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Targeting members of your audience by their physical locations is a practice as old as advertising itself. The first highway billboards are a classic early example of what’s come to be known as “geotargeting”: you have an audience, know where they’re located, so you place ads in those physical locations.

But location isn’t as fixed as it used to be. The internet and mobile phones have made it possible to know a lot more about where people are at any given time and even where they might be in the future. This information can be very effective in B2B marketing — if you use it wisely. The goal is not to track your prospects’ every move like Big Brother, but to improve engagement by meeting your audience where they are.

What is Geotargeting?

“Geotargeting” is a pretty broad term, one you’ll hear defined differently depending on who you talk to. Essentially, it’s any effort that involves using a person’s location as a variable to target them.

Sometimes a location is all you need. For example, if you’re promoting an event in Cincinnati, it makes sense to target people in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. Think about key areas where attendees are bound to be: airports, bus terminals, hotel lounges, highways, etc.

Location data can also be cross-targeted with variables when implemented online. Common examples include combining locations with job titles or other pieces of psychographic information. It’s one of many “levers” you can consider when you’re trying to whittle down who sees your ads.

Finding Your Audience

Location data gathering has probably been going on a lot longer than most people realize. The internet has made it much easier to work out where someone is based on their internet protocol (IP) address, which indicates where their server is. Other signals like browsing and engagement behavior help infer the types of content they’re likely interested in.

More recently, cell phones and other mobile devices have become huge game changers. We take them with us wherever we go and do a lot of our work on them. These devices constantly blast global positioning system (GPS) signals into outer space to communicate with the satellite dishes that enable them; that’s how we get traffic updates on our maps, local weather information or recommendations for nearby restaurants. At the same time, they’re sending clues to countless data collectors about where we are, when we are there, and what we’re likely interested in.
So much so that the average person produces 1.7MBs of data per second, every minute of every day. 

Let that sink in.

You’re always online and sending clues about yourself, even if your cell phone is just sitting in your pocket. And that’s all before you start telling Google what you want to know in your search query, before you tell LinkedIn what company you work for and what your job title is, and before you tell Hulu what your favorite television programs are.

Together, all that data can pinpoint where people spend the majority of their time, and even predict where they might be in the future. Tapping into those insights can help you make smart decisions with your marketing budget.

Geotargeting for B2B

When should a B2B campaign consider geotargeting? The simple answer is 100% of the time. You’ll always need to put some boundaries on where your messages will appear.

The larger questions are how to use geotargeting and balance it with other factors. Let’s explore some of the most common and effective strategies.

If location can make or break a deal, you need to take it into consideration. If you’re only capable of doing business in North America but you accidentally set your targeting to international settings (which happens more often than you might imagine), all of a sudden you’re burning ad spend on people you can’t sell to.

On the other hand, certain locations might be really important to an account-based approach. For instance, one of our clients is in an industry whose major players are heavily concentrated in New England. Even when we run national campaigns for them, we often target that area of the country more aggressively.

Although it’s tempting to go as granular as you possibly can, it’s not without risks. If you only target people in Austin, Texas, because there’s a particular company you want to work with there, your impact might be negatively limiting. Your campaign won’t serve enough ads to generate a worthwhile response. In addition, you’ll probably be missing tons of similar accounts elsewhere in the state or even the country at large.

Segmentation needs to be carefully balanced with the goals of the campaign, and perpetually tested and refined as you measure your tactical effectiveness. Sometimes that looks like drilling down more granularly into a particular area; sometimes it’s the opposite.

Narrowing your audience by location isn’t enough. Making sure your message is relevant to them in a way that’s locally and culturally sensitive is a huge part of geotargeting too.

Localization can be as basic as spelling certain English words differently based on where in the world your ad is viewed (e.g., “color” in the U.S., “colour” in the U.K.), or serving it into the most common local languages of the countries you do business with. The user’s location might also determine which images you display, the best days of the week to send email messages, how you talk about certain topics, what currency prices are displayed in, and so on.

