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A different digital world is on the horizon: one of sensors and beacons ready to pinpoint our location to within a few inches.

And marketers are eager to take advantage of this new opportunity.

Only these last few inches of marketing aren't about sales opportunities and customer conversions. They are about trust and relationships.

Marketing has pushed, pulled, and evolved a lot over the last few decades to one end: getting closer to the consumer.

Think about just the transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing. With digital, marketers are able to have one to one conversations with their audiences, they can analyze and understand audience behavior through different digital touchpoints, providing a much more personalized experience.

You can’t do that through a magazine article or advertisement. Digital has enabled a truly fundamental change to the way that marketers engage with their audience.

But what I just described was only the first incarnation of the changes that digital has wrought on marketing. As we became more dependent upon the internet, as we became more connected through our smartphones and other devices, marketing evolved again to include our proximity.

Building off the devices that we can’t seem to live without, using built-in GPS and wi-fi, proximity gives the marketer a real-world location upon which to build a sense of context.

Standing in line at the grocery store? Waiting for the train to arrive? Sitting at a traffic light in a busy down-town? It’s all about context now and the message can be tailored to fit it.

Which brings me to the last few inches of marketing. If you haven’t had a chance, you should read The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

In this book, they describe a future of sensors. In your home, in retail locations, literally everywhere. These sensors will fundamentally change the way we interact with organizations and other people.

These sensors not only gather data about what we are doing, the sensors also provide a real-time, bi-directional conduit between consumers and organization.

Let’s call this pinpoint marketing. When a store is outfitted with iBeacon sensors for example, it will enable marketers to know not only that the person is in the store, but what aisle they are in or in front of what rack of clothing they are standing.

This is an evolutionary transformation of how marketers can leverage mobile technologies to engage with their audiences.

Proximity marketing was all guesswork, sending out semi-targeted messaging to the entire store. Pinpoint marketing is like having a string attached to the finger of each and every consumer in the store.

It enables one to one engagement by connecting with each and every phone connected to the sensor network. With an application on the iPhone, for example, messaging could be truly personalized and even take into account rich, historical data on the person.

Imagine getting an in-store message that goes something like, "Hi Joe! We hope you enjoyed the laptop you purchased last week. Did you know that the Samsung hard drive you are standing in front of will make your laptop boot even faster (in addition to providing more space)? Go ahead, grab it. We'll even take 25% off at the register!"

But pinpoint marketing isn’t just about dishing out deals, advertising, and coupons. This kind of unprecedented connectivity between organization and consumers is all about relationship building.

Marketers now have the ability to establish real-time credibility through helpfulness. Imagine having a BestBuy agent in your pocket, ready to answer questions as you are walking around the store, perhaps even connecting via video chat when you really need assistance (and everyone else is busy)?

Imagine having your phone beep and a short article become available on the difference between 1080i and 4K TVs…while you are standing in front of a specific model television?

The last few inches of marketing don’t have to be sales-oriented. Those inches can be helpful, credible, and authentic. Pinpoint marketing will literally put marketers into the pockets of consumers. And that is powerful.

Of course, pinpoint marketing is going to require a strategy. I can already predict that most marketers will probably utilize this new found power to just deliver the same old messages in the same old way.

The sensors that will fill your local grocery store will be, to them, just another channel. Only that won’t really get them anywhere as consumers are already reticent to give their personal information to marketers, according to a pair of recent studies, one by the German research company GFK and the other by the American Pew Research Institute.

In order to be successful in this new world of pinpoint marketing, marketers will need to see it as a way to develop and foster relationships…not just a way to push information.

Because those last few inches of marketing aren’t just a technology chasm. They are a trust chasm. Only when marketers understand that will consumers give them the keys to castle.

Jason Thibeault

Published 28 April, 2014 by Jason Thibeault

Jason Thibeault is Senior Director of Marketing Strategy at Limelight and a contributor at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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