Unless you were working in the highest levels of government during Cold War, you wouldn't have known much about geolocation until the 1990s, when you got a GPS for your car.

It wasn't until the 2000s and smartphone technology that we began leading the earliest efforts in location-based advertising. We launched projects across New York, London, and Sydney to give people free access to Wi-Fi on their phones and enable advertisers to buy impressions based on consumers' locations.

Today, location-based marketing has become one of the most innovative and accurate ways to target, engage, and influence consumers. What's more, across Europe, 40% of mobile subscribers are predicted to use location-based services in 2017, peaking at 48% in the UK, illustrating the wealth of location data at marketers' fingertips.

With this in mind, how are advertisers using location technology and what will it look like in the future? I'm taking a look at the current state of geolocation marketing in Europe and how senior marketers can harness it in such a fast-paced industry with ever-changing consumer behaviours. I'll also offer a preview of its promising future—one that's closer than you think.

Geolocation Arrives in Advertising

Today, mobile devices provide much more accurate location data—even without Wi-Fi. From apps that enable mobile check-ins like Facebook and FourSquare, to location-based services that rely on 3G like Uber, consumers are constantly communicating their exact whereabouts with an estimated 240 million smartphone users across Europe in 2016.  And brands are listening. In fact, 38% of European retailers and one-third of all European enterprises use geo-targeting for online ads.

Detailed information about the paths consumers take can reveal their interests, habits, and preferences in ways simple metrics like 'gender' or 'profession' simply cannot. Geolocation technology and services can help brands capture and capitalise on these insights.

Making the Most of Where You Are

Now that location targeting is becoming increasingly popular among some of Europe's top brand marketers, how exactly are they using it to their advantage?

Take a sportswear store on the high-street, for example. It can use location-based insights to bring potential customers in store by delivering ads to anyone walking within a 100-meter radius. But in that huge space, the shop will be targeting everyone from the wealthy business executive browsing in the nearby Selfridges to a family of five shopping at Primark. The shop can utilize those location-based insights to segment their audience even further, reaching out only to the most likely consumers: people currently shopping in the other sportswear shops nearby or browsing fitness content. Using location targeting the sportswear store will be reaching their target audience with relevant content, rather than wasting their budget on the wrong audience.

Though effective on its own, geolocation is strongest when used in conjunction with other data. In fact, overlaying location data with other third-party data sources will help ensure greater accuracy and insight into consumers. Browsing history can enable a luxury auto brand to identify an audience that frequently looks at high-end cars online. Coupling that history with location data can paint a clearer picture of how likely they are to buy the product. Targeting those viewers who live in affluent areas, for instance, will produce better results. Using location data to segment even further, a brand can focus on the most likely buyers: those who have recently visited a car dealership.

Brands can also use location data to choose the right ad format. A luxury car manufacturer may identify their ideal audience - affluent, single men who have recently browsed a high-end automotive website - but what kind of ad will be most successful? A quick banner ad may work well to keep the brand front of mind when location data shows he's walking down the street, while a three-minute video ad might work better when he's connected to the Wi-Fi at home.'

But location-based marketing is not without risk. Brands that wish to reap the benefits of geolocation must take precautions to ensure their location data is accurate. They can do this by working with suppliers and partners that carefully filter out any suspicious data. They can also request third-party validation after each campaign to make sure their efforts are always on the mark. The EU has itself stressed the importance of improved geolocation accuracy, with the VP of the European Commission describing it as "at the heart of the ongoing digital revolution" after the launch of the EU's new hyper-accurate GPS-like network: Galileo.

The Future of Location-based Marketing 

Advances in geolocation have been swift and continuous over the past decade—but we're really just getting started. As technology continues to advance, where is geolocation going?

With the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the advent of products like Google Home and driverless cars, we're seeing humans take a backseat as computers learn more from us and about us. For instance, computers are beginning to learn what you're likely to buy and where you're likely to buy it. Such is the power of AI and brands are already using it to target consumers.

Location data will always be a critical supplement to these futuristic innovations. In fact, innovations that combine AI with location history will soon hit the market, able to predict who a brand's audience will be and when this audience should be targeted in order to get people to visit the store.

As AI becomes a dominant force in marketing, location data will continue to boost its power, showing brands not only who we are, but also who we aspire to be. Brands that seize this leading-edge technology will be able to create experiences like never before, fashioning hyper-targeted ads that will perform better and lead to higher rates of conversation.