An interview with Asif Khan from TheLBMA

The following interview was carried out with Mr Asif Khan on 13th November 2012 at Wallacespace in London.

Asif, a proud Canadian, is a veteran tech start-up, business-development and marketing entrepreneur with nearly 15 years experience. He is currently focused on working as a consultant, speaker and venture capitalist to the location-based marketing services community. In support of this, Asif recently formed the Location Based Marketing Association – whose goal is to educate, share best practices, establish guidelines for growth and to promote the services of member companies to brands and other content-related providers.

When I saw your talk on Untether.talks in the of Summer of 2012, I immediately thought that you were talking about the Internet of Things when you were referring to the connectivity of devices. Was that the case?

No.  The Internet of Things is not very practical today because the media envisaged is not geo-taggable and because this is the case you cannot easily create relationships between the content that sits on those mediums and where the consumer is located to them.

We can make it happen by cobbling solutions together but it would be very forced. So the solution is to move it to an environment which is much more seamless and simply being enabled ie where personal data is being made available, shared and utilised.

As an example if I were to walk into Starbucks today and check-in on Foursquare, that to me is the consumer saying that I am here in this space and sharing my location to those that follow me on that platform (the reality is that data of real-time location is available from the Foursquare API). Across the street where I am sitting is a billboard for BMW. Today it is very difficult for me to establish a relationship between an ad on the billboard and the consumer sitting in a coffee shop.

But surely that relationship is established by merely looking at it?

Yes. And in a present real life scenario, what should be happening is that owner of the ad should be picking up on the API data of Foursquare of the people entering the coffee shop and then should respond by engaging them in a mobile way by acknowledging their location, get them to look at the billboard and get then get them to interact in some way.

If you do that what has actually happened is that I have leveraged Location Based Services on a mobile level by making the billboard one to one measurable, which it is not today. What I am trying to do is to create a correlation between mobile location awareness and content sitting on another media that is in close proximity to where I am. Technology is available to make that happen but I have to do that manually.

Although the billboard company has a database of the boards located in the city with the various ads on each, they do not have an API for that data. If they did what I can do is to match that API with the Foursquare API in real time.

When do envisage that to happen?

Realistically this would happen between 18 to 44 months. From our perspective the billboard company and digital signage companies all understand that location is something that has to be part of where they go. The challenge becomes when they all see the value and then the question then transforms to, ok do we do that and keep private information or do we actually share it with others including our competition? Until this is a shared resource this still is very difficult.

The initial step for a billboard company would be to put it on a system but the following step is really crucial. Will the billboard company make that data available to exclusive clients as oppossed to everybody? Or do they decide to make it available to everyone and share that data on a common system with other billboard owners who have decided to so the same thing?

Obviously this is what TheLBMA would like to see because we think that the more information that is out there the more addressible it is.

In that sense it is not really about “The Internet of Things”, even though it is a noble concept. But the practicalities simply do not exist because the data partnership associations are relatively difficult to achieve. So it really is an internet or media cycle so to speak of “geo-addressable objects” as oppossed to a “live internet of things.”

So what would you rather name it then if not the Internet of Things? The term “geo-addressable devices” is too technical.

Not really. We talk about it in the context of a relationship between people, places and media and, we really have not looked at coining terms around a replacement for the term IOT. I only take issue that the term Internet of Things is really not a concept of things and is a stretch in some respects.

We can look at cars, which are internet enabled, but for me it is not only about being internet enabled. Going back back to the billboard example. That is just a piece of paper which is not internet enabled and never will be. Nor is it part of an internet of things or part of a geo aware addressable media.

If the billboard has an API behind it, it has geo information associated with it. So I can try linking that data with another device such as a phone that does have a sensor so a relationship can be created between these two objects. One is sensor free and the other is sensor rich. This is not limited to an internet sensor enabled world.

So the billboard and the mobile device don’t have to be connected at all. So if I am in Starbucks, I check-in on Foursquare and the data from that check-in via Foursquare’s API is available, so there is access to one feed of data.

