Digital information can be both a blessing and a curse for modern day businesses. It’s seemingly everywhere because, it seems, people leave it everywhere, even unsuspectingly. Even a little can tell you a lot, if you know where to look. Apparently innocuous information, like where you are at any given moment, can tell more about you, and be more valuable, than you might think. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal drives this point home.
We’ve written a lot recently about the wealth of information available in the modern-day digital age: how it can be used to investigate insurance fraud; how it can help criminals steal; or even how it can be their target. What’s becoming ever more clear, however, is the tremendous impact this information can and will have on businesses and commerce as a whole.
The Wall Street Journal story deals with turning location into dollar signs. Published on Tuesday January 14, 2013, it focuses on how companies get a huge amount of specific, detailed, though anonymous, information about customers, just by knowing where they are and where they’ve been, each and every day. They use this information in targeted marketing campaigns to increase their profits. The kicker is that they get this information, about their customers’ travels, habits, and interests, all simply by tracking their customers location, and most people probably don’t even realize they’re doing it.
Two Toronto start-ups, Turnstyle Solutions, Inc., and Viasense, Inc., reportedly anonymously track people where they live, work, and shop, in and around Toronto. This allows them to learn some intimate details of people’s lives, though not their names or individual identities. By knowing where people in the area go and at what times they get there and leave, the companies reportedly can tell what the people’s interests and habits are. If you travel through a park, for instance, at a slow but steady clip most mornings, chances are you’re an early morning jogger. If you’re often found in a gym, then maybe you like to exercise and are in good shape. If you can be found at a concert with a particular artist or at a game with a particular team, chances are you’re a fan. If your smart phone often is stationary or off for a regular, extended time, chances are that’s when you’re home, asleep; especially if your smartphone winds up in Starbucks shortly thereafter. If you happen to sleep in an upscale neighborhood, that’s probably where you live, and can afford to live.
Turnstyle evidently keeps track of people in two ways. They reportedly put 200 sensors in stores within a 0.70 mi area of downtown Toronto. The sensors keep track, anonymously, of people who constantly broadcast their location anyway: owners of Wi-Fi enabled smart phones. Most people don’t realize their smartphone is a geo-location device. Turnstyle also gets information through the free Wi-Fi hotspots it set up in some businesses. When people log on via Facebook, Turnstyle reportedly collects their names, ages, genders, and social profiles. It aggregates and analyzes this information to come up with lifestyle categories that it places people into. Turnstyle then evidently tells its clients how many of its customers fit into each lifestyle category; how many went to night clubs or the gym in the last month, for example.
Viasense, Inc. tracks peoples’ location in a slightly different way. It reportedly keeps track of between 3 million to 6 million devices in and around the Toronto area each day. It buys bulk signal data from Canadian cellphone companies. Then it breaks down that information, which, it says, lets it know where the smartphone is within one square meter. It then buys census and marketing lists, evidently to figure out what each of those places is like. Knowing not only where a person’s been, but what each place is like, lets Viasense figure out all sorts of useful information, including what income bracket the smartphone’s owner is in.
Businesses, it seems, can make a lot of money if they can better entice customers with targeted offers rather than with a hit-or-miss standard marketing campaign. Knowing your customers’ ages, whether or not they come from an affluent neighborhood, and what they do in their spare time, tells you a lot even without putting a name to the data. Playing the right kind of music in your restaurant, for example, might draw in a crowd; knowing the right kind of music might be easier if you know how old your customers typically are on a given night. Knowing where your customers spend their leisure time can tell you what their interests are and allow you to formulate a marketing campaign that incorporates them.
Just think: all of this can be learned from simply knowing where your customers are at any given time and that, it seems, isn’t all that hard to figure out. Maybe this is a marketing tool New York businesses could profit from. The possibilities are there.