Welcome to Getting Granular

The podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the digital marketing industry.

Geofencing: Getting Granular


Geofencing is the latest buzzword in PPC marketing. But what does it really mean? In this episode, Jordon Meyer (Founder) and Steve Kroll (VP) of Granular® breakdown geo fencing and where the term came from. They discuss exactly what it is, how it came to be a buzzword within the industry and debunk the misconceptions about its effectiveness.


What you’ll learn in this episode of Getting Granular:

  • What you’ll learn in this episode of Getting Granular:
  • Why there should be a conversation around geofencing – 2:00
  • The difference between geofencing and geotargeting – 3:30
  • How geotargeting actually works within Google, Bing, Facebook and other ad platforms – 5:00
  • Who is selling geo-fencing and how they are selling it – 6:40
  • Why geofencing is gaining traction in the market – 7:40
  • What companies we talk to are saying about agencies selling geofencing – 8:30
  • Capabilities of geofencing, fact or fiction – 10:00
  • Real world examples of geo-targeting strategy – 14:00
  • How geofencing could be in violation of privacy laws – 17:00
  • Granular’s approach when a new client wants geo fencing – 20:00
  • How Granular uses geo targeting for our clients – 23:30


Narrator:     Welcome to Getting Granular. The podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the industry. Whether you’re here to learn how to grow your business, improve your digital skills, or just want to hear some Midwest PPC experts rant about digital media you’ve come to the right place.

Steve Kroll:        This podcast really originated from a conversation that we’ve had a lot over the course of the last two years internally. We’ve always asked ourself, Why isn’t there a fact or fiction podcast or article about what you can or can’t do with geofencing?” We’ve heard this term come up numerous times in sales pitches, conversations we’ve had with CMOs, heads of e-commerce, and geofencing is kind of this broad term that’s used to describe a number of different type of targeting that you can apparently do with digital advertising and we’ve got some strong opinions on it and so we thought we would take the time to break it down and talk about our perspective on this. By the way, this is Steve Kroll, vice president with Granular. I’m joined by our president and founder Jordon Meyer.

Jordon Meyer:       Hey. This is Jordon.

Steve Kroll:        So Jordon you’ve had a blog post just kind of sitting in draft mode for a while and kind of held off on hitting, publish, on it until we had this opportunity to talk. Maybe kind of share your thoughts on the genesis for what led to type that out … I think that was in one take even got that …

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah. I mean, some things that I’m passionate about just spill on out onto the paper, in this instance onto voice recorders. So geofencing and geotagging is just something that kept coming up over and over again with clients and it really just kind of hit a peak at the end of 2018. Some of the comments, and hearing sells pitches that some of our clients or prospects went through was just really kind of unnerving to me because we know at Granular here, that the potential and the possibilities that are within Google, within Facebook, within display even through programmatic buys what you can actually do with geo targeting and geo-fencing. Some of the claims we heard where just way too good to be true so that’s kind of where that internal talk really came up because after we get with a pitch or we hear one of these stories again and again from folks we can’t help but talk amongst ourselves about it so I think it’s important to get kind of the truth of geo targeting and geo fencing out there and maybe start a dialogue and let’s get some facts put together.

Steve Kroll:        Cool, yeah. No, I’m in total agreement. And so I guess as a starting point I think it would be helpful for everyone to just know kind of what the definition is of geofencing and then what the definition of geo targeting is and contrasting that and try and give as objective as an opinion on that.

Steve Kroll:        So geofencing … I’ll take a stab at it and feel free to jump in. So, we really started hearing this phrase a couple years ago. In theory what geofencing purports to be able to do is allow organizations who do advertising to pick specific locations usually by providing an address, sometimes geographic coordinates, and allows you to kind of drop a pin and draw kind of a digital fence and wrap a digital fence around a location and serve ads to users based on if they’re entering that fence or if they’re inside of that fence.

Steve Kroll:        Usually been discussed as being able to do it through display advertising. I haven’t really heard it talked about, as being able to serve people search ads or social ads if they’re inside the “geofence” and it’s usually charged on a CPM basis. It’s usually a premium ad buy because of that capability and so that’s kind of what the industry definition is at least the way that we’re having to sell against it when we hear it.

