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  • March 3, 2016

Interview with author & professor David Bell on why location is (still) everything

Location – it’s top of mind for data-driven marketers in 2016. Professor David Bell, author of “Location is (Still) Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One,” kicked off the AdExchanger Industry Preview conference this year with his insights on the subject.

We sat down with him to uncover why it’s crucial that marketers focus on “Location, Location, Location.”

Oracle: Can you tell us a bit about your book and why "location is everything" for ecommerce brands?

Bell: Of course – the basic idea of the book is that even though the Internet and digital economy make everything flat, my research shows that location still plays a big role in our interaction with the Web and specifically online purchases and searching behavior. The way you purchase goods varies depending on your physical location, because that dictates, to a great extent, who you are, what you get exposed to, and most important, what your offline options are. So, location still determines for a particular brand, why it has strong consumer demand in some locations and weak demand in others.

Oracle: What do you see as being top of mind for marketers in 2016?

Bell: One of the interesting things I’m recognizing is that people are becoming hyper local in their behavior. Personal location, including context, now changes everything from the way we consume media to the way we buy groceries. The local component of consumption and demand is going to be very important for everyone going forward.

Oracle: Are there any emerging themes or trends from your recent speaking engagement with AdExchanger that will gain momentum?

Bell: Two things stand out. Everyone is now awash in all kinds of data - we need to use that content to engage. So first and foremost, organizations need to have a strong, ongoing narrative to show consumers what their story is. On top of that, the marketplace needs to know about progress you’re making as a company; otherwise, things will get stale.

David Bell

The second theme is how the digital economy amplifies certain individuals. You have the example of Jessica Alba preparing to take The Honest Company public for potentially more than a billion dollars. She’s an actress who has been amplified by the digital economy and now runs a B2C empire. On the other hand, you have someone like Michele Phan who is was initially totally unknown. She was, however, extremely passionate about makeup and is now a guru and CEO of Ipsy with a huge following on YouTube and a digital media sensation. Going forward I think we’re going to see more of this phenomenon, the emergence of these “outside individuals” and then witness them amplify their influence via social channels.

Oracle: What is your view of geo-awareness, geo-fencing vs. native location apps as it relates to advertising?

Bell: I think native location is important – it’s useful to know where someone is most of the time. I give the example of knowing if people walk or drive the same route to work everyday. That locality and consistency can be important for advertising.

The more sophisticated element is geo-fencing. It becomes more difficult to implement though because it requires you to coordinate two things, location and time, as opposed to just one thing.

It’s the difference between the following—a coupon sent to you for the restaurant up the block (the locality is there, but not the timing)—and the alert that pops up on your phone the moment you walk near a Starbucks. That’s the more complicated stuff! An interesting thought or potential complication is that this level of personalization can be intrusive to the consumer. Even if it’s relevant, it has to be used the right way to be effective.

Oracle: Do you see location data taking up more mindshare for marketers and are there any new applications of location data we can look out for?

Bell: Yes, it’s going to affect the transformation of a lot of different industries. Location can now make markets. With the creation of new platforms any kind of project or connection can happen on a local or global level. A current Wharton student just created WeTrain, which is like an Uber for personal trainers. With the app, you can request a personal trainer in your geographic areas, and you are instantly connected to a nearby coach. The mobile phone solves the problem of not knowing how to connect demand (the person who wants to be trained) with excess and willing supply.

About Professor Bell:
Author David Bell is a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Bell is an expert in consumer shopping behavior and has recently studied the effects of physical location on customer acquisition.

He is an active angel investor in, and advisor to, a variety of successful consumer Internet startups including Aloha, Bonobos, Harrys, and Warby Parker. Professor Bell is a New Zealand citizen and received his PhD from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

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Photo: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

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