmers’ convention that takes place 2-3 times a year, and reach all the people who have visited over the past 3 years. It is also possible to target the people that are currently attending the convention; if you’re attending a farmers’ convention you are most likely a farmer, or have a strong interest in farming.

Usage case #2: Driving foot traffic with mobile messaging with geo-location targeting

If you’re a national quick service restaurant and have sponsorship rights to NCAA football, you can implement an activation program. With geo-location targeting you can target all the fans in attendance at college football games across the country with a mobile message encouraging them to visit your location after the game and receive a free milk shake, hamburger, beer, etc. – driving foot traffic and taking advantage of post-game celebrating. You could also gauge performance by requesting the user screen-shot the offer and present it at point of purchase. This type of targeting could not be done with standard cookies, and it allows a brand to take a traditional out-of-home (OOH) or onsite activation approach, while connecting it to a digital campaign that provides valuable insights and reporting.

Geo-location audience targeting can benefit marketers

Cookie data and segments have their place and can be extremely valuable when it comes to audience targeting; completely abandoning or eliminating them in favor of geo-location targeting only is not the answer. That said, looking at geo-location targeting from a different point of view can benefit your brand or service. And, with recent innovation around mobile capabilities, geo-location targeting will continue to be a great way for brands and agencies to reach their target audiences online in unique and creative ways.

IMAGE SOURCE: Jim Makos / Flickr

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