Location data has become an increasingly valuable asset to marketers. Using offline behavior and movements (like a “cookie for the real-world”), it can identify audiences, provide operational and competitive insights and identify which campaigns and channels have driven actual store visits and even sales.
But it can also be inaccurate and, as with programmatic, it’s often sold in a kind of black box. Marketers are asked to trust that the data are as they’ve been represented. Thomas Walle, CEO of location data platform Unacast says, “The industry represents the data as mostly deterministic and accurate.”
But he says the industry is “overselling its capabilities.” There’s a great deal of inaccuracy in the location information being passed by many of the sources. Many location data providers will paradoxically represent that they “throw out” 75 percent of the location signals they receive — to suggest the integrity of their own data.
Location is captured though GPS, WiFi signals, cell-tower triangulation, beacons and other methods. Advertising IDs are tracked and can be matched to other identifiers, including email, home address and CRM data. But the location data sources have varying degrees of accuracy depending on the context and circumstances of capture. There’s also some fraud in the system as well: publishers passing a lat-long receive more for an impression than one without.
Walle explains that brands and agencies don’t fully appreciate or understand that different accuracy levels are required for different use cases:
- Audience building/targeting
- Offline attribution and store visitation
- Insights/business intelligence
- In-store analytics
More accuracy is required for some of these (attribution) than for others (targeting or retargeting). By not fully understanding these differences and how to evaluate location data, Walle believes that marketers are wasting money.
To help demystify location and push the industry toward greater transparency, Unacast is announcing the “Clear View Data Pledge.” The company hopes others in the industry will follow its lead and adopt similar commitments. The pledge includes the following promises:
- We promise that we will never tell you that a device was in two places at the same time – and our product will give you the ability to know if we did
- We promise to provide all of the information needed (not just AdID, venue name and timestamp) within a dataset to assess its accuracy and quality through the transparency fields that you select, enabling you to become a product expert
- We promise that our platform will always maintain GDPR compliance standards
- We promise to maintain an ethical code of conduct in handling all data
- We promise to be up front about methodology and provide you with the qualifications needed to evaluate our data
Much of the data out there represented as deterministic is actually probabilistic, and Walle wants marketers to understand that more clearly when they buy. He believes that a range of quality and confidence indicators — such number of lat-long sources, dwell time and margin of error scoring, among others — can help buyers evaluate the data and use it more appropriately, improving outcomes and reducing waste.
The broader digital marketing industry has been plagued by problems of fraud, error-ridden reporting and non-viewed impressions. Walle sees an opportunity to avoid many of those problems if the location-data industry agrees to offer more transparency to buyers. “We have to get this right and do this now,” he says.