Advertising Technology

Rob Friedman on Digital Element’s IP Targeting Technology

Rob Friedman is the Executive Vice President of Digital Element, a business unit of Digital Envoy, which is a is part of Dominion Enterprises, a leading media and information services company that delivers the de facto standard in IP Intelligence and NetAcuity Localization technology. Rob brings to his role more than 15 years of experience in forming and negotiating complex transactions, strategic alliances, and joint ventures. The Makegood recently spoke with Rob about the future of geotargeting.

The Makegood: Rob, you have led the IP Intelligence and geolocation evolution in the advertising, search, analytics and e-commerce spaces for more than a decade. What is the biggest challenge in today’s world of emerging media?

The biggest challenge we see is staying on top of the latest technologies. For example, when we started Digital Element back in 1999, targeting by IP address was pretty much the only way to geotarget users―other than asking users where they were. Now, with mobile and WiFi, there are many methods of targeting, with varying degrees of accuracy and granularity. While most require opting in, some such as IP geotargeting don’t. Figuring out what technologies are available and when to use them takes a lot of thought, research and planning. Additionally, for IP Intelligence specifically, we are constantly challenged by our customers to deliver more and more targeting functionality, both in terms of finer granularity (even potentially sub-postal code) as well as adding new and interesting data fields to our already broad base of data. The explosion of mobile has really changed the game in terms of what our customers―and their users―want and expect in the marketplace.

The Makegood: Your IP Intelligence software enables companies to uncover Geographical information about online users based solely on their IP addresses. Could you provide us with a best practice example how companies could use the IP-based decision-making technology in their mobile strategy?

The beauty of IP targeting is it can be deployed quickly and without any user opt-in, instantly providing the ability to target down to a ZIP or postal code level on a global basis. Most other technologies require users to opt-in, and many have latency issues. Despite those limitations, these technologies allow you to target users to a very fine granularity, sometimes within a few feet, making them very useful for some applications. We’ve been recommending that our customers use IP-based targeting as a ubiquitous “front line” of geotargeting to show messages that are more relevant to users, thus enticing them to opt-in to be targeted even further. Once users get a taste of geotargeted content, they often want to opt-in to continue receiving targeted―and more relevant―messages, which is where GPS targeting or WiFi triangulation approaches come into play. Of note, if there isn’t a perceived benefit, then many users will flat out refuse to opt-in to be targeted. This is why we see IP targeting as the “mortar” that holds together, and fills the spaces between, all of the separate “bricks” of mobile and WiFi geotargeting technologies.

The Makegood: You recently stated that targeted online display advertising is predicted to grow 868 percent by 2016. Will marketers reach the next level, combine geotargeting with personal data from social platforms, and send individual direct messages to users based on their current geographical location?

This stat from a recent Borrell Associates report is certainly compelling. In terms of reaching the next level of geotargeting, honestly, this comes down to whether users will find value in it, since an opt-in situation would most likely be involved. If marketers can offer incentives (i.e., good deals), we think users may opt to have themselves targeted using some degree of personal data. I recently ran across a survey that said the overwhelming majority of users would willingly give up their location, and perhaps other information, if it meant improved service or better deals. So, it really comes down to “what’s in it for me?” If personal data is just going to be used to push random “spammy” stuff to users, we’re sure they’ll react negatively. If it will make the buying experience better and save them money, users may choose to allow at least some of their personal data to be used. It’s up to marketers to make the offers compelling! And really, it comes down to a bargain: Personal information has value to users, and most will only give it up in return for something they find to be of value.

The Makegood: By knowing the IP address, companies can send individual messages to their target group. Do you see a risk that the individual targeting could lead to a reverse reaction due to privacy issues?

With IP targeting, there’s very little in terms of privacy implications. By using an IP address to target, you never know exactly who or where a user is, but instead, you’re just targeting the “node up the road”―which equates to a postal code area. However, as you get more and more granular, privacy issues can arise, which is why other technologies would generally need some kind of opt-in requirement. That being said, care should be taken to respect user privacy and sensitivities regardless of what geotargeting technology you choose to deploy. Again, this all comes down to offering users more value because you have the ability to offer more targeted information or deals. If you abuse your relationship with users and target them with information that wastes their time, or use location information for “evil” rather than “good,” you risk losing your most valuable customer segments.

The Makegood: Your ultimate goal is improving the online experience for consumers around the world. In order to reach that goal, what can we except from Digital Element in the next year?

Digital Element was the first company to bring geolocation to the web back in 1999 and virtually every major marketer uses our IP-targeting technology. Because of that, we feel we’re in a unique position to be the center of the online geolocation universe regardless of whether or not the targeting is IP based. We regularly have companies approach us to partner because of our extensive relationships with all of the major online ad networks and websites. Our customers rely on us to bring them the latest and greatest technology and data offerings. We are working to bring in partners within the broader geolocation space to really offer a one-stop shop of geotargeting data, be it demographic data or other complementary types of geotargeting technology for WiFi and mobile. In this way, we’ll be able to help our customers sort through the various data and technology offerings to come up with the right unified solution set to meet their specific online marketing goals. Geotargeting is really the engine in the growth of online marketing, and at Digital Element, we look to supply the gas (or, electricity, to be environmentally friendly).

The Makegood: Thanks, Rob.