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah, and that’s not too far off from the truth. I think traditionally what geo targeting is, and we’ve been using this for over a decade through Google and then as other platforms come out Google being the traditional one. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, everything, you can geo targeting on all of those platforms now which is pretty cool.

Jordon Meyer:       But traditionally when you’re looking at geo targeting you’re saying, “All right we want to capture this audience searching for certain terms in the Milwaukee DMA or at specific locations.” You can use an address, you can “drop a pin” but traditionally it’s, “We want to target people on a DMA, we want to target people on a radius around something.” So like five, ten miles around Milwaukee or five miles around a Chicago neighborhood. Something like that which is pretty accurate.

Jordon Meyer:       I think Googles accurate down to one kilometer which is darn close, it’s not precision kind of geo targeting like someone wants you to walk by or drive by a billboard and then get hit with an ad. It doesn’t quite work that way but what you’re really trying to do is just capture an audience where they live, where they work, where they travel to try to make the most use of your advertising dollars and have the most targeted type of ad, the most targeted ad copy. And that’s been available for a long time.

Jordon Meyer:       We’ve used it, we always use it but like you said I think the guys selling this are newer to digital, they’re publishers, they’re media houses, they’re kind of looking for digital as another revenue channel. So they’re putting a spin on geo targeting and they’re calling it geofencing. That’s where the big difference comes in. It’s really the sales, how they sell it, how they promise results, things like that. But yeah geofencing, geo targeting in a broad sense is picking a location, putting your dollars and your message there so it’s accurate, so it’s efficient and so it’s effective.

Steve Kroll:        So I think that’s a great detailed deep-dive into what you can do with geo targeting, how long it’s been around. Maybe share some of your thoughts, and I can jump in too, on why geofencing has really gained traction within the companies selling it as well as the organizations who are purchasing the services. Why do you think we’re just hearing it so much more … Again I didn’t look at the Google Trends data prior to recording this but just from the anecdotal conversations that we have, “Boy, we’ve been hearing geofencing a lot.” Why do you think that’s really gained traction?

Jordon Meyer:       We’re hearing it everywhere because people are scrambling to protect their territory and their pie. As kind of traditional is becoming less attractive. Look, it’s still super effective but we talked to business … This is anecdotal too, but we’ve talked to literally hundreds of business owners a year and everyone is threatened by someone who’s really good at digital. That’s where we see these geo-fencing, let’s call them agencies even though they’re not in the traditional sense an agency. That’s where these guys are really being predatory, where they’re jumping into these kinds of non-digital folks and they’re just selling them the snakiest snake oil about geo fencing.

Jordon Meyer:       And it seems like a godsend, they’re like, “Wow. You can just drop a pin around my competitor and everyone that goes in that store will see my ad instead?” And it’s just really … I think it’s predatory, I think it’s misleading. It’s pie in the sky, it’s like, “Wow, this brand new thing can just like dominate an area for less money than a billboard or less money than TV.” And people are really jumping at it because the thought of being able to take over a competitors space or to be able to own your neighborhood or own your city is super attractive to advertisers.

Steve Kroll:        All right so I’m at a point, I had this idea so I’m just going to lay out some scenarios of what in theory you can or can’t do and you can tell me if it’s fact or fiction if you can accomplish it with geofencing. And so the first scenario is, you are a company who has multiple locations and you want to be able to send targeted ads to users as soon as they enter the geofence, ideally they just start getting ads pushed to them, maybe even notifications to their phone as soon as they enter the fence. Is that something that you can do?

Jordon Meyer:       No. Absolutely not. And that’s probably number one how people sell it like, “Once these guys enter our fence they’re screwed. All they’re going to see are our ads.” Like, “Welcome to Granular land.” Your phone is basically Granular now. That is not the case. People get so wrapped up in the sales, backup, hit pause, look at your own life. When you’re driving in a car are you surfing the web looking at banner ads? No way. When you walk into a store are you popping up a browser and searching through a news site with a bunch of crappy banner ads on it? No way.

