Still Place for optimism?

Yesterday we attended our fourth Place Conference, held in NYC a little further uptown than our first Place back in 2014. Back then the conference had a strong focus on all the latest mobile location and proximity technologies that were expected to revitalise retail. There was an air of optimism around the Bluetooth beacon and similar innovations which held much promise to deliver delightful, contextual, brick-and-mortar experiences for a broad consumer base increasingly expecting personalisation.

At the 2018 edition, it didn’t take long to realise that this optimism had not simply faded, but completely vanished. The first and only mention of a beacon did not occur until the fourth presentation: a panel entitled What Nobody Will Tell You about Location Data. And what did the panel tell us?

Baseline location data is a commodity now.

Indeed, that fact was affirmed in the previous presentations and those to come. The state of the art in location analytics and proximity marketing has become the acquisition, interpretation and application of baseline location data from mobile phones.

Wait, what’s baseline location data and how is it obtained from mobile phones?

Curiously enough, that subject was never directly addressed. But in short, the primary data source consists of a latitude/longitude paired with a device identifier, gathered from mobile devices under their terms of service. These data points are enriched by companies who probabilistically associate the identifier with a household, demographic (or more!), and the geocoordinates with addresses and/or an individual’s journey. This commodity is then applied to business decisions or to pushing the right ad to the right consumer at the right time and place.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Thomas Walle of Unacast made the precision (pun intended) that data quality is not yet a commodity. This was affirmed by the chief data scientist of Outfront, a leading out-of-home (OOH) media owner with countless digital billboards, questioning the reliability of “polygon visits” as source data based on his experience with multiple vendors.

Only two hours into the conference, as the panel progressed, I was already distraught, painfully reminded of the above slide which we had presented at a similar conference two years previous. Entrenched was the “old way” of bombarding the consumer to drive a response, the innovation being smarter bombs homing in on fainter signals. The term “surveillance” entered the discourse and was not outright dismissed. Were we collectively comfortable with that?

But, it all turned around when the panel was followed by a presentation entitled The Future of Digital Identity: Countdown to 2020 in which Neil Sweeney of Freckle IoT promptly declared that

a data revolution is coming.

Calling into question the status quo, he argued that there is currently an inverted value proposition for the consumer, progressive government regulation (GDPR in Europe and soon CCPA in the US) is becoming law, and scandals such as Cambridge Analytica have unveiled the uncomfortable truth behind advertising business models. In short, don’t expect our suggestion to Facebook following last year’s Place Conference to become a priority anytime soon!

What Neil proposed was a complete reversal of the flow of information and the ownership of personal data. And with the Killi app, he invited the audience to take the first step right then and there, opting in to select specific pieces of personal information that they would like to share with brands in exchange for money.

It was as if our complementary slide from that previous conference had suddenly appeared! Here was the consumer “advertising” their intent to brands and businesses through their presence and the information they chose to share, expecting an appropriately personalised response in return.

Since reelyActive’s founding in 2012, we’ve championed this paradigm for the flow of information. Coincidentally, our most watched video, in which we present this paradigm by reversing the flow of information of a beacon, will tomorrow celebrate its fifth anniversary! It’s not difficult to imagine this implemented in the Killi app to facilitate real-time hyperlocal exchanges of information like we demonstrated with our own reelyApp.

Whether a micro-DMP like Killi or rather a Bank of Personal Data will eventually prove to be successful is of course up for debate, as few attendees seemed threatened by the imminence of a data revolution. Nonetheless — and reassuringly — most attendees seemed to agree that such a paradigm, which fosters transparency and inclusivity and moves the industry Beyond People-as-a-Product, is much closer to being the right model, even if most would argue it is not yet a realistic model. In any case, the technology is ready. The trillion-dollar question is whether the vendors will ready themselves to flip if and when that critical time comes?