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Geofencing for Mobile Apps: What It Is and How to Use It

By developing an app with geofencing technology you can give your business a competitive edge. This simple guide covers everything you need to know about geofencing including what it is, how it works and how to integrate it into your business.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • The basics about geofencing, geolocation tracking and geotargeting
  • How geofencing enables mobile apps to take advantage of location-based marketing
  • Building your own geofences vs using a third party
  • How to get started 

What is geofencing?

In simple terms, a geofence is like an invisible fence around a real-world geographic area that triggers a response each time a geolocation-compatible device enters or exits the geofenced area. One of the most common uses of geofencing is for geotargeting, also known as location-based marketing, which uses geofences to target mobile users in specific geographical locations. 

For instance, shoppers who use a store’s shopping app may be familiar with geofencing. A shop or supermarket can be surrounded by a geofence that pinpoints the user’s location and triggers app notifications. Upon entering the shop, the app will notify the shopper of certain deals and promotions.

There are a lot of different ways that marketers can use geofencing, whether that’s sending location-relevant content to mobile users within a geofenced area or learning about their offline behaviour from location data for audience segmentation, personalization, retargeting, competitive intelligence and online-to-offline attribution.

Geofencing has plenty of other uses. Businesses can use geofencing for safety, time tracking, vehicle tracking and more, or it can be used in home automation, child location services and even law enforcement. With the popularity of mobile devices, and once a geographic area has been defined, the opportunities are seemingly endless for what can be done with geofencing.

Geofencing is made possible with the Plot Projects SDK

What are geolocations & geotargeting?

To summarise, geofencing refers to the geofence itself – this is triggered when a geolocation-capable device crosses the geofenced area.

A geolocation refers to an object’s real-time geographical location, most often determined by network routing addresses or internal GPS devices – things like fitness trackers and smartphones are examples of geolocation-capable objects. However, browsers or devices must support geolocation in order to use it through web applications.

Geotargeting is the result of using geofencing and geolocation tracking for location-based marketing. Geotargeting (also known as geotargeted advertising) uses geofencing and location data to target consumers with messaging appropriate to their locality and behaviour.

How geofencing works – iOS & Android

A geofence is usually defined within the code of a mobile app. To make use of it, an administrator or app developer must set up the virtual boundary. The area can be as big as a city or as small as one building. And they can take different shapes. For straightforward cases they can be round, or for more complex situations marketers can build polygon-shaped geofences.

This virtual boundary will then trigger pre-programmed actions (such as mobile alerts, in-app content, or data insights) as specified by the developer, for customers who have downloaded the relevant retailer or affiliate mobile app. A good geofencing solution should come with its own API dashboard, making it easy for marketers to create, manage and optimize their geofences.

Common geofencing applications

  • Marketing & advertising: Geofencing is a popular way for businesses to send promotional messages to customers who are close to a point of interest such as a supermarket. Or a business might set a geofence around a competitor and encourage shoppers to go elsewhere for a better deal.
  • Crowd management: Since the Covid pandemic crowd management has become more important, for instance navigating attendees around big events, workplaces or healthcare locations. Or when a customer enters a geofenced area such as a festival they may be prompted to check in, go to a stage they’d like or chat to friends nearby. When they leave they might be prompted to leave feedback or write a review.
  • Social networking: Things like location-based filters, stories and other sharable content are examples of how geofencing can be used for social media.
  • Home automation: Geofencing lets you control your home’s lighting, temperature and security measures. You can set up a geofence around your home for security alerts. And with appliances getting smarter with Bluetooth capabilities, you can even program your fridge to remind you that you’re out of milk next time you’re near the supermarket.
  • Transportation & logistics: Here the technology can be used to define shipping and delivery areas, truck routes or virtual zones around sites, work areas and secure zones. It can also assist staff clock-in, or for monitoring off-site staff. You could geofence a warehouse to cut down on both theft and accidental loss.
  • Travel and hospitality: Hotels, tourism boards and travel resources apps all use geofencing to engage customers and improve their experience. How often do bed and breakfast owners have to communicate about arrival times? This can all be made seamless. And airports can also use it to promote offers to travelers, offer baggage belt arrival information, or issue flight surveys upon landing.

  • Data collection & insights: Geofencing can also be used to gather data that can be valuable. For example, data about how many people visit shops as a result of using an app can be valuable for advertisers. It can also be used to improve facilities such as monitoring queues or traffic flows at busy venues. Data can also be collected for advertising purposes if users opt-in. In that case ads can be adapted to the user’s exact location – so you can get ads about your local pizzeria rather than a generic one – how cool is that?!

