Urban Airship puts SimpleGeo to use with location-based messaging

App messaging platform Urban Airship bought SimpleGeo, a location data provider, last November and now it’s finally showing off how the two are coming together. Urban Airship (see disclosure below) is launching a new Location Messaging Service that allows developers to incorporate current and historical location data of users to create more relevant in-app notifications.

Now, instead of just relying on user in-app behavior and stated preferences to target messages, developers of apps with location data can look at where a user has been, in the last-minute or the last year. By combining both place and behavior data, Urban Airship is looking to help developers create more tailored messages that can drive re-engagement with an app, more sales and increase loyalty.

While other push messaging services have incorporated location data, Urban Airship isn’t just trying to create simple geo-fences that measure a user’s current proximity to a target. By incorporating historical data as well, it allows developers to target unique segments of users who have gone somewhere in the past.

For example, a developer can send a notification to anyone that’s traveled to a specific place over the last year. Or they can push messages to people who have visited Central Park or Madison Square Garden in the last day, week or month. A user who appears to have moved to a new location can also be targeted with a unique message.

Urban Airship, push notification

Urban Airship has created 2.5 million unique geo-fences — everything from time zones and cities to neighborhoods or venues — that also allow developers to send different messages to people in the same area. For people attending a baseball game, for example, the local team’s app can push a survey or a special deal to people in attendance while alerting nearby users of available tickets. The Official London Olympics 2012 Join In app tested the service and sent more than 10 million location-based messages to people at Olympic venues and received a click-through rate of around 60 percent.

Location-based messaging and marketing has been touted as a potential game-changer in advertising, but it’s still struggling to fulfill its promise. But we’re seeing now with efforts from mobile ad startups Sense Networks and JiWire that combining place data with user behavior can create a lot more smart targeting of users. It’s not enough to just look at where a person is at the moment, you have to tie their historical movements together to better compose a behavioral profile of that user.

But I’m wondering how mobile app users will react when they realize how much of their historical data is being used to craft in-app messages for them. Right now, most apps ask users to opt into sharing their location data to help them find nearby things. But if my travel app starts asking if I want deals to go back to a specific vacation spot I visited, it might feel a little creepy.

Brent Hieggelke, chief marketing officer of Urban Airship told me developers will need to use some common sense in how they use location data. But he said users are now more aware of how their data is being used and they’re generally OK with it if it leads to delightful experiences. We’ll have to see if developers know the difference between delightful and creepy. But if done well, which will include more work than regular messaging, this could demonstrate the power of location-based services to users.

DisclosureUrban Airship is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, the founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.