It’s also important to make sure your ads don’t appear anywhere that they might send the wrong message. Many tools automatically disable areas of conflict or regions recently hit by natural disasters, but don’t take it for granted that every channel will do so. Use common sense and pay attention to nuances in your geotargeting so that you don’t accidentally serve a bunch of ads into an area where they’ll be perceived as insensitive or irrelevant.

A “geofence” is a virtual boundary around a specific geographic area, such as a conference center where a trade show is being held. If a prospect has the appropriate app installed, advertising, alerts and other customized messaging can be pushed to their device when they enter the area or at other times while they’re within that boundary. Even if the device owner doesn’t have your app, a geofence can still collect certain types of data, such as how often they visit an area, how much time they spend there, and roughly where they go (give or take a few feet or so).

Mobile devices that enter a geofenced area can be detected via cell towers, GPS or Wi-Fi. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Bluetooth could also be used, but these are less common because they have shorter ranges and most modern phones are harder to detect with them.

Geofencing is sometimes criticized because it doesn’t allow very precise targeting, but that’s not what makes it worthwhile. It can have a significant impact if enough members of your audience are going to be in a given location at a particular time.

Using a trade show as our example again, you could send personalized ads to attendees who have the conference app on their phones. Some attendees might not find these messages relevant, but that’s not going to do you any harm. For that smaller group of key decision-makers who do have interest in your offering, however, the timing can be awesome because you’re reaching them in the right place at the right time.

Much less common than geofencing, geoframing uses historical latitude and longitude data to identify the unique IDs of mobile devices that were in a specific location within a defined date range.

Let’s say you’re planning to exhibit at a trade show in Chicago and want to target people who had attended the same conference the previous year. Geoframing can help you reach people who were in the building regularly during that time. Your banner ads can target them at home while they’re surfing their favorite shopping or social media sites. You don’t need to invest in any hardware either. And unlike geofencing, geoframing allows you to target users before, during and after the event.

There are some nuances to be careful of when using geoframing. For example, very large conference centers like McCormick Place in Chicago employ a lot of people, so many devices in that location belong to janitors, food staff, and so on. In cases like this, it might make sense for your geoframing campaign to exclude people who are there all the time. If you’re able to determine that a given device regularly accesses the internet from an IP address outside greater Chicago, there’s a better chance it belongs to someone who was there as an attendee.

Balancing Your Geotargeting Budget

The cost of geotargeting can vary widely, depending on how you use it. Sometimes, location-based options are included in the base cost of ads you’re already spending money on. Other times, the cost of geotargeting goes up the more granular you want to be.

Consequently, it’s best to think about the cost of geotargeting more as an opportunity cost than it is any fixed figure. The more granular you get with your targeting, the less you’ll be able to scale your efforts and the more you’ll likely pay for individual action. Conversely, overly broad geographic targeting tends to spread a budget too thin for many regions to perform as they could with more focused budgets in place.

Privacy and Other Considerations

As with any kind of targeted or personalized marketing, you’ll need to be aware of and respect any applicable privacy laws in the regions where your audience is found. This can get complicated. To give just two examples, some states in the U.S. have stricter privacy laws than the country as a whole, and similar concerns apply to certain member states in the EU. Your agency and some channels can help you navigate this ever-changing landscape.

Even if you comply with all the appropriate regulations, however, try not to annoy your audience by targeting them too aggressively. Overplaying your hand can encourage prospects to ignore your message, opt out, or lose goodwill. There are digital tools that can help you do this with strategies like frequency capping and intent signaling, both of which prevent individual recipients from being overwhelmed with the same ads repeatedly.

Meet Your Audience Where They Are

No matter how you decide to use geotargeting, the core principle our team encourages is to meet your audience where they are — and not just in a physical sense.
What do we mean by that?

The average person is exposed to more than 10,000 ads a day. That means our brains are filtering most of them out, and we’re not even consciously aware that we’re doing it. So to make sure your audience remembers your ad — or pays attention to it at all — you need to interact with them in places and at times when they’re open-minded about receiving it.
Location can be one of the factors that make that possible, whether it’s a physical place such as a trade show or a virtual destination like a social media group dedicated to your industry. Used strategically, geotargeting can help ensure that your message shows up elegantly, and at times when it’s likely to be most effective.