The billboard has another set of data that is another data feed and when both data feeds are combined, this creates a relationship between the consumer whose share is in real time via sensor.

Practically speaking, say that the billboard was enabled by augemented reality or something that I can scan that logo via the mobile device; the billboard itself does not have a sensor but drives a reaction. Now that reaction based on profiling and other information sitting on my device.  And the billboard in it self is not a thing that is internet connected and will ever be. How does that fit into the concept of IOT? It does not.

The mobile device that I am holding in my hand and the billboard have a geo-location which is one way on how they relate to eachother. This what we look at – relationships between objects, between media types.

You mentioned in your talk at “ that there will be no privacy”. Can you expand on that?

When we talk about sharing your location I firmly believe that every person will share location in exchange for information which is uniquely, individually, valuable and relevant to them. For it is about the exchange of data. Studies have shown that the number people who are sharing thier data has increased over a two period.

That is not say that there should not be guidelines and boundaries. At the end of the day all these factors, whether it is mobile. location, social is all about data – it is about the data that we collect, it is about the data that we interact with and putting datasets together. Data is power and at the end of the day the question transforms into how do we use that data in ways that are not offensive, taking very careful consideration of what the consumer actually wants and what is valuable to that individual consumer.

As an example O2 ran a campaign around their geo-fence deals in 2011 and gave the option to their 26 million customer base to opt-in.  From the summer to christmas in 2011, 13 of 26 million opted in and they are at 20 million (as of writing this article).

This is based on a couple of things. Firstly it is the consumer’s personal carrier which gives a certain level of trust, which is based on an established billing relationship so there is already some financial transaction. Secondly, when they released the program the consumer was given controls in defining their profiles ie the consumer gives certain factors that they want information sent to them via geo-data ie “only want to talk about shoes” and “send only four messages a week”.

There is privacy with the consumer controlling the filter of information that they want to share.

This is summed up in a simple equation : value + relevance = here is my information.

But value and relevance have to be at an individual personal level ie individual consumer profile.

What is the next step for LBS? Is LBS and LBM now synonymous?

For me LBS is a technology platforms that basically help us determine where someone has checkin. Marketing is how we apply a message based on the data collected via the service. The next step is an improvement in the way data is collected in the platform. Today a lot of the services are based on an app.

In order for the app to be successful it has to be downloaded by many people. People have apps on their phone that have been downloaded but are not used. Only a couple are actually used. So what will change is that content will be delivered to the consumer purely in a contextual framework.

As an example, there is an app for the British Museum which I would use only when I visit it. When do I get it becomes the question. As I approach the Museum, location awareness perspective will understand that I am coming into proximity to it, so it is intelligent in that context and will send a push application to my device. This will contain the message about the benefits that the visitor would enjoy if they used the app. The next question would be permission to push it to the consumer.

Once pushed the app enhances the visitors experience. Once the visitor has completed the visit the app would thank them for visiting and give them a choice if they would like to remove the app from their device. Content over app being delivered completely in context to where I am and what I am doing.  It has to be contextual.

As the head of TheLBMA, what is your ultimate goal?

Our goal is to primarily get marketers, advertising agencies and retailers to look at the power of location and what it can do across all media that they are investing in. The reason for that when you look at advertising spend globally today, 76% is going into traditional forms of advertising and 6% are going into mobile.

The problem that is emerging is that you have a thousand platform companies approaching brands to initiate a campaign who are vying for this 6% allocated budget.

What we try to teach is the principle that says that this is not the only way.  What we really should be doing is to build platforms that leverage the power of location and use them to better actually affect better performance measurability on traditional media assets ie enhance them.

Why? Because that is where the real money is. Back to the Starbucks, billboard example.  If BMW is initiating a billboard campaign and has asked various LBS platforms to pitch to them, Foursquare for example would need to convince the company that they can make their billboard campaign sell $1million more measurable one to one effect and can do something to connect with what is happening on a ground level.  This may convince BMW to transfer some of the larger traditional budget over to mobile.   This is coming from an understanding that this is from connected media not from mobile by itself.

So the key thing is getting organisations to understand that any media can be location based.