How geofences can add fast value to your business

The world of marketing talks nonstop about customer journeys. And what better way to understand your customers footsteps than their real-life journey via mobile? There are more than 3.8 billion smartphone users in the world today – and for many, the smartphone is an extension of their lives, making it the ultimate point of interaction from which to build your brand, or your app, into a meaningful part of their day-to-day life. 

Here are just a few of the ways that geofencing can add fast value to your business:

Reach mobile users anytime, at a level of interaction they prefer

There are various levels of interaction which can be triggered by geofences, from push messages to in-app content, emails and ads. Whether a user has opted-in for notifications or not, these touchpoints can still trigger relevant content to appear in your app, at specific locations, beyond just push messages. 

Deliver precise, real-time targeting

These touchpoints can target users within 50 meters, meaning you can avoid messages which land in the wrong context and as such, avoid wasted opportunities to connect and deliver value via your app. 

Operate with a high conversion-rate

The proof of the power of ‘place’ is in the Click-Through Rate, if we’re talking about hard conversion metrics. Generic notifications sent via mobile grab a negligible 2-5% CTR, whereas messages sent based on someone’s precise location, using geofences as a trigger, yield a CTR which is 3-5 times higher.

Make your business scalable, with less people-resources

There should be no limit to how many geofences you can set up across your markets, or within precise locations – the sky’s the limit. Some say a few hundred, we say millions without compromising accuracy. You can also group geofences into campaigns and create them in bulk across countries, or with small precise blasts, in several clicks. 

Stay friends with other marketing tools & touchpoints

Geofencing should be easy to integrate and combine with the rest of your marketing analytics and cross-channel campaigns, meaning you can not only easily put your location-based marketing into context with your entire campaign – from Display, to email, to web – but attribute value across touchpoints to better understand performance.

How geofencing works

Geofencing build or buy? 

While building your own geofencing solution may seem like a good idea, the benefits of using location experts like PlotProjects have been proven time and time again.

Before you start building your database it’s important to understand the amount of resources involved. You’ll need to supply all of the content such as the latitude and longitude points and the radius of the area you’re monitoring. Some advanced coding and algorithms need to be in place to set up certain shaped geofences. Where will you get all of this venue and geographic data?

You’ll also need to consider scale. What size and how many geofences do you need? It could be a few or you might need thousands. There’s also the issue of accuracy – keeping your store addresses and other data updated in real time can be a challenge.

If you are interested in building your own geofences, PlotProjects can offer help and support. Alternatively, you can use the PlotProjects SDK which offers high accuracy, low battery use and full support from our team at every step of the way.

The future of geofencing

Mobile touchpoints like geofencing are the starting point for brands to understand their audience and build interactions into real-world customer journeys. Proven to increase engagement and boost sales, the technology is a low investment way to add fast value. What do you need to get started? An app. That’s it.

Despite this, there has been some caution with geofencing, especially when it comes to companies accessing a customer’s location data. However many companies including us at PlotProjects are privacy conscious. In addition to being GDPR and CCPA compliant, we also offer industry-leading customizable privacy features. 

Despite questions about privacy, the geofencing industry is booming. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the Active Geofencing Market was valued at USD 734.6 million in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 3039.38 million by 2026 and grow at a CAGR of 26.7% over the forecast period (2021-2026).

How to get started 

If you’re interested in using geofencing technology, here are 9 practical steps to help you get started:

  • Decide whether to buy or build.
  • Choose a geofencing SDK with high accuracy and low battery use.
  • You need to have an app – if you don’t have an app we can help with that too.
  • Choose a geofencing software with all the vital features.
  • Test the software – you can test ours for free.
  • Implement the software into your app – we can help with this.
  • Get creative with your geofencing notification campaigns. 
  • Consider combining them with beacons.
  • Create in-app pages with relevant location-based content.

How PlotProjects can help

Founded in 2011, PlotProjects took off with a big bang. Recognized by The Wall Street Journal as one of Europe’s most promising startups in 2013, we are now the global leader in location marketing for companies with apps. Our technology adds the missing contextual layer that helps you win consumer micro moments, adding value to each touchpoint of the customer journey.

If you have any questions about geofencing, how you can use it or about the Plot Plugin and dashboard, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Want to learn more?