In Digital Pulse’s Uncovered series, we distill and summarise key digital trends and topics.
Here, Richard Blundell explains hyperlocal targeting, a set of tools that leverage the digital economy’s ability to both scale to a global audience and geographically target specific groups or individuals.
I can remember a time, back in the early 2000s, when looking up something on Google revealed globally universal results. It didn’t matter if you were in Australia, the UK or the US, the search engine delivered the same information to identical keyword searches.
Then, sometime around 2004, Google began to geo-locate its users to their IP addresses. Suddenly, it made a difference where in the world you were. Google’s algorithms identified which country you lived in then tailored its search results accordingly, generally favouring local businesses and news outlets over international counterparts. This localisation quickly drilled down to cities or regions, then to suburbs and city blocks.
As this was happening, Google also began to overlay information about who you are to your search activity, personalising search results based on previous habits or histories.
This zooming-in and personalising is the essence of hyperlocal technology, an ever-evolving suite of tools that unlocks the ability to target individual users within increasingly defined geographical areas. Currently made possible by the saturation of smartphones, modern iterations of hyperlocal can empower businesses to resonate with customers in more ways than ever before.
In its broadest sense, hyperlocal involves the creation and delivery of geographically specific information. Previously, hyperlocal was often used in the context of hyperlocal media – digital news services that provided specific content to small communities or neighbourhoods¹.
As technology has evolved, however, the hyper in hyperlocal has become constantly redefined to mean ever-greater granularity. In the smartphone age, hyperlocal unlocks the ability for businesses to map and connect with large numbers of consumers individually and in close geographical proximity. It’s this use of hyperlocal – also known as hyperlocal targeting or hyper-targeting – that I’ll focus on.
Putting the user
There are three dimensions to today’s hyperlocal targeting:
A search engine that’s being hyperlocal would be returning results relevant to not only what the user is looking for and where they are but also when they search. It’s no use, for example, for a user who has run out of petrol on the side of the road to be delivered the local listings of petrol stations that are closed.
A more complex example would be Dynamic Location Advertisements, which at least one social network is now using. Like any social network ad, it targets intent by analysing users’ demographics and online behaviour. But it also knows when and where the user is. So if they meet the intent criteria and are within a hundred metres of a certain place at a certain time, an ad will come into their feed that encourages them to visit, say, a particular store and will show directions to get there. That’s certainly hyperlocal by anyone’s definition.
Beyond serving up highly relevant advertising, how can hyperlocal targeting improve service deliveries and customer experiences?
I was recently talking with an Australian company that provides location-based tracking software for smartphone apps. They mentioned how an official app from one of Australia’s major sports leagues could leverage the hyperlocal aspects of the location services functionality, using it to track consumers on game days. But they weren’t using the geo-tracking to serve ads, rather make the game-day experience much better.
Using the data, the sports stadium management measure and observe the behaviours of crowds before and after a sports match – how many people visit, average arrival times before the game begins, and where they head off to after the game finishes. Deriving broad behavioural analysis from hyperlocal information, stadium managers are using these insights to plan their crowd management activities, or how to provide a better service during major events.
Another good example is one that an Australian train operator is trialling. By analysing app users’ travel patterns, it knows which lines and routes each customer tends to travel on. If train disruption occurs to that route they are targeting relevant customers with warnings about delays.
Looking to the future of hyperlocal, we can expect the hyper prefix to keep advancing and changing. Technologies such as Bluetooth, tracking beacons and Wi-Fi could work alongside the GPS in smartphones to enable both vertical and horizontal location services, potentially tracking customers in multi-storey structures to within a few metres of in-store product displays.
Hyperlocal technology might also prove revolutionary in solving one of the more difficult problems in retail: the measuring of marketing attribution. The conundrum goes like this: after conducting extensive marketing and advertising campaigns across various channels, how can we then follow the ensuing effects on consumer behaviour in the physical world, such as increased store visits, engagement or sales?
Currently, the solution is achieved only at a macro level, and only with difficulty. By integrating geo-tracking with other metrics such as web traffic analytics, hyperlocal technology is starting to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds, quantifying the exact number of individuals that responded to a campaign, when they visited a store, how long they visited for, what they visited within the store, and whether or not they bought anything.
Another phase of hyperlocal innovation is emerging around interpreting customer intent using artificial intelligence. AI could analyse past and present geo-tracked user movements, using the data to anticipate future behaviours. A real estate app, for example, might track which houses you’ve visited, with any repeat visits to particular dwellings suggesting a high level of interest. This intent could then be picked up by the real estate agent.
We’ve drifted into a world where consumers frequently agree to trade personal data for more convenient and personalised services from app publishers. By keeping location services, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled on smartphones, consumers are also signing up to a hyperlocal agreement within this larger data exchange, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Businesses and app publishers should therefore honour their side of this agreement, looking at how hyperlocal technology can continue to improve customer experiences, helping consumers make better and more informed choices beyond simply receiving more targeted advertisements.