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Customer location data leads to deeper level of insight

Behavioral analytics tell more about a person's true self than consumer data, according to Gravy Analytics CEO Jeff White, and are therefore key to data-driven decisions.

Customer location data is a key element of understanding human behavior.

Consumer data can tell organizations plenty about potential customers, but it only reveals a piece of the puzzle. It tells them what those potential customers have purchased, but it doesn't tell them who those potential customers really are. Location data, meanwhile, reveals offline human activity -- going to concerts or ballgames beyond merely buying a song or a baseball cap, for example -- which in turn reveals more about a person's most significant interests.

And it's when organizations understand not just what an individual bought but can also get insight into why they bought it that sellers can better develop strategic initiatives.

Gravy Analytics, founded in 2011 and based in Dulles, Va., began with the premise that a potential customer's offline behavior is more important than their online behavior, and now offers location data as a service. The vendor uses anonymized location data and packages it into data sets that can be put to use by its customers.

Jeff White, Gravy's founder and chief executive officer, recently discussed why location data is so important to gaining a truer understanding of potential customers and how it can subsequently be used by all types of organizations to inform sales and marketing efforts.

In addition, he talked about specific use cases for location data, and even how location data is critical to the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

First, can you give me some background on Gravy Analytics and the service you provide?

Jeff White: The thesis when we got started was that the next frontier of understanding behavioral insights and intelligence was not where we go online but where we go offline, and that how we live our daily lives is a much stronger signal of who we are as consumers than anything we do in the online realm. That was the thesis, and as far as what service we provide, we effectively take the offline behaviors of consumers -- the places we go, the events we attend, the vendors we visit -- aggregate those up into behavioral analytics, and allow brands and marketers and advertisers to understand, target and interpret those behavioral analytics.

Why focus on location data as a specific niche?

Jeff WhiteJeff White

White: If you think about the web cookie, seeing what information it could provide [and couldn't], we just felt there was a gap. For example, I want to be the person Facebook thinks I am -- swashbuckling, mountain-climbing, beer-guzzling, very adventuresome -- but that's not me. Clearly there was a gap and given the proliferation of smart devices and location-based services, location just seemed to be a great tool to allow us a true understanding of human behaviors and who we are. As an advertiser, as a brand, if you want to really speak to me then speak to me as the person as I am and not as the person Facebook thinks I am.

At its core, what is location data?

White: Effectively, we are collecting and aggregating permission-based location data when people use apps. That's just a signal, but derivative intelligence is really what's important, so on a monthly basis we collect and validate over a billion attendances on the back of that location data -- attendances to every commercial place of interest. Pre-COVID, it included all the events people would attend. It's then synthesized into cohort analysis. For example, there is a group of people who are yoga lovers, not because they buy yoga pants on Lululemon but because they go to yoga classes two or three times a week. That is a much stronger signal of intent and interest and passion than past purchase behavior.

What insights can organizations derive from customer location data that they can't get otherwise?

White: We think it's the closest signal to true information about consumers. For example, if I'm a wine producer and I want to find wine lovers, if someone goes online and searches for some of the best wines in Italy it may be a signal that they're a wine lover. If someone goes into Costco, and as part of their $400 basket they throw in a $12 bottle of Yellowtail, that's also a signal that they like wine. But if that wine producer can see all the people who over the last week went to a wine-tasting class or took a sommelier tour or vineyard tour, that's a much stronger signal. Also, there's a visceral nature to that experience, a recency to that engagement that makes me, as that brand or as that advertiser, much more able to penetrate the noise and have a communication-added dialogue with that person.

Are there certain types of organizations or are there certain industries for which customer location data is of particular benefit, or is it more a general marketing tool?

White: If you go back to the web cookie, the first use of the web cookie was being able to fill in a form, but the smart people started to see they could do personalizations and commerce. Certainly, marketing and advertising is a valid and prominent use case for location data, but it can also inform brands where their next retail location might be. It can inform a hospitality chain that's looking to alter their venue by looking at what category of restaurant people dine at when they leave, and then maybe the hospitality chain changes its own restaurant to be Italian or sushi. There's competitive intelligence where a brand or retailer believes they understand their customers at some level but may have a blind spot understanding who their competitor's customers are. With this kind of information they can capture that and then they can shape product strategy, location strategy, retail layout. All of this is informed, going back to the true kernel, by understanding consumer behaviors.

First, setting aside COVID-19 for a moment, can you walk me through an example of an organization using location data?

White: I'll go back to that wine example and pull that thread even further. Now that I understand who the people are who truly have an appreciation for wine -- they've taken time out of their day to actually go someplace like to a winery or on a vineyard tour -- I can do two things. One is I can certainly reach out to them, target them, speak to them in ways that I couldn't speak to a broad set of individuals. But also I can understand their other behavioral attributes to inform where I should do product placement, the types of retailers I should get involved with for distribution. I can understand where else these people go in terms of other places to put my product. I can understand what other interests and affinities these people have so I can co-market, co-sponsor. Maybe it turns out that the people who like my product also love Major League Baseball, and maybe I want to start advertising at ballgames. It goes back to the old adage that knowing your customer is never going to go out of style, and if that's true, it informs the entirety of the organization -- the product, supply chain, retail strategy, acquisition strategy. That core kernel of understanding your customers just feeds all of those much better.

And now relating location data to COVID-19, how can it be used by organizations fighting the spread of the pandemic?

White: We see this every day. At the core of what we do is mobility analytics -- where are people, in aggregated views, coming from and going and for how long? In a pandemic, the virus has its own mobility, it has its own hot spots, it has its own progression through communities. We, with location data and analytics, can understand the intersection of human mobility with virus transmission -- where are these hot spots occurring, who was there and where have they gone? We can then help to inform local healthcare workers, we can inform populations who may be at risk and not know it to get predictive. At the end of the day, this becomes a resource allocation issue. There aren't enough healthcare workers to go around, there isn't enough testing to go around, so how do we optimize the distribution of these resources? Location data can play a really important role there.

Is there anything else you'd like to add about location data?

White: One thing to make sure people understand is that this data is all aggregated and anonymized and there's no personal identifiable information. From a consumer side, you can sleep better at night knowing that it's anonymized. But from an intelligence standpoint, it's still very valuable.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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