Jordon Meyer:       Yet these guys are selling impressions because people around that area are going to open their phones and eventually browse but man if you’re looking for targeted ads right when someone drives past a billboard that’s total bull. There’s no way that people are cruising down Highway 94 flipping open their phone, clicking on a banner ad, are you kidding me? No, can’t do it.

Steve Kroll:        All right, how about this. So you’re a company and you’ve identified a list of competitors and you talk to the company who’s managing your geofencing campaign and you say, “I’m going to provide a list of locations and as soon as our target customers enter our competitor’s geofence we want them to get blanketed with ads.”

Jordon Meyer:       So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, yes and no, mostly no. I mean again they have to take an action, they have to open their phone, their tablet, or their laptop for some reason. They have to open that and be on the internet, be on Chrome, Firefox browser, something like that or in an app that has a prominent ad placement to see this. So again they’re not automatically getting hit, they really have to be out of their element, they have to be out of their buying mode and into browsing the web, that’s the way they’re going to see your ad.

Jordon Meyer:       It’s not a push notification and it’s not … There’s rules against that, there’s privacy rules against that. You have to have someone’s app downloaded or you have to have the user ID or the phone ID and typically you’re seeing that at Target with the Cartwheel app. That functions that way but they had to literally pay thousands and thousands of dollars to generate downloads of their app and then they have to have active users of that app. And that app user has to be in their store for it to work. It just doesn’t work that way.

Jordon Meyer:       Now where I will say that that’s possible Steve, is if someone goes to Best Buy and … Well, I don’t know a competitor of Best Buy is anymore.

Steve Kroll:        Well, we’ll say that they’re-

Jordon Meyer:       Let’s go to Target.

Steve Kroll:        Target, sure.

Jordon Meyer:       All right. And Walmart is doing a geofencing campaign around every Target store in the US. Now if the user opens their phone, types in a product, an SKU, or a brand name. They’re looking at a Sony TV, 42 inch. Now Walmart can show an ad while someone is in Target and they probably will. That’s because they’re doing smart search advertising with maybe some geo targeting modifiers, but it’s not because of some proprietary geofencing campaign that they launched with some media company. They have their in-house folks using Google AdWords, using Bing, using Facebook with smart bids, smart targeting and that’s how you get in front of somebody.

Steve Kroll:        So let’s explore that more. So in this example, I’m in Target, I walk back to the electronics section, I see this TV I like, maybe I want to do some price comparison or looking at reviews on a specific TV. I go to Google or Bing, I type in the search query. What you’re talking about is you’re using search ads and then using the user’s location to modify, saying, “Hey I’m willing to bid more because I already determined prior to-

Jordon Meyer:       Exactly.

Steve Kroll:        Okay.

Jordon Meyer:       And that’s what Granular does every day for our clients. If there’s a certain area, zip code, or a small radius around an address that’s more valuable we can increase the bid, increase the value of that user where we’re more likely to show an ad to them then some random person.

Steve Kroll:        Okay. So then with staying on that topic, you’re that same user, you go to YouTube, you do a search for that Sony TV review. Can you serve an ad-

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah. Yeah, yeah you can serve a number of different types of ads there and you don’t have to have video content even, you can just be there pretty easily. I mean funny enough we say the top two places that people go to for information, they go to Google, they go to YouTube. I think if they have an Apple product they’ll go to Bing or Google depending on what browser they’re using. Or if they use Siri. I mean all these things, all roads lead to Google, Bing, Facebook, and that’s where we focus or energy on.

Steve Kroll:        Okay. So to that point as well I could be standing in front of the TV just to kill time because all of us do it without realizing it and opening up Instagram to see who liked my most recent post, or I’m on Facebook. Now I don’t think that we’re going to be able to show someone an ad for the TV they’re just looking at because we can’t use mind reading yet for targeting but we could, in theory, show the ad to the user based on their location?

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah. Yeah, that’s accurate. And yeah we can’t read minds yet but if Google succeeded with their Google Glass guess what? They know what you’re looking at. That would have been nice.

Steve Kroll:        So to rewind, you’d mentioned some of the limitations … We’ve even talked before about user privacy. I guess before we really move on from the kind of geofencing, what you can and can’t do, maybe go more into why these different ad platforms don’t let you do the sorts of targeting that a lot of people selling the services will either explicitly say you can do or will kind of draw two points and let the person connect the dots.

