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Everything that is wrong with geofencing

“It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.” Steve Jobs was right about many things, but this one rings incredibly true in today’s world of marketing. There is no end in sight to the technology and data organizations now have access to. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, or worse, to fall into the bandwagon trap – sinking budget into a new innovation because you read about it on the Internet or heard about it at a business networking event.

The problem is that innovations, much like everything else in business, are pretty worthless unless applied strategically.

If you’ve learned that lesson the hard way, don’t worry. You’re not alone. We’ve seen it time and time again with new clients – especially when it comes to digital media. Clients, caught up in a flashy sales presentation, jump on a shiny new tactic without understanding the technology behind it, or the limitations. By the time they realize there are no results, they’ve usually spent thousands upon thousands of dollars.


Geofencing is one of the most common culprits. The technology behind it sounds ah-mazing, right? Target people on their devices in real-time within a specific geographic location. Hoozah!

If you don’t care about building long-term partnerships and impacting bottom-line outcomes for your clients, then it’s a pretty easy sell to just about any business. But we do care about those things, which is why we think it’s important to be upfront about why geofencing isn’t a good fit for everyone. Here are some examples of why that’s the case:

#1 It’s not always accurate

Geofencing is really only accurate if users are on desktop or mobile devices connected to Wi-fi. If users are on their carrier’s network, then user location is likely to be off by 30, 50 or 100s of miles. This is especially challenging in rural areas, where users are much less likely to be on a Wi-fi network.

#2 Your device makes a difference

Android users are significantly more likely to have their device’s location services turned on, thus allowing geotargeting or geofencing ads to appear in apps. On the flip side, Apple device users must have location services turned on for each individual app. If the user hasn’t opted in for location services for a specific app, your ad won’t appear. And guess which type of device is most popular among most target audiences?

#3 One mile is bigger than you think

That’s the minimum target radius for most geofencing ads, which means you’re less able to specifically narrow in on a single location…you’re going to get an entire neighborhood, or beyond. On average, a mile is about 96 square blocks. That may align with your targeting strategy, or it may not. But it’s important to know who you’re reaching and the limitations.

#4 Users have to be on their device

Go to an event in your community – a concert, a fair – or stop by the mall. Are the majority of people walking around staring at their devices? No. That’s how you walk into a light pole. Trust me, I know. So how realistic is it to geofence in hopes large numbers of users will be on their devices, in an app, at a specific time? Can you utilize retargeting ads instead, showing ads based on users’ previous location? Absolutely. But see #1 above regarding accuracy of that targeting.


Absolutely. There are specific situations in which both geofencing and geotargeting are both successful marketing strategies when implemented correctly. We’ve done both for clients, and have seen great results when the right parameters are in place.

But before your business jumps in, make sure you understand the limitations, and set budgets and expectations accordingly. We’re happy to walk you through it.