Open Letter: Pick Premium Partners and Don’t Worry about Location-Data Doomsayers

We don’t dismiss an industry because of challenging practices enacted by select bad actors, we address poor behavior and we illustrate best practices to counter it.

Late in February, 2019, an anonymous source went to town on the location-data industry with broadly worded claims about, in a general way, the honesty and capabilities that vendors offer to advertisers and brands. The unnamed source surfaced in a piece by Seb Joseph, published at Digiday, and this individual’s assertions do deserve some attention, as they verge on irresponsible doomsaying. What they require, to properly contextualize the challenge inherent to working with data and device-place visit, are an attendant set of recommendations and reality checks that I will now provide. 

One point the anonymous source makes is that vendors pad the location data they sell with third-party data they’ve bought, which brings in the risk of fraud and unreliable instances.

The answer to that point is obvious: don’t work with vendors who do this. Instead, stick with location experts that source data with a mobile device ID model, and that turn to second and third party data *only* after taking root-level steps to cleanse and de-de-dupe problematic data. Real-time data scoring is key to this, as well, and if you’re not getting it then you’re possibly working with the kind of challenges about which this anonymous source is generalizing.

Another point, by the same unnamed source, is that location data amounts to a false promise in the first place, because people don’t walk around with apps open in stores

Well, no honest and sensible vendor suggests that it’s all lat-long and that’s it. Actual experts are bringing together a plethora of signals — GPS, Wi-Fi, IP addresses, beacons, and more — to achieve true signal density. And they’re doing this over time, analyzing and scoring to achieve understandings about not only *where* people go but when and what they are doing as mobile ads intersect with their lives. This allows us to tap into mindsets as well as physical location, anticipating preferences to come and creating demand for new ideas in the customer’s experience. Above board expert-level vendors then combine that spectrum of data types — and that long-view approach to assembling audience understandings — with a thoroughly cleansed premium-quality POI database. These steps, and others, do get advertisers very, very close to device-place visit accuracy most of the time. Nobody worth your money, however, is selling this as 100% accuracy: the truth is that 100% accurate and comprehensive device-place visit data do not exist currently anywhere in the market. And so, don’t let any potential partner persuade you otherwise.

In the end, the underlying problem with the source’s argument is that it conflates terrible practices with something like inevitability. It’s not inevitable that you work with a bad vendor, it’s a mistake some might make, but it can be corrected by listening to — and partnering with — the best providers in the industry.

Bottom line, choose carefully! Vendors are not all alike. Still, we don’t dismiss an industry because of challenging practices enacted by select bad actors, we address poor behavior and we illustrate best practices to counter it. To help, we’ve put together a booklet that guides advertiser through this very process, highlighting six questions and steps that can help guarantee your vendor is rising to the bar we’ve set for the premium segment of mobile marketing technology. Click the link to download the publication, Movement Science: An Advertiser’s Guide to Activating Mobile Device and Location Signals.

Julie Bernard is CMO at Verve.

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