Geo-fencing has become more sophisticated, but how can marketers break out of static fences and cast a wider net to reach mobile users more effectively?

There’s no question that geo-fencing presents some amazing opportunities for today’s marketers. Finally, brands can reach their consumers in the location and moment where their message matters most.

The idea of creating a magical, invisible net around a specific area on a map, then targeting consumers with ads, offers, and push notifications based on where they are and what they are doing inside that net, opens up millions of possible applications – anywhere from a coffee shop to a financial institution to travel destinations.

We just recently applied geo-fencing to one of our automotive client’s campaigns by creating virtual fences around their competitors and targeting potential car buyers with highly customized competitive messaging. This simple customization of their campaigns led to nearly double the conversion rates and three times higher engagement with the ads.

Over the past few years, advertisers and agencies have become much more sophisticated in how we set up and use these fences:

  • For one thing, we’ve gotten smarter by geo-fencing mall parking areas instead of the mall itself, in hopes of reaching consumers before they even get into the mall.
  • We started to optimize our budgets and spend in real-time based on engagement.
  • By targeting consumers right before the first moment of truth, we can actually tie our campaigns now to real business metrics such as store traffic or brick-and-mortar sales.
  • Also, we started to implement better data sharing across channels, allowing us to identify specific searchers, site visitors, and so on inside our fences.

While all of this is a great step towards reaching the right consumer, at the right time, with the right message (yes, we know it’s a (Read more...) it’s true!), it does not even scratch the surface of what is possible. Our objective is to target mobile users that are, by definition, literally mobile and moving. So why would we try to only reach them inside very static fences?

Taking geo-fencing up a level

Given the power of automated buying and bidding in addition to the advances we have made in combing and using data in near real-time, we should start really leveraging the power of these technologies to create more adaptive and creative fences. After all, real life is dynamic and ever-changing. Thus, geo-fencing should be too.

Take the example of a lunch spot. Generally, you would geo-fence local area lunch spots and target users with messages around specials and coupons in order to drive them to your location. However, it’s highly likely that consumers have already made a choice on where to eat and the moment they enter the restaurant might be too late to change their mind.


A smarter tactic is to target nearby office buildings one to two hours before lunchtime. Targeting people before they actually leave for lunch will be more successful than targeting upon store entry. To be even more focused, we can identity highly “lunch friendly” companies by looking at check-in data from social media.

Another way to market to the lunch crowd is to target them in public transportation hotspots, such as subway terminals or bus stops. Reaching them on their way to work and making your lunch place top-of-mind will ensure that you are in their consideration set. Obviously, timing is crucial here. Make sure that you set strict time limits to achieve maximum ROI, and don’t end up selling lunch at 5:30 p.m. (unless that’s your goal).

One can use a similar approach to target the happy hour crowd. Your fence area can be the same, but the message and consumer mindset will be dramatically different and need to be set for a different time.

The necessary insights needed won’t be in the newspapers, but rather can be found inside social media and check-in data. Partnering with check-in and social data vendors will allow you to identify the trendy places to go. In short, combining social and check-in data with your geo-fencing campaigns will lead to the Holy Grail of real-time fencing.

An additional upside for the use of more dynamic fences is the creation of richer data and consumer insights. By targeting consumers on a more elastic and granular level, we will create a treasure chest of behavioral patterns that will not only help us optimize our current campaign, but also help improve and optimize future campaigns.

In conclusion

Recently, we’ve started to deploy more dynamic fences for our retail clients, and have seen lifts in engagement and ROI up to 50 percent. The results are due to focusing on the right time and message, as opposed to only the right place.

If we as marketers maintain those static fences, we will fail in taking proper advantage of this technology. We will continue to leave opportunity on the table, if we do not use geo-fencing to its fullest potential.

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