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Location Data in a Post-Pandemic World: How Back-to-School Is Challenging Us to Think Differently

By Jon Friedman / 4 minutes

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For years our industry has been talking about the power and promise of location data.  Understanding the real world behavior patterns of a brand’s current and prospective customers enables more efficient targeting, more effective messaging, and (of course) the ability to measure whether a campaign actually had the desired effect of driving people to stores.  

That promise changed a bit over the past year and a half as the pandemic dramatically altered the way people socialized, traveled, and shopped, and the idea of leveraging location to target “in the moment shoppers” or report on the change in visit behavior became less relevant.  Cuebiq and other location intelligence companies quickly pivoted to support efforts by government entities, academic institutions, and news organizations to analyze and navigate the spread of the pandemic.  We also worked with brands to help them understand shelter-in-place, mobility flow, and “social contact” insights as indicators of customers’ likelihood to visit stores or dine at restaurants, and to adjust their strategies accordingly.

How Shopping is Different This Year

Back-to-school season will mark the first real in-person shopping event in more than 18 months.  A survey by Deloitte revealed that parents expect to spend 16% more on back-to-school shopping this year, a drastic increase from the 1-3% growth rate seen in recent years. This won’t just be onlineaccording to the National Retail Federation, 48% of K-12 shoppers will be heading to department stores, 44% to discount stores, 41% to clothing stores, 27% to office supplies stores, and 27% to electronics stores. This back-to-school season will clearly be a success, and though it may seem like those of the past, don’t be fooledit’s different this year.

It’s no secret that a lot has changed as a result of COVID-19. As a recent report from Deloitte puts it, “We saw technological adaptation that would normally have taken years occur in a matter of months. COVID-19’s continued effects will be felt even after the pandemic subsides.”  Business models changed overnight (curbside delivery and “ghost kitchens” to name a few!), and the inability to accurately predict (and plan) challenged every stop along the supply chain.  

The factors causing so much change are ultimately irrelevantthe bottom line is the change has happened. Traditionally, marketers could target a general audience, like people with kids for back-to-school campaigns, because they never had to think about individual (or regional) behaviors based on external factors like a pandemic. The US has always been a complicated network of different ecosystems.  The difference now: approaching key initiatives such as “back-to-school” as a national event with singular messaging and tactics is demonstrably inefficient at best and a guaranteed recipe for failure at worst.  

How Location Data Can Help

With the realization that individual communities are behaving vastly differently from one another comes the recognition that location as a data point is uniquely positioned to help brands make better decisions across the organization.  Real-time analysis of how people are moving around can indicate a “return to normal” mindset and willingness to “physically” engage with a brand. General mobility coupled with category and competitive visit trends, can help inform site-planning, product tests and offers, and marketing strategies.  

If leveraged properly, location can help individual brands understand their current and prospective customers better, and action more effectively as a result.  Think of it as the bridge between analysis and activation enabling regionalized strategy and activation previously thought of as inefficient by national advertisers spending big money on big reach.  

How Workbench Can Help

This idea of unlocking value at the intersection between data analysis and activation inspired our new platform, Cuebiq Workbench. Workbench is a cloud-based platform that provides location expertise and access to a variety of datasets that make it possible to innovate and develop custom solutions for the ever-changing landscape. Workbench can be a pivotal tool in understanding how to navigate the changes of the past year in real time, and the key to thinking differently about how we approach back-to-school season and holiday seasons to come. This back-to-school season is definitely different, and it’s just the first of many seasonal periods that will challenge traditional strategies and tactics.  The power of location data can help brands navigate the “new normal” with intelligence that matters.  

Learn more about Workbench and what it can do for you in our latest white paper.

About the Author

Jon Friedman, SVP, Marketing Solutions