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Industry divided on significance of location technology, data

NEW YORK ? A panel at the fifth annual Mobile Marketing Day conference clearly displayed a divide in the industry when it comes to how important a role leveraging location information and data should play for marketers.

During the ?Key trends and issues in mobile advertising and marketing? session, executives from Aurnhammer, PayPal Media Network, Digital Advertising Alliance, Genesys Cloud, Kargo and Artisan Mobile spoke about the benefits and challenges of geolocation and mobile in general in 2014. The panel was moderated by Mickey Alam Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.

?I think we?re really on the cusp of just a whole new way of interacting with the consumer,? said Mark Friedman, senior vice president and general manager of mobile marketing at Genesys Cloud, Daly City, CA.  ?The whole concept is, there?s been a lot written over the last five years about location-based services and the reality is it?s been much more hype than reality, and if you?ve ever tried to deploy a location-based program, it?s been cost prohibitive to do that. The problem is you couldn?t do it at scale.

?The success of consumers downloading apps, push notifications and iBeacon providing that capability for the consumer, again the consumer has to opt in, but if they do, beacon technology is the secret sauce that?s going to allow a consumer to walk into a store, and if I?m a New England sports fan they?ll let me know there?s paraphernalia,? he said.

?They?ll track me where I go and what my path is so in future visits they can tailor offers. By having the beacon technology track me through the store and understand my patterns, it?s going to allow them to create a more personalized experience for me.?

Geolocation and beacons in particular seemed to hit a chord with the panelists. Some were gung-ho about how the technology would improve the in-store experience, and others were worried about security and privacy concerns.

Taylor Burton, manager of Northeast advertising solutions at PayPal Media Network, Boston, envisions a world similar to that in the film Minority Report, where consumers will walk into a store and automatically be recognized and offer unique messages and deals.

?It?s going to allow that merchant to see what you purchased in the store previously and how can they guide you through the store," he said.

Bill Aurnhammer, founder/CEO of Aurnhammer, New York, believes that beacons may be able to help a certain type of retailer fight online sites such as Amazon.

?This last holiday season, more people shopped on Amazon than went into retailers, and retailers need a way to get people into the store,? he said. ?I don?t really see how beacons are going to improve my experience in the supermarket. But for a luxury brand it really could make sense.

?Beacons are going to allow us to have the consumer engage better with the sales person. You could be walking around the store, hit a button and say I need help now. It?s going to be up to us, and if we don?t do it right we?ll have to deregulate.?

Alexis Berger, vice president of marketing and Midwest sales at Kargo, New York, was a bit apprehensive about how soon geolocation would be able to really have an impact.

?I would argue a lot of it is inference based and there?s a blend of online and offline data that?s allowing this to perform,? Mrs. Berger said. ?But it?s only going to perform to the best of its ability right now.

?There are scale limitations, but we?re getting closer with companies like Shopkick and it?s only going to emerge and evolve over the next couple of months as technologies get smarter,? she said. ?I think it?s up to us to keep our eye on the ball and watch it evolve and test and learn.

?Nothing?s going to happen overnight, but what?s fascinating in this industry is we continue to test waters to really try to accomplish your goal.?

Power checks
While many panelists were excited about the powerful capabilities of beacons and geolocation, a number were sure to mention the importance of opting in and having a preference center.

?American Express has a preference center where you can go in and set how you want to be communicated with. It allows you to tailor the experience that you?re looking for,? Genesys Cloud?s Mr. Friedman said. ?This concept of a preference center we?re seeing go all over the place.

?It ties in because ultimately the theme is the consumer has got to be in control,? he said. ?The beacon technology is enabling that if the consumer wants to be known that they?re there and if you can tie with an offer, the consumer is in control of what he or she is receiving.

?Our solutions enable marketers to understand that it?s not our data, it?s our clients? data that?s provided by consumers. That concept of a preference center is aimed at enabling that privacy. What the consumer wants is control.?

Lou Mastria, managing director of Digital Advertising Alliance, New York, agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Friedman.

?Consumers want to know that they do have control,? he said. ?That there?s some element that they can move around, maybe give additional information. The reality is that that?s the thing that puts consumers at ease, and it also ties in with what regulators are asking us for.

?If you?re going to service consumers the way they expect, the reality is you have to give them transparency and control,? he said. ?Its table stakes. It really is important both for your consumer experience as well as how regulators view this.?

While geolocation and data are clearly beneficial to marketers in terms of being able to engage consumers more successfully, the end goal should be to make the experience better for the consumer.

?I actually think it?ll be the consumers at the end of the day that are shaping the experience,? said Bob Moul, CEO of Artisan Mobile, Philadelphia. ?People who are doing it right are listening to consumers to see what works and what doesn?t work and we see brands adapting to that.

?The consumers are learning how to do new things as well,? he said. ?I think it?s an ongoing dialogue. But by and large I think it?s us listening to consumers to see how they want to engage on mobile.?

This philosophy of consumer-first plays across all mobile verticals, including mobile payments.

?I think it really comes down to what is the path of least resistance,? PayPal?s Mr. Burton said. ?Whatever experience is the easiest for the user to complete transactions, they?re going to do that. You like to think that people are trying out different and new quirky technologies, [but] whatever mechanism is the easiest for the consumer to make a purchase in that?s what they?re going to do.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York