Geo 101: What Are Smart Cities?

From geo-targeting to voice search, technology is opening up a world of possibilities for marketers. But it’s also complicated, as new capabilities and use cases seem to emerge every day.

With the goal of breaking down some of the most important concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far the power of location may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: what marketers need to know about smart cities.

What Are Smart Cities?

The term “smart city” describes an urban area that uses sensors and/or internet of things (IoT) technology to manage resources and assets — with the goal of improving efficiency and connectivity on a city-wide level.

This typically involves “smart” infrastructure projects, like adding infrared sensor systems to street lamps or collecting data on foot traffic patterns to determine busy transit stations and improve service. As for the connectivity portion, initiatives like mass public wifi make it easier for inhabitants to communicate and navigate — as well as for the city to collect the data it needs to manage resources and improve the aforementioned infrastructure.

“Although cities have been using data in various forms for decades, the modern practice of civic analytics has only begun to take off in the past few years, thanks to a host of technological changes,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Totty. “Among them: the growth of cloud computing, which dramatically lowers the costs of storing information; new developments in machine learning, which put advanced analytical tools in the hands of city officials; the Internet of Things and the rise of inexpensive sensors that can track a vast array of information such as… traffic or air pollution; and the widespread use of smartphone apps and mobile devices that enable citizens and city workers alike to monitor problems and feed information about them back to city hall.”

What Do Marketers Need To Know About Them?

Smart cities are not yet a reality on a mass scale. But these technologies are being explored in urban areas — and they’re advancing all the time.

Increased out-of-home connectivity opens up a plethora of opportunities for marketers: While they’re already accustomed to reaching consumers on-the-go on their mobile devices, interactive digital displays, mass wifi, and more open up completely new communication possibilities.

For brand marketers, one of the most interesting developments in smart cities the arrival of free, high-speed wifi in public urban spaces. As the internet proliferates within these smart cities, it’s effectively “reinventing information in a public space,” explained Colin O’Donnell, CIO at Intersection, in a session at Cannes Lions — giving brands, public service [entities], and more the opportunity to respond to how people behave in real time.

In using this technology for marketing benefit, brands must use context within the city to have authentic conversations.

It’s crucial to focus on user experience, asking, “what is the journey that someone is on?” Obviously, this can be complicated — but by using real-time data based on where users are accessing the wifi, marketers can customize messages based on time of day (is it rush hour?) or contextual location (is there a train delay nearby?)

For example, Intersection ran a campaign for Miller-Coors based on LinkNYC wifi points that informed consumers near a delayed train where their closest bar serving Miller-Coors was — so they could wait out the delay with a drink rather than on a hot train platform.

Smart Cities & Shared Mobility

Another feature of smart cities that brands are exploring today is the concept of shared mobility. Marketers should start thinking today about the ways in which technology has impacted shared transportation and the way people get around cities — as well as how this impacts the way they consume ads, such as within apps like Uber.

What major companies are thinking about shared mobility and the future of smart cities? It isn’t just Uber and Lyft, although both certainly have ambitions in the space. Plenty of “traditional” auto and transportation brands will have a role to play, whether that means partnering with on-demand upstarts like ZipCar or striking out on their own.

Audi, for example, is expanding its shared mobility ambitions with the acquisition of Silvercar, an airport-focused rental car company. But as we wrote earlier this week, the brand appears to be looking at more than just a vehicle rental service; it’s all about shaping the role of cars in the future.

With Silvercar, Audi is betting that the combination of the sharing economy and autonomous vehicles will make private car ownership just one of many models that consumers will adopt.

“I believe, as does the Silvercar team, that we are on the verge of the most profound changes in the 120-year history of modern personal transportation,” Silvercar CEO Luke Schneider wrote in a blog post about the Audi deal.

Read more about smart cities:

How Brands Can Have Authentic Conversations In ‘Smart Cities’

Ad Tech Vet Ari Buchalter Named CEO Role At Intersection To Drive Smart City Strategy

Mastercard Plans To ‘Mobile-ize’ Vending Machines In 300 Cities