How Mobile Changed Attribution & Marketing Optimization


The smartphone is singularly the most profound advance in marketing analysis in the past 15 years. I’ve had a front row seat to observe how Mobile data has changed analytics. Specifically, Smartphones generate spatiotemporal data. Spatiotemporal means space and time – in other words, the location data from the phone viewed over time to see how people move though their world.

Are you harnessing the power of this data?

Let me share some examples of how spatiotemporal data is helpful for marketers whose sales occur at specific physical locations.

Walmart is one of the first companies who began making use of this data. For their 2014 Back to School campaign, Walmart and the Mobile Marketing Association wanted to know if they could entice someone into a store with mobile advertising. This data was used by Walmart to see the influence of different sized ads delivered to people that were known to have visited a Walmart in the recent past, but were at home now. Comparing control and exposed groups, we learned it took a larger ad to get someone back into the store for an incremental occasion.

Maybe the small mobile ads don’t work. Not so fast. Using spatiotemporal data combined with geo-fence targeted ads to exposed and control groups around the store, Walmart learned that even the smaller ad, with a well-designed message, could accomplish that task. The bigger ad worked better. Was it worth the upcharge for the larger ad? Yes, thanks to spatiotemporal data and well-designed experiments, Walmart learned bigger is better, and more profitable.

Walmart could have gotten to this same answer by looking at their CRM file and analyzing ad exposure versus sales. But, this requires a lot of collaboration between departments and technology partners, which can be organizationally difficult. The mobile data is a great proxy for the sales data and is available nearly instantly without having to ask IT for access to the CRM file.

If you are a cash business, or don’t have a great CRM file, the mobile data is a great way to close the loop and estimate sales response. In 2017 Wendy’s used mobile data from PlaceIQ to close the loop on the effectiveness of their advertising. We used this data because Wendy’s is a cash business, and they don’t have a CRM file. The mobile data told us what we needed to know about foot traffic, and sales impact of their Radio, TV, Out-of-home and mobile advertising.

But here is the kicker: This data lets you analyze your competitors in ways that were never possible before the mobile data arrived as well. Wendy’s went after consumers who frequented competitors’ restaurants. They tried a variety of advertising strategies and messages, and were able to determine which messages changed behavior. Wendy’s optimized their marketing accordingly.

Allstate analyzes people visiting car dealerships and uses the data to advertise to consumers about auto insurance. In some cases, there are other signals besides mobile data – people shop for cars online, and that generates its own data, so the data from Mobile may not be the only way to know who is in-market for a car. Our experience is more signals are better.

Spatiotemporal data is something that every marketer should be racing to master. The application of mobile data applies to every business I can think of – even an online only business should be interested in what their customers do in the physical world.

There are other important capabilities of the mobile device. The camera is a game changer. A decade ago, analyzing the in-store experience for Coca-Cola relied on expensive reports measuring the amount of shelf space, refrigerators, promotion ads on the counters, pricing, etc. This data was a mere snapshot for each of over thousands of stores and was incredibly expensive to get. Today, the mobile camera is enabling crowd sourcing of this same data at a fraction of the cost. What’s more, instead of getting a snapshot of the store once a year, the crowd source data is much more frequent, allowing for dramatically better analysis of how in-store execution influences sales.

The fact that people carry the devices and tweet, and post socially gives an instant feedback on customer service. The microphone on the phone has been used, with consumer permission, to create panels of consumers that can listen for when your advertisements are played on the Radio and TV. The health tracking of your phone connected to a watch can measure if your advertising truly makes your consumer pulse quicken – jury is still out on whether that is reliably predictive of sales impact – but we can use the spatiotemporal data from the phone to find out!

When I worked at WIRED two decades ago, there was a saying, “Information wants to be free.” The mobile device is upending the notion that only you know what your consumers are doing in your store. As the Wendy’s case shows, you can observe which of your consumers are shopping elsewhere, and act based on this data. It is changing the competitive landscape because we have a much better idea of what consumers are doing, and how we might better serve them. Whoever harnesses this data first gains a meaningful competitive advantage.

The bottom line: Make mobile data a key part of your total marketing measurement and optimization – use it to connect better with your customer. Use it to draw your competitor’s customer to you.


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