There have been a lot of year-end roundups and predictions posts over the past two weeks. I participated in a couple of those for ReachLocal and StreetFight. I specifically declined to do that here.
Now however I want to offer an abbreviated year in review post. Looking forward to 2015, there are lots of interesting things happening in wearables, online film and TV distribution, virtual reality, indoor location, the smart home/IoT and beyond.
But as I reflect on 2014, it strikes me that there were two interconnected “metatrends” that stand out. People will use different terminology to discuss these but I would name them as follows:
- Marriage of online and offline
- Emergence of real-world location data
In both cases mobile devices are playing a central or enabling role. In the latter case, mobile-location history is delivering real-world behavioral data and insights to marketers and brands, enabling the kinds of targeting, tracking and attribution that simply weren’t possible a short time ago.
Location for mobile users, in some sense, is like a search keyword. Physical presence in Macy’s or a Honda dealership or Five Guys is an indication of intent to buy (if not actual buying behavior). But location and location history also provide broader insights into consumer patterns and “identity.” My presence at the Intercontinental hotel vs. a Hampton Inn reveals me as a certain type of traveler-buyer.
As an indication of the value of location data, almost all your apps are now seeking to capture location in the background all the time. Accordingly, there are obvious and significant privacy implications to all this.
Putting those aside for the moment, these types of audience data were previously only capable of being inferred or imputed from PC site visits or magazine subscriptions or your postal code (which is also a contributor to mobile-location profiling). Now however location history and real-time location are yielding new and incredibly valuable information for digital marketers.
Mobile-location was also previously seen by most as a narrow, real-time opportunity. I’m near Target or near Starbucks right now, hit me with a coupon — essentially geofencing on the display side and something similar on the search side: I’m looking for an open bagel shop right now. Yet something more complex and nuanced has emerged that has as much or more relevance to brands as it does to direct-response marketers.
The proliferation of mobile devices has also been a driver of, though not the only contributor to, the related “online to offline” phenomenon I referenced in the first bullet above. This broader category includes:
- Online scheduling for offline visits or services
- In-app payments for offline services and offline-mobile payments
- The digital availability of real-time inventory data (products and services)
- Cloud-based back office services that power many of these consumer-facing capabilities
- Digital analytics for offline behavior and online-to-store ad tracking
The digital and “real” worlds only continue to become more and more interpenetrated as more offline and real-world data are captured, digitized and made accessible via the internet and mobile apps. While mobile isn’t the sole variable behind these trends it’s in most respects the keystone.
And as I look ahead to 2015 I see a year when mobile truly comes to dominate the PC in almost all respects — except for ad spend.