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah. So you can’t do one to one marketing right now and probably it’s getting further away in the future based off of the European regulations that just went through in 2018 based on some of the Facebook security issues and Google security issues, they really came down on both of them.

Jordon Meyer:       In the US we have the FTC and that protects your phone information to a level that no advertiser can really get to it and target it. So there’s definitely no one to one marketing unless it’s opt-in and that can be text, SMS, that can be push messaging, that can be email, that can be really specific opt-in marketing and those are great. But if you’ve never been introduced to this user, the user doesn’t know who you are, or the user never went to your website, never signed up for anything, there’s really no way you can kind of one to one target them like that.

Jordon Meyer:       So a big thing we see sold to people is just really against FTC rules. Really against privacy laws out there. Google specifically really takes PII very seriously, personal identifiable information, every things hashed out, every things anonymous. We can target very detailed groups of people that are similar to each other but we can’t target individual people. Google and other ad platforms are really good about kind of protecting that which is good.

Steve Kroll:        Okay. Yeah, I think that’s very helpful, that’s why I wanted you to go into it, is just because there’s all of these targeting capabilities that we hear that the people who sell geofencing services claim you can do that we just know are in violation of those things you just mentioned. So that’s very helpful that you were able to go in specifics.

Steve Kroll:        Now we’ve got a lot of companies that we talk to, many that we work with where part of the request when they came to us is, they said, “Hey I’ve got a geofencing budget.” Or my boss or CEO or owner they want us to find a firm to do geofencing. Obviously, these are people that we have a good idea that they really would be interested in geo targeting services or services that are tied into what we offer.

Steve Kroll:        But how do we typically address that when someone comes in and says, “Look, I know you may not like this phrase but we pay for it. We have a budget for it. My owner, he doesn’t want to be made fun of for purchasing a service because you say it’s kind of snake oil.”

Jordon Meyer:       Right. Yeah, yeah. Maybe we’ve already offended people on this podcast but the intention is not to that. It’s not to belittle people, and it’s not to make anyone feel stupid. It’s really to educate, and that’s typically what we do when we walk into those scenarios. It’s breaking down what we can actually do with geo targeting and aligning that with what they’ve maybe been promised about their geofencing campaign. We can really compare and contrast what’s real, what’s not, what’s possible, what’s legal, what’s even the function of the ads and how it’s measured, and how success is measured.

Jordon Meyer:       Just by doing some of that basic education we typically get them in our court and help them understand what it actually is. Because number one at Granular is transparency and we just hate when people don’t understand exactly the services we offer or just, in general, the digital kind of landscape. We do a lot of education around things we don’t even necessarily offer just because our vast experience in the digital marketing ecosystem is there and we’re typically here to help and answer questions.

Steve Kroll:        Cool. Yeah. Just being somebody who participates in those conversations I can agree with that. I’d like to think what we do when someone comes to us with that sort of question, they have a budget, is turn it back on them and ask questions on what they’re goals are, like, “Tell us why you have a geofencing budget?” Or, “Why you want to geofence people?” And then what we’ll try and do is say, “All right. The platforms we manage ads in, the Google Ads ecosystem, Facebook Ads ecosystem, LinkedIn, et cetera. If your goal is you want to target people based on where they live, where they work, where they’re visiting, where they spend time, here’s all the different ways within these platforms.” And we’re showing it in a very transparent way, you can do that based off the radius targeting based off of targeting on DMA, City, County, Congregational District, et cetera.

Steve Kroll:        I mean that’s something that I think there’s the two parts, “Hey. Heres their ability to target the user.” And then it’s not just targeting the user but it’s, “All right, now that we can target them based on their location what do we want to do as a result of knowing their location?” Is it a bit more, is it show an ad to them, is it exclude an ad from that user? There’s all these specifics. I guess in terms of, will it be helpful before we wrapped up is maybe talking about a couple examples of how we use geo targeting for our clients and campaigns to drive success. So maybe we can just run through a couple examples. So we’ll say a common one will be a company says, “Hey. We think our users, they live in these areas. We want to target people who they live here, not necessarily if they’re just visiting. How do we go about targeting them with geo targeting?”

