Check-ins and Places

Launched in March 2009, Foursquare has established itself as a top player in location-based services. It allows users to “check in” to a business when they are at (or technically in the vincinity of) a business. In exchange, users earn fancy badges and mayorships, plus social benefits with their friends and other users located nearby. In the short one and a half years of its life, Foursquare has quickly signed up close to 3 million users. Following this surprising enthusiasm from consumers toward such location-based services, Twitter introduced its own location service earlier this year, where Twitter users can attach a location to their tweets. More recently, Facebook also introduced its own location-based service called “Facebook Places”. Through the Facebook iPhone app or mobile web interface (touch.facebook.com), users can check themselves and their friends into locations, and share that information with other Facebook friends.

Facebook Places

Photo by Flickr user Anthony Quintano | CC 2.0

Mobile Check-Ins and Loyalty

The fast growth of mobile check-in services has sprung other services that target more specifically at customer loyalty. Some of these services are built on existing mobile platforms such as Foursquare, and others use their own proprietary system. Here I would like to briefly mention three such services as examples of what is taking shape in the field of location-sensitive loyalty.

  • Topguest: So far, it is focusing on the travel industry, especially hotels. When you sign up for a Topguest account, you can sync your existing location service accounts with your Topguest account. Services supported include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, and brightkite. Once synced, when you check in at Topguest’s network of partners, say, a Holiday Inn, you will receive bonus points or rewards in your Priority Club account. Topguest website says it is planning to expand to fine dining restaurants and other travel services.
  • shopkick: A new kid on the block, shopkick differs from the other services by requiring a special equipment to be installed at the retailer’s location. With this TV-screen looking equipment inside a store, consumers with the shopkick app on their mobile phone can pair up with the device to receive reward points for being there. While this equipment requirement certainly raises deployment cost for retailers, it rewards loyalty based on more precise location, instead of mere proximity to a business. Imagine, for instance, an apparel retailer can place one such device in its dressing room area to encourage consumers to try on its clothes.
  • Get Glue: In many ways, Get Glue works very similarly to Foursquare. But instead of checking into physical locations, Get Glue checks into a variety of entertainment activities, such as listening to a new Coldplay CD or watching an episode of Entourage. Similar to Foursquare, Get Glue users can express their opinions about the various entertainment activities, and they earn rewards in the form of stickers that are displayed on their profile pages. So far, HBO, Showtime, Barnes & Noble, and Universal have all partnered with Get Glue to reward their viewers/readers for their loyalty.

Relevance/Context is Key

As a very new field, this location-sensitive marketplace is seeing new apps arriving every day. It is too early to tell which one of these will eventually come out ahead. But as a business wanting to use such services to enhance business and reward loyalty, the myriad of choices can be confusing. Instead of getting lost in the sea of possible choices, the most important word to remember is relevance. When one takes a step back and looks at the bigger picture, all of these location-based services really promise one potentially great thing: interaction based on the context in which the consumer is in, be it physical locations or specific activities. Like traditional loyalty programs, check-ins offer businesses information not captured before on consumers’ whereabouts (or contexts) and subsequently an opportunity to interact or reward based on that knowledge.

The ability to build on this context-relevance will be key to the success of any efforts in this area. As a business, before you get stuck trying to figure out exactly what services to use, here are a few more important questions to consider:

  • In what contexts (physical locations, consumption situations, etc.) are your products and services relevant to consumers?
  • What are the different needs consumers may have under different contexts?
  • Can your marketing messages be varied and adapted to the different contexts?
  • What analytical capabilities do you have to capture and understand the contextual information you can get from consumers?
  • How can you integrate contexts into your existing customer relationship management system?

For most marketing channels and platforms, clutter always becomes an issue at later stages of development. To stand out in this mobile playground, relevance will have to rule, and your marketing needs to shift towards thinking contextually. As some say, success is all about being at the right place at the right time. Only when you can prove yourself useful or helpful to your customers at the right moments will they reward you with their loyalty and overcome their privacy concerns to give you their invaluable information.

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