Major retailers like L’Oreal and Starbucks already employ geofencing—a location-based technology that allows companies to send mobile users geo-targeted text messages or push notifications.
Now, companies that offer the service are turning their attention to the campaign world. Several say they’re already seeing interest from candidates on the local level and expect campaigns to start utilizing the technology in earnest by next cycle.
“I think it’s going to become a much more prevalent marketing tool [for campaigns],” predicts Carolyn Hodge, chief marketing officer at Locaid, a San Francisco-based company that sets up geofencing programs for retailers.
Along with L’Oreal and Starbucks, American Eagle Outfitters and Subway are among the major companies that utilize geofencing to promote their companies via mobile. Clients are able to decide where they want a geofence placed, and opted-in mobile customers are targeted when they walk within the geofenced area.
Coupons, promotions and ads are usually included in the push notifications sent to mobile users.
The potential applications for campaigns include sending opted-in users information on nearby campaign events, fundraisers or voter registration locations. Walking within range of a campaign event or office could trigger a push notification.
Taryn Rosenkranz, a former new media director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says there’s definite potential when it comes to the use of geofencing, but she thinks it’s still too early to know just how quickly campaigns will embrace it.
“I certainly think it’s something [campaigns] will eventually want to use,” says Rosenkranz, CEO and founder of New Blue Interactive. “If you’re down the street, how great would it be if you could build a crowd through a single message?”
Like other mobile and online technology, geofencing’s prevalence in the corporate world will eventually push campaigns to give it a try, predicts Rosenkranz.
“As with a lot of things in politics, there’s a little bit of a trickle theory,” she says. “If you’re going to see it on the consumer side, it trickles down to politics.”
But for now, there are plenty of strategists who aren't yet sold on the ability of geofencing to break into the political campaign world anytime soon.
“It’s still in its infancy,” says Brian Donahue, partner at the Republican online firm CRAFT. Given that geofencing is a bit more in-your-face than some other forms of targeting, Donahue thinks one of the biggest hurdles is creating more of a comfort level with the technology.
“For some, it’s a little too close for comfort for politicians being able to use their location for a number of purposes,” says Donahue.
While using location-based messaging to promote campaign events and encourage voter register is appealing, Donahue says that just as with Foursquare and Facebook’s check-in feature, mobile users will need time to adjust to the idea of being tracked and frequently bombarded with messages.
“There’s potential for informing voters where the polling place is, where the politician is at that point in time,” he says. “But all of that still needs to be fleshed out and the technology still needs to be incubated more to see the best uses for it.”
Alistair Goodman, CEO of San Francisco-based Placecast, says the pitch to campaigns is about convincing them to integrate geofencing into a broader mobile strategy. One possibility, says Goodman, is setting up a geofence around a campaign office. Volunteers and potential voters could receive alerts on their mobile devices for a campaign event or fundraiser. The notification could be a call to action or even an alert to RSVP to an event.
Another option is utilizing a geofence as a way to get quick feedback from opted-in users. A campaign might geofence a polling location to more effectively get information on potential voting issues, or set one up around a debate to push questions to supporters or other viewers.
As for cost, Rosenkranz thinks it might deter campaigns in the short term. Companies that offer the service say the price for setup and sending the location-based messages is more than reasonable considering campaigns can include graphics within messages and opted-in users can be reached in any specified geographic area.
Linden Skeens of St. Louis-based DiamondHead Strategies says the price to set up one geofence with 4,000 opted-in users starts at about $1,400. Raj Karan of Stay In Touch Mobile, Inc. says his company charges clients based on the number of location-based messages sent; each message to opted-in users will cost about 5 to 10 cents.
“As a general trend, consumers are shifting from other forms of media to consuming more media on their mobile device,” says Goodman. “It’s a logical extension.”