In any emerging industry, where big players have yet to be established and many companies are fighting for their very survival, it is not uncommon to see companies claiming to offer the best product or most accurate information or access to insights that no one else has as a way of carving out market share.
The location and proximity space is no different. The location industry as a whole currently consists of hundreds of companies worldwide, many of which are involved in the selling of location data. In any industry as crowded as this, the effect of having so many companies competing with one another results in a lack of standardization and transparency, as each one tries to position itself as the actor with the most advantageous position and the most accurate data.
As the CEO of a company that has created a location and proximity data platform, the great thing about working in a relatively nascent space is that you have the ability to set people’s expectations, whether it’s through the language you use or the quality of the product you provide. This advantage, however, also applies to every other actor who’s in the same emerging industry -- which leads to general confusion among the public and a lack of standardization throughout the industry.
Much has already been written about the benefits and promise of using location and proximity technology, and enough brands have already been convinced about the advantages of investing in both for marketing campaigns. That being said, we are also starting to see companies asking harder questions about where the data is coming from, as well as how it can be used. Our response as an industry should not be to shut down and hide behind terminology and complex algorithms; instead, we need to work together with brands to deliver the transparency they require in order to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
But it’s not enough for us to want to be transparent; brands themselves have to demand transparency from us. They need to ask probing questions about the quality of data that providers are giving them. They need to know exactly where the data is coming from -- whether it’s bidstream data, GPS data or information from beacons. They need to know how to use the information, to know that data from SDKs is likely to provide more insight into people’s daily patterns, whereas beacon data is better able to measure in-store attribution. After all, it helps no one if brands are just handed data and then left to their own devices.
Another way to ensure a certain amount of transparency within the location and proximity space is to have a standardized system for grading the quality of proximity and location data. Right now, there are many companies that make claims with regard to the quality and accuracy of their information but don't have a real way of verifying those statements. Creating a standard that every company would be required to follow would benefit everyone, not only because it would require companies to be accountable, but also because it will help marketers better measure the results of their marketing campaigns and compare offerings between different companies.
There is now a growing number of companies that specialize in the verification of location data, from big players such as Placed (now owned by Snapchat) and Foursquare to smaller firms like Placecast. The fact that there is significant demand for their services, as well as a rise in the number of people calling for a standardized system of verification, shows how essential transparency is to the continued growth of the location industry. While it is understandable that some companies might be reluctant to allow third-party oversight over fears that their “secret sauce” would be revealed to the world, in the long run, it will be more beneficial for them to open themselves up to such oversight than to dismiss it outright.
Brands, especially retailers, were excited to adopt location and proximity data because they saw it as a way to transform their businesses. But having a successful strategy requires understanding not only the benefits of having that information but also its limitations -- and if data providers and aggregators are not open to sharing those limitations, then the chances of a brand’s location campaign being successful are lowered. And if a brand is unable to see results from using location data, then they are less likely to continue using either that data provider or location data as a whole.
There is so much data in the world. Every brand boasts of having its decisions backed by multitudes of information points, but, as everyone who works with data knows, not all data is good data. It is our job, then, to show companies what data will help them and how -- because if we can’t, then who else has the knowledge and ability to do so?