Jordon Meyer:       Yeah. I think at the most basic level is really just finding where the most profitable clients are, or, customers are for people we work with. Typically, we can even get as deep as, that our clients working with us to give us a kind of database of their sales history. And then we put that into Excel or Microsoft BI and really figure out, “All right, where are the most profitable pockets per zip code, per city, per region that we can target with a higher kind of geo-modified bid in the various platforms?” And we’ll go that way because it stretches their marketing dollars, it drives up the average order value if it’s a e-commerce shop or it increases the conversion rate if it’s a lead gen client. So that’s the typical way we’ll do it and that applies to basically everyone we work with.

Jordon Meyer:       We’ve got some cool examples with specific clients though, where they’ll look to kind of augment their trade show attendance. So a lot of folks do trade shows around the country or around the world. What happens is there’s a large number of people traveling to the cities the day or two before, they stay around a day or two after. The purpose of a trade show is to introduce your brand and strengthen your brand with potential buyers. These potential buyers being in that certain city or in that certain radius around a hotel or convention center. They’re going to be using their phones, they’re going to be using their laptops during the day, in the morning, at night. And if they come across your booth and they search for you later we want to make sure that you’re found and that you’re present.

Jordon Meyer:       So typically we’ll go really aggressive with kind of brand campaigns to make sure that you’re front and center. Then we hit them with retargeting really hard so they’ll see your ad in Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, all around the internet under new sites. Basically everywhere for those few days just to really drive home your brand, what you do, what your offering is, and just to really amplify what our clients are doing at trade shows, which is pretty cool. We also ahead of the trade show, we advertise the booth, advertise any booth promotions, advertise the location of the booth, and any events you’re doing in order to educate someone looking for the trade show name or looking for a certain address.

Jordon Meyer:       We can be there on Google and Bing to kind of dominate the search results where organically you could just never play because that’s really come down to perfect timing, perfect algorithm ranking that’s nearly impossible so what we’ll do is buy an ad or bet on keywords to show ads and search and make sure that, “Look. If someones looking for the BizExpo in Milwaukee guess what? Granular’s going to show up with an ad and they’re going to tell you to come to booth 155. We’ve got a talk going on at 3:00 PM and we’ve got a cool giveaway so come on by.” And we’ve gotten really cool results for some of our clients doing that way.

Steve Kroll:        For sure. And I think the other thing that’s important to mention is all of those different tactics that you discussed, those are cross-channel and cross-platform so you’re not just limited to showing people display ads.

Jordon Meyer:       Totally. And cross-device, right? Everything anywhere, anywhere someone goes it’s just pretty much saturated.

Steve Kroll:        So I do a search for BizExpo 2019 and I’m thinking of going. In your example, you’re talking about if I do a search I could see a search ad and if we’re specifically promoting a booth prior to the show … We did this at the most recent one that we had a booth. We’d tell them to stop by a specific booth with a landing page called a action, we can then cookie that user, and then follow them around with ads. So, if they’re going to YouTube they’re getting a pre-roll Granular ad. If they’re on the JS Online or other news websites they’re seeing banner ads for Granular. They’re on Facebook, Instagram they’re seeing that just based on that one interaction they had.

Jordon Meyer:       Which is cool because it really stretches the dollar a lot further. You’re spending money on someone who already is familiar with your brand. You make them familiar really fast and then you stay in front of them, that’s better than just kind of blindly putting your message out there.

Steve Kroll:        Awesome. In terms of wrapping up, I guess what would we recommend to individuals that are being sold on geofencing?

Jordon Meyer:       I would say look at it more holistically. It’s not just a fence that you put around a business or around a target audience it’s a lot bigger than that. Make sure that this company shows results. I’d say that’s the biggest missing piece we see is they’ll get sold on the potential but they won’t get sold on any case study or actual results. Which is a shame because they’re doing their job well as a sales team, they’re kind of using smoke and mirrors the get past the actual hard questions that people should be asking.

