Asking the Experts

Asking the Experts: Understanding GPS for Your Retention Marketing Success

How marketers can use geofencing to bring their messages to the right people

Keith Loria
January 17 2019

GPS tracking systems pinpoint and track any designated mobile device in real time in any geographic location. In 2019, we’ll witness marketers utilizing this technology in attempting to capture customers’ attention and change their purchasing habits.

“The decision to use GPS tracking to connect with an audience is savvy because it combines the user’s actual physical location with incentives to change their behavior,” said Stacy Caprio, founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing. “It’s extremely cutting edge and allows marketers to use location data to improve their messaging and ultimately their marketing outcomes.”

The problem is, access to mobile-tracking technology through a GPS system is limited to security forces and law enforcement – not businesses. What companies can do, however, is use GPS systems to track their audiences within a predefined limited area through what is called geofencing.

Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and digital marketing expert of DontPayFull, said that geofencing has allowed marketers to deliver business messages to their designated audiences at precise moments with surgical accuracy.

“In this geofencing system, a certain area (from a building to an area of a few miles radius) can be electronically fenced,” he said. “There is a central system where all the mobile phone numbers of the subscribers or audiences are fed after getting their contact details. Whenever any of these audiences come inside the geofenced area, the central system gets alerted and becomes ready to deliver any business message to the audience directly to their mobile phones.”

This is particularly useful for retail stores, where marketers can share various discount offers or special deals to mobile devices within a certain distance.

It’s worth noting that geofencing doesn’t just use GPS tracking—RFID, Wi-Fi and cellular data can also send location-based triggers.

Jenna Erickson, marketing manager at Codal, a UX design and development agency, said that when it comes to digital advertising, geolocation is everything.

“It’s a savvy decision for marketers to use GPS tracking with an audience because it is the best way to pull a mobile user in,” she said. “Location tracking is specifically incredible for mobile applications and businesses that have both an online and physical store presence. It really bridges the gap between digital and physical landscapes for any type of retail brand.”

For that reason, push notifications are the lifeblood of geofencing – connecting messages with an audience.

“If your business has a mobile application, you can send out push notifications when they are near a store location, or even near a competitor,” she said. “This can also help drive more foot traffic to your brick and mortar stores.”

Many companies use geolocation to send notifications for a coupon, deal, or reminder to visit a store.

Brandon Dietrich, principal at Social Assurance Media, said that this idea is also known as proximity marketing—using prospects’ locations and travel patterns to identify who to show specific advertisements to and who to leave out. After all, he noted, the ability to track and market to individuals based on their travel patterns and location proves essential for local businesses attempting to narrowcast a message, not broadcast their offering.

“A tried and true first step for a business to begin using prospect location for marketing efforts is through a third-party platform like Facebook,” he said. “Facebook’s ads manager enables not just native but also audience network advertising. Choosing cold contacts that frequent specific locations, live in a specific area, or who have not been to an area are all segmentation criteria one can run ads against.”

Beacon Technology

SpendWitty is a deal app that partners with local businesses in the Chicago area to bring in more foot traffic. Each of the stores in the app utilizes beacon technology, so that when a user is in the proximity of that beacon, s/he receives a push notification with a promotion.

“The difference between beacon technology and geofencing is with a beacon, you would not be able to pinpoint the user on a map, only see their proximity from the beacon,” Erickson said.

Candice Simons, president and CEO of Brooklyn Outdoor, noted that advertising agencies are adding beacons to out-of-home ads such as billboards, which will ping a person as soon as they are in the vicinity.

“For instance, if a fast-food restaurant incorporates GPS tracking into a roadside billboard, they will be able to count the exact number of people who went to the nearest location after being exposed to the ad,” she said. “Companies no longer have to wait to count the number of views from printed or commercial ads converted into purchases. It allows for quicker gratification.”

One successful campaign was Cannes Lion-winning British Airways for its “Look Up” campaign. The airline placed a billboard that could be viewed in the same space as planes that were leaving the runway, and used GPS to track the ascending airplanes into the sky. Simultaneously, a child on the digital billboard would look into the sky, prompting billboard viewers to do the same.

“Another company that has successfully incorporated GPS into its OOH campaign is Netflix,” Simons said. “For instance, Netflix uses GPS to measure the type of festivals their audience attends. Therefore, they know where to place certain billboards for upcoming shows and movies. If people in a certain area are more likely to attend a country music festival versus Coachella, then they know where to advertise based on genre.”

Geofencing in Action

Starbucks was one of the first brands to adopt geofencing technology, using it to send notification coupons to customers who were near one of their stores and incentivizing them to come inside. Verizon has also taken a creative approach with the technology, tracking non-customer visits to competitor stores and then serving ads to these customers online.

Louisa McGrath, content manager for Rebrandly, a link management tool empowering users to put their brand name on the links they share, said that when combined with SMS marketing, GPS can be a powerful tool to help marketers reach prospects at just the right moment to drive action.

“For example, outdoor clothing brand, North Face, used a combination of geofencing and text message marketing to encourage customers who were near their brick-and-mortar stores to drop by,” she said. “By creating 1,000 geofences around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, they hooked in customers who were nearby with promotions and updates about new stock.”

The Hershey Co. used a similar tactic to send coupons to its in-store visitors in order to drive sales and engagement.

“While it can take time to build up a list of people who’ve opted in for text alerts, it’s worth the investment,” McGrath said.

The Future of GPS in Marketing

Experts see a lot happening with this technology in the years ahead, with many projecting artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive analytics playing an important role.

“The more analytics and data that businesses have on their customers, the more they can tailor personalization strategies to bring them in,” Erickson said. “Segmenting a user based on their location allows for brands to personally communicate with each customer, optimize the customer experience, and increase the lifetime value of the customer.”

Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as sports, business and healthcare. You can view some of his recent writing at

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