There is a massive amount of data available to us at any given time. One of the biggest challenges for enterprises can be cutting through the overwhelming volume and focusing on the pieces of information that have a true impact on your business goals. 

One type of data that can provide unique insights is location data. Contrary to popular belief, location data isn’t only useful for pulling up Google Maps to find the nearest grocery store, or launching Waze to help you navigate your city’s traffic. While those are perhaps the most obvious uses, the insights that companies can glean from location data - and the ways in which they can then use that data to better market their products and services to customers, among many other applications - are significant.

Understanding Location Data

Location data is geographical information about a specific device’s whereabouts at a specific time. Due to the nature of the devices - smartphones, laptops, fitness trackers, etc. - a large majority of the time this information correlates to a specific person. So, if you know the location of someone’s smartphone, you’re likely to know where they shop, where they work out, where they spend their leisure time, etc. 

This data is tracked in a number of ways, most often by mobile carriers, but also through Wi-Fi, beacons, satellites, and more. Consider the smartphone. When your phone’s location services are turned on, it transmits a location via GPS. That information is then used to help you receive accurate weather alerts, power your Google search results so they are relevant to your current location, or to “check in” on social media at a specific venue. 

Thinking bigger picture, location data can help airlines monitor planes en route, Amazon assess when your package will be delivered, health organizations track the scope of disease outbreaks, and more. 

Location data is perhaps most easily condensed into this concept: a digital footprint. And by following those footprints, businesses can not only tell what kind of journey customers are taking, but can often influence in which direction they head next.

While this might seem a bit invasive, the collection and utilization of location data is perfectly legal - provided that businesses clearly inform users of how their data is used and offer opt-in and opt-out features, as well as ways to manage their consent practices. 

Decoding Location Data: Insights, Applications, and Benefits

There are a myriad of benefits to location data. Per Hubspot, 88% of consumers who do a local search on their smartphone visit or call a store within a day. In fact, nearly 46% of all Google searches are seeking local information. 

Consumer Use of Location Data Graphic

But beyond utilizing location data to help customers find your brick-and-mortar store, businesses can also use this data to analyze consumer movements. Those insights allow companies to determine what kind of investments to make and how to outpace their competitors. For example, if a new neighborhood is built in a suburban area, there may be an increase in foot traffic to the local Target. This would be of interest to Walmart, who might want to consider building a store to service the influx of residents. 

They also allow companies to improve upon the products and services they provide, and better reach their target audiences. With location data, your Uber can find you faster. Home Depot can send ads to contractors who frequent their stores. Customers who shopped at an Ulta can receive retargeted ads for Sephora. These are just a handful of examples.

Location Data Terminology

Accuracy vs. Precision

While accuracy and precision sound similar, when it comes to location data, they are two distinct concepts. 

Accuracy determines how close the device’s geographical reading is to the actual location of the device. Accuracy varies depending upon the type of signal and type of device. 

Precision is the level of detail that is associated with the location measurement, and the more that the details provided correlate with other details in the dataset, the more precise the data. 

Put another way, accuracy measures how close a device is to the location where it was pinged. Precision means how similar a number of separate pings are.  

Real Time vs. Historical

Beyond understanding the difference between accurate and precise data, it’s also important to make a distinction between real-time location data and historical location data. Real-time data is tracking a device’s movements as they are happening. Historical data provides a detailed report on where a device has been over the course of a specific time period.

Deterministic vs. Probabilistic

Deterministic location data is data that relies on human movements, such as when a person drives from one place to another. Probabilistic location data is based on probability, or a prediction as to where a device will be given its past movements. 

Accessing, Analyzing, & Using Location Data

Aside from collecting your own location data, this information can often be purchased. Purchased location data typically includes information such as latitude, longitude, timestamps, place names, etc. Location data is also sold based upon IP addresses, brand IDs, and more. 

Regardless of how you obtain this location data, you’ll need to analyze it. Think of location data as a way to identify patterns and trends on a large scale. You may want to analyze this data to help you determine: 

  • Customer demographics
  • Customer behaviors
  • Insights to specific brick-and-mortar retail locations (i.e. number of repeat visits, average visit length)
  • Emerging markets
  • Unmet customer needs (ex. a group of people who live in zip code X always have to go to zip code Y to get to a grocery store)
  • Target audiences for specific marketing campaigns

To that point, you can use location data in a wide variety of ways. Some examples include:

  • Audience segmentation
  • Targeted marketing
  • Retargeting
  • Interest targeting
  • Personalization
  • Location-based targeting
  • Predictive personalization 
  • Measurement and attribution

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how location data can inform business strategy and marketing campaigns

Location Data to Drive Strategy

Location data provides valuable context to understand customer behavior, optimize supply chains, identify market trends, and make informed business decisions. By effectively managing location data, organizations can gain insights, improve operational efficiency, and deliver personalized experiences.

Interested in learning more about the impact location data can have on your business? Reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge for a free consultation.

About the Author

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Adam Arbour

Principal Consultant, Data Practice

Adam brings over 12 years of experience in helping organizations solve their data challenges. Working with manufacturers, distributors, and CPG, has is a key consultant to the C-suite to drive digital transformation roadmaps. He's designed and implemented multiple software platforms supporting Master Data, Governance, Data Quality, and BI/Analytics engagements. He brings a depth of expertise and experience at driving business outcomes and simplifying complex technical engagements.

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