Jordon Meyer:       So first and foremost, ask for results of past clients, ask for a referral, ask to talk to one of their actual clients and make sure that it’s not a good buddy of theirs. Too I’d say, how experienced is their team? Who’s actually running the account? Who’s actually building this out? Who’s managing the campaign? Because that’s very important and I would say at a minimum two years of experience but at Granular we average five years of experience so, with that, day in and day out that’s a pretty big gap.

Jordon Meyer:       So I’d say that’s number two and then number three, just make sure that you hold them accountable to the results, that’s definitely number one or the biggest thing to look out for. I mean another thing to consider is, just that this is not really a premium for geo targeting we bid up a little bit but it’s not a proprietary solution that you have to pay more for. You can really get by with a small budget. It’s not something that’s really proprietary and expensive.

Steve Kroll:        For sure, yeah. And a lot of the notes I’d written down on what I would recommend, they align with what you’d mentioned. I had basically, asking who are the individuals on the team that will be working on it? How many campaigns have they run in the past? Do they have specific examples of other companies similar to theirs that have used geofence campaigns? I feel like a lot of times things fall apart pretty quick there.

Steve Kroll:        Just pricing, being able to say from talking to companies like Granular, they mentioned that geo targeting, geofencing is a feature, but it’s part of what’s included in the overall engagement versus like an add-on product. Can you talk about why I’m being charged a $10 CPM? $15 CPM, $5 … Whatever it is where you’re paying for kind of a flat CPM rate that includes the fee and the ad spend being able to say, “Can I get more clarity around why it’s priced that way? How much of that CPM is going towards the service fee versus my advertising?” I think that’s really important. The companies we work with they should have a good answer there.

Jordon Meyer:       That’s a really good point though that I forgot to cover. Here we charge kind of a transparent management fee outside of any media spent. So we don’t care what you spend on media because we don’t mark it up, we don’t make a dollar, we don’t make a cent off of it. We’re really incentivized to make your marketing budget stretch as far as humanly possible and yeah, that’s something that we’ve seen. Almost all of these geofencing guys do is they just really hide all their fees into this marked-up CPM and they don’t give you access to the platform that they use and it’s all just pretty shady if you’re familiar with the industry. If you’re not it probably seems like the norm because that’s what everybody’s kind of doing.

Steve Kroll:        For sure, yeah. And I guess what I would say is, when trying to look at things, glass half full, I think a lot of the organizations that are selling geofencing, in their heads, they probably view it as, “Look I’ve got a boss who …” Somebody who works in ad sales where they’ve got a boss who’s really putting downward pressure to drive revenue and results. Maybe you’ve sold ad placement with banner ads on a website or radio advertising or TV advertising, and they’ve come up with a new product.

Steve Kroll:        You’re working a nine to five, you’re not looking to question things so much so you’re pushing and selling this. A lot of the times the people who are selling this they might not really be thinking too deeply about it but at the end of the day even if they’re not intentionally trying to misguide or mislead, I personally, and I think we’re on the same page with Granular, don’t think that’s in the best interest of the companies that are purchasing the services.

Steve Kroll:        You have to provide the market place with an effective service to be transparent with how that’s priced and how it performs and yeah, you might be someone who is talking to one of these individuals selling the service and they might be a nice person, they might be good at offering to buy you coffee and following up but reality is if the product they’re selling is smoke and mirrors you owe it to your business to make a decision based off of what’s best for your bottom line not what makes the person who works in ad sales feel good-

Jordon Meyer:       Feel good-

Steve Kroll:        Yeah. Feel good, right.

Jordon Meyer:       And the results might be about as clear as smoke and mirrors too so that’s what you kind of get yourself into, yeah.

Steve Kroll:        Sweet. Any last words or thoughts before we wrap this up?

Jordon Meyer:       Not really. I mean please reach out to us if you’re getting sold geofencing geo targeting. Clearly, we can talk a long time about this. I think we tried to rush through this recording just so we don’t bore people to death but collectively we’ve probably talked dozens and dozens of hours about this and on car trips and other another business trips.

Steve Kroll:        Unfortunately that’s probably true. So, for now, this is the conclusion of the geofencing podcast. Who even knows if it’s a part one or if it’s just kind of our definitive podcast but just think this is good to get us down and share some of our thoughts here and hopefully this helps someone who’s listening to this make better decisions with their marketing dollars.