David Knox examines the potential of GPS mobile phones and how real time charging and control systems can help the innovation successfully map the future of the mobile phone business as a new marketing device for consumers
This is the year of the GPS revolution, a technical achievement that hasn't stirred this much industry excitement since the launch of 3G phones. Every major mobile maker around the world is scrambling to become the first to launch the most efficient and user-friendly satellite navigation system for their new handsets. No longer confined to the dashboard of your car, the GPS technology will be available in many new handsets and will not only tell us where we are, but also give us tips on where to dine, shop, or see a film.
The concept of GPS navigation software for phones has been around for a while and has made some significant progress in the US market, where it is currently used as an enhanced emergency system that enables emergency operators to work out the location of someone calling from a mobile phone to help them out of trouble.
In Europe, however, the success has been minimal. Despite its general availability, mobile GPS has never hit the mainstream jackpot – primarily because of fussy, user-unfriendly gadget requirements (i.e. a separate GPS module) and GPS's unsuitability for
pedestrians trying to get from point A to point B
without a car.
This is all about to change with a range of innovative new handsets, complete with integrated GPS receivers, offering a useful and more relevant piece of navigational technology for any user. Leading the pack of new phones is Nokia's N95, which has already gone on sale in the UK and other markets. Boasting excellent, computer style graphics, owners will be able to use the handset as a full-blown navigation device, whether in their vehicle or on foot.
GPS also promises greater customised service as well, enabling mobile users to combine calendar and contact functionality with navigation. For example, the user can tell the device to navigate them to their next appointment, which may be a friend's birthday party, and also navigate via a shop or outlet selling whatever they may need to pick up en route.
This level of mapping sophistication opens many doors for both the consumer and the mobile operators. The GPS phone can help users make lifestyle choices by not only telling people where they or going but, with the help of advertising campaigns, letting them know what can be enjoyed along the way. Imagine turning on a GPS phone outside Bond Street tube station and trying to find the best route to the nearest park. The phone will not only be able to tell you how to get to Green Park but also inform you of relevant special offers at the Fenwicks department store- which you need to pass to get to the park.
Indeed, mobile GPS will not just be about helping users get to a location, but will also present an opportunity to enhance their lifestyles though location-based marketing. This raises the question of whether customers will be willing to accept mobile marketing with their GPS handsets, as well as the privacy issues that go along with them.
Blogging and GPS
The blogging phenomenon suggests that many customers are ready for a customised approach to marketing and social networking. In Japan, for example, car company Honda has already introduced a GPS device that allows drivers to make comments on points of interest along their route. Whether it is providing a review of a restaurant or a description of a museum exhibit, the navigation system offers a social-networking opportunity that allows drivers to make information available to other GPS users in real-time.
What has emerged in the Internet world is indisputable evidence that users rely heavily upon the word of like minded individuals when making choices on which restaurant to eat at, which hotel to stay at and so on. Combining navigation functionality with instant access to reviews and tips along the way will provide the mobile user with a truly mobile Internet experience.
Mobile GPS has the potential to fine-tune this method of networking, by allowing each subscriber to specify their interests and subsequently receive customised itineraries, targeted advertisements and other useful information based on their destination- without the need for them to trawl the Internet to find what they are looking for. This could be the latest new restaurant located close to the theatre which the GPS system is helping the mobile user find on the map, or the nearest toyshop on the way to attending the birthday of a friend's child. Combining mobile GPS and marketing is not merely a possibility but inevitable as people become more engaged with the technology and want to enjoy as many new experiences as possible.
So how will mobile GPS be transformed into a profitable, commercial success? Convincing customers to purchase GPS handsets, which are still relatively expensive is the first step. The second one is the delivery of the aforementioned marketing tools. A crucial element in launching a successful ad campaign is through effective consumer profiling, which has already been touched on. Simply put, in order for any mobile operator to make any money out of location based services, they must be able to have the potential to earn revenue from value added services such as mobile marketing and targeted information provision, as there will not be a charge for the mapping service itself.
Real time charging and control applications can help operators conduct effective advertising campaigns through their ability to store and access user profile information, and then use that information in combination with real-time location data to deliver relevant adverts to the mobile device.
Information about the brand tastes and interests of the mobile user can be gathered by the operator before the user agrees to subscribe to advertising. All this information can then be stored in the network and be accessible to the charging and control solution to ensure that advertising is targeting the right audience and will appear whenever a customer uses the GPS device to map out their journey. So, for example, if one mobile user is identified as a football fan and has turned on their GPS phone to find directions to the stadium where a match is being held, then the charging and control solution could access previously stored profile information in-real time and automatically check to see whether anything nearby the stadium would appeal to the mobile user. If it is a restaurant near the stadium offering a two for one lunch deal then an advert could appear letting the subscriber know about the offer.
A charging and control device can also identify that the user has viewed the advert and to subsequently check whether it has been followed or not. For example, if the user wants to avail himself of the offer, he request a promotional code by clicking a link on the advert, and then subsequently uses this code to validate the offer in the establishment. This potential method of monitoring not only helps to track the success of a particular campaign but also to determine revenue share that is generated as a result. For everyone that received the message and subsequently went to the restaurant, the charging and control device would be able to provide the operator with details on how many and which subscribers viewed the advert, and how many actually responded to the promotion. Most importantly, the charging and control device could calculate the revenue share from the campaign based on the agreement between the operator and the advertiser.
Handsets with GPS technology are ideally placed not only to enable navigation and true location based services, but also to combine this dynamic information with social networking and targeted marketing services.
The next step is creating the commercial models necessary to make GPS handsets a hit in the marketplace. So far the concept has had very few critics and everyone seems to be taking a 'wait and see approach' when determining the success of the pocket-size navigator. What is certain, however, is that the demand for social networking and the marketing it enables has already been proven by the blogging generation. Whether it will win mobile customers at the same phenomenal pace is anybody's guess, but perhaps the combination of GPS navigation capabilities and real-time access to targeted advertising and networking will finally deliver upon the promise of true location based services.
David Knox is Product Marketing Director at VoluBill