Using GPS data to predict where your customers are clustering

Nearly two years ago I wrote a long missive about how the mobile marketing of tomorrow is beyond anything that you can imagine. It predicted a time when retailers such as Starbuck’s could have vending trucks in larger cities, which they could deploy instead of leasing expensive every-other-corner real estate.

Vending locations wouldn’t be fixed. Instead, I suggested that the following could happen:

  • The retailer (say, Starbuck’s) could aggregate cell phone data about your movements, as well as everyone else’s who want the same services as you, and …
  • Anticipate through statistical means where to locate itself to fulfill those needs, and …
  • Alert you via your cell phone where they are in real time (e.g., “We’re two blocks away — care for your favorite beverage?”)

I didn’t expect this to happen overnight. In fact, two years was a pretty aggressive time line in my estimation.

Therefore, I’m a little giddy to see the first part of the process being mapped out and monetized. Check out the new Sense Networks product offering, for a peek into the future of retailing that factors in predictive modeling of where customers will be next.

Harvesting the low-hanging fruit, Sense Networks is focusing on helping find city nightlife hot-spots. Its site explains how this product, Citysense, works:

Citysense is an innovative mobile application for local nightlife discovery and social navigation, answering the question, “Where is everybody?”

Citysense shows the overall activity level of the city, top activity hotspots, and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time. Then it links to Yelp and Google to show what venues are operating at those locations. Citysense is a free demonstration of the Macrosense platform that everyone can enjoy.

I see this as the beginning of a location-free bank branch or coffee shop. Exciting stuff!

New Zoombak mini-GPS puts special events on the map

Marketing technology has focused on the potential of mobile marketing for years. But it has always just been potential. Like most bloggers in my industry, I’ve written with yearning about a day when you can conduct breakthrough events or execute innovative sales strategies using cell phone GPS capabilities, and about making a mobile-oriented device such as an SMS-enabled chandelier (below) a centerpiece of your special event.

Text-message enabled chandelierThese posts were written two years ago.

So what’s the hold-up?

The chief problem is carrier barriers. Our four cellular phone carriers refuse to agree on protocols. These shared platforms would make phone bells and whistles — features that users in many other countries enjoy today — possible in this country as well.

If you’re expecting these barriers to fall soon, think again.

But in the meantime, other technology has slowly come into the reach of event marketers, and to those others like myself who grasp that the next marketing technology wave has to do with place, not a faster internet or better web agent.

Or even the unlocking of domestic cell phones!

The ZoombakMeet the Zoombak

I’m thinking specifically now of Zoombak, a GPS device that is tiny, and cheap enough to buy in bulk and rent. It can become a way to create an unforgettable special event.

Don’t let this application as a high-tech dog tracker fool you. Here’s what Zoombak’s web copy says about this $200 device:

Our small, lightweight, water-resistant locator attaches comfortably to your dog’s collar with a durable and secure pouch. You can pinpoint your dog’s location on-demand via, mobile phone (coming soon) or live customer care. You can also determine your dog’s location in real time using our continuous tracking option. Simply log on to to view a map of her current location, as well as her path taken since leaving home. Once you create and activate your own customized safety zones, you can be promptly notified by text message and/or email (your choice) when your dog leaves the zone.

Imagine you’re a college recruiter, and that instead of tracking your dog, you invited a dozen participants in an exploration of your college campus. They could be on a high-tech scavenger hunt. The rest of your potential students could watch the competition on web-enabled monitors. They’d speculate on which person or team returns first with all of the requested items. (Because it’s against the law, there would of course be no wagering.)

Another example of the possibilities: Consider the popular fund-raising event of releasing dozens of rubber ducks in a river and seeing whose duck crosses the finish line first. How much more interesting would it be if, instead of a river, it was a sprawling shopping mall — or topiary maze — and instead of ducks, these where local celebrities willing to (temporarily) get themselves extremely lost for a good cause?

These are just two applications that come to mind when GPS suddenly moves within spitting distance of medium-to-large event budget.

Can you think of other applications for this?

(Thank you, David Joachim of the New York Times for getting my brain racing with an article on the Zoombak.)