Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 1.16.24 PMLast week, I attended the Mobile Loco conference in San Francisco. Mobile location technologies have always been an interest area for me, so I was excited to see what disruptive topics would be up for discussion during the annual event.

This post will explore mobile location technologies and applications from the perspective of brands that are looking to grow in this hyper-targeting space. There weren’t many brands on panels at Mobile Loco, but the opportunities, barriers, and possibility for industry disruption can be applied to brands just as easily as vendors, startups, or investors.

Opportunities: How can brands evolve their current mobile presence to deliver greater value to their customers and their bottom line?

Yelp Mobile Advertising
Yelp’s inline mobile advertising delivers value to its app users by helping them find relevant places nearby.

Many opportunities were touched on in the day’s sessions. They included, in no particular order:

  • Mobile advertising. For companies like Yelp, advertising within its mobile application that is based on user history and current location has become commonplace, nearly accepted as normal by its users. However, this isn’t the case for all mobile applications. The transition to mobile advertising may not be as smooth for brands whose apps do not lay ground for such a natural tie-in.
  • Personalization and customization. Admittedly, this opportunity is probably of the lowest hanging fruit to brands, but it’s one that many still have yet to harvest. Mobile offers a world of granular location data that brands can use to create engaging, valuable experiences. Gamification is often connected as well, also used as a way to gather more data about customers while simultaneously boosting brand engagement and sales.
  • Immediate satisfaction. With the advent of companies like Uber, getting what you want, exactly where you are, at the press of a button will become the norm. Look for instant gratification to be a theme in the New Year. 
Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital put it best: “The mobile phone is a remote control for your life. The notion of pressing buttons to get what you want immediately is compelling.”
  • Integration with POS. Until mobile location can prove its weight in cold hard cash, it will remain a novelty. Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason has helped track the company’s mobile ROI (including redemption, overspend, and customer loyalty) by integrating with merchants’ payment systems.
  • Vertical expansion. Until now, mobile location apps have been broader in terms of focus. Anyone can check into anywhere, for example. 2013 will bring a greater focus into vertical opportunities. The number one prediction? Retail.

Barriers: What obstacles and challenges are brands currently facing in evolving their mobile presence to take advantage of location-based technologies?

Again, in no particular order, common challenges arose amongst speakers:

  • Mobile location is only part of the equation. As Vishy Gopalakrishnan, VP, Mobility, SAP, put it: “Mobile location is necessary but not sufficient. Location is just one factor—it’s a much bigger equation.” If brands focus solely on location-based campaigns and solutions to solve their mobile problems, success will be futile.
  • Users don’t see additional value in sharing more data. Brands must consider the value proposition for their customers when asking them to share location data with their company. It comes down to relevancy: what makes the experience better? Can customers save more money or time? Will their data be used in the right way? Transparency in data usage yields consumer trust.
  • Data silos act as barriers to innovation. When individual brands create silos of data it’s usually because they want to control each touch point. With multiple data silos within the same brand, how can anyone make sense of it? At the end of the day, it’s customers who suffer from fragmented experiences.
  • Mobile advertising is intrusive. Although conversion is getting better, consumers still view mobile advertising as intrusive—especially if based on location data. Brands must hurdle this barrier by ensuring their advertising is relevant and delivered in a non-intrusive way that makes sense with the application’s key features. In the words of Mike Ghaffary, VP, Business Development for Yelp: “If you have an app that has nothing to do with location, it’s extremely difficult to successfully advertise based on location. You can’t even pay in the space.”
  • Location quality is still lacking. Simply put, location services aren’t accurate 100 percent of the time. When location data isn’t correct, it becomes more difficult for brands to deliver relevant features, offers, and recommendations (especially when looking at mapping interior spaces).

Disruption: How can brands push disruption of the mobile location space, ultimately delighting and surprising their customers?

Although it’s difficult to predict the next big mobile location disruption, a few keynote speakers and panelists shared their thoughts:

Increased automation.

“Push automation where it hasn’t been before. What are the areas of technology that haven’t yet been deployed? Think how GrubHub transformed delivery, or how Uber expanded its market. Automation and ease of use leads to an expansion of use cases.” –Bill Gurley, Benchmark Capital

Indoor mapping.

“It’s all about delivering wonderful, context-aware experiences to mobile users. Retail is an important vertical [for interior mapping], but it’s not the only one. We’re looking at museums, education, conferences … we want to leverage every possible asset on mobile to make indoor location work.” –Cormac Conroy, VP Engineering & Product Management. Location Products & Technology for Qualcomm

Enterprise adoption.

“The mobile world has opened up access to the enterprise and expanded the market of what you can go after. A lot of companies have applications with the potential to change and disrupt—from new models for mobile-centric salespeople, to changing how payments work in retail.” –Chris Yeh, VP of Platform at Box

Relevant advertising.

“We’re just at the tip of the relevance piece at Yelp. We’re delighting users with their location data and mobile advertisements, helping them find things thanks to ads.” –Mike Ghaffary, VP, Business Development for Yelp

Look for these opportunities, barriers, and disruptive themes to work their way into future Altimeter research. And, for others who attended Mobile Loco – anything key I’ve missed from the day?

One thought on “Disrupting the Mobile Location Landscape: 
Exploring Key Themes from Mobile Loco 2012

  1. Terrific round-up of the location market. Smartphones and their location-based apps are all the rage I agree. Here’s one more shout-out to all of the mobile location use cases and services in place today leveraging network location, from the wireless carriers to the internet. My company Locaid ( ) is helping over 200 corporations and long-tail developers locate over 10 billion devices across the globe – all without an app on the device. There’s lots of location going on that never touches a satellite. From fraud prevention, asset tracking, child safety, proximity marketing, smartphone wagering, fleet management and more. Happy to report that enterprise is adopting.

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