GPS: The Future of E-Mail Marketing

It’s Dec. 20, and you decide it’s time to catch up on last-minute holiday shopping. As you walk into the mall, your all-in-one phone, pager, e-mail and organizer vibrates indicating a new message: “Doing Some Last-Minute Shopping? Stop by GiftShop next to the food court. Give the cashier this 10-digit [personal identification number], 1873673847, and receive 25 percent off everything.”

Welcome to the future of e-mail marketing. Real-time personalized direct marketing. What once seemed a distant technology is now a matter of time. The merging of Global Positioning System satellite technology with the exploding usage of mobile communication devices will allow this story to become a reality.

In many ways, this targeting capability is brought to you by the Department of Defense. The DOD’s GPS, a constellation of 24 satellites orbiting Earth, is what will enable this new channel of direct marketing.

GPS satellites transmit signals to GPS receivers grounded on Earth with pinpoint accuracy. These receivers are in vehicles, aircraft or other satellites. They are used in air, land or sea navigation, mapping and other applications where accuracy is essential. GPS capabilities are already appearing in the newest mobile devices and cell phones.

GPS technology will not only drive sales in bricks-and-mortar environments but also will be a tremendous source for increased online sales. The rapid growth of electronic wallets will allow GPS technology to change the buying experience for consumers. MasterCard and Microsoft have been the early players in this growing arena.

E-wallets allow for payment and personal information to be stored in a central location so you can access it when you need to pay for something online. Your e-wallet assists you in filling out online order forms quickly and easily whenever you shop. Marketers will be able to leverage GPS technology with growing e-wallet usage by sending personalized event- or location-triggered offers that can be responded to instantly.

An example of this is a concert at a major arena. As you enter the parking lot after the concert lets out, you receive an offer to get 50 percent off compact discs of the artist you just saw. This message is sent to individuals who attended the concert, and the purchase takes place via your mobile device, which has your e-wallet information. With one press of a button, your purchase is complete.

Like all new marketing channels, the Internet has given birth to this advertising vehicle that will be a flag raiser for privacy advocates of every kind. Our traditional e-mail inboxes are invaded daily, creating a greater backlash than the past 30 years of direct mail and telemarketing combined.

The mobile device marketing channel will need to become the most highly permissioned form of marketing to allow for any general acceptance. GPS technology, e-wallet services and the growth in mobile communication devices will push the virtual envelope of e-mail marketing. Knowing where a consumer is at all times and having the ability to send marketing messages to these individuals may create an environment too sensitive to use.

One model that will be introduced will be free cell phone service in exchange for receiving advertisements. Following the free Internet service provider model that companies such as NetZero have tried to evolve, free cell phone usage will expand the existing mobile communication market while it will have the ultimate permissioned environment established for marketing purposes. Whether this is a viable business model remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it will allow for strong testing grounds for the next generation of e-mail marketing.

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