Location-based marketing should be about more than just vouchers

Facebook Deals in Times SquareWith the launch of Facebook Deals in the US in November and its imminent launch in the UK, the opportunities for brands to engage in location-based marketing are growing and set to grow more in 2011.

We’ve already looked at the ways in which marketers can use Facebook Places, and the ways in which location-based services can add value to both consumers and to marketers. But with the launch and growth of Facebook Deals, we will see a rapid growth in use of these tools by brands. And, with luck, a growth in marketing innovation - using location to do things and engage with people in ways that have not previously been possible.

But there is a danger that marketers may not move beyond the use of location to target vouchers, discounts and coupons. That would be a real shame.

Facebook Deals and Foursquare lend themselves to easily provide discounts based on a consumer’s location - a voucher for checking in, a discount for checking in a fixed number of times, a group discount if you check in with your friends. All of these are possible and would be of interest to brands. Taking a tactic that is already used offline and both moving it online and bringing in the location element. But this misses out on the real opportunities for brands to experiment with location-based marketing and to engage with consumers in new ways.

Successful brands will be experimenting sensibly with social media in 2011 as part of their social media strategy. And location-based marketing should be one area for innovation. Rather than just discounting or offering vouchers there we will see innovations in how brands are interacting with consumers. They may be allowing consumers to leave a ‘wish list’ in shops for friends - dropping their wedding list in a department store for others to find when they are there, or leaving their virtual birthday gift list in stores around town through location based services. They may allow customers to sort reviews and find services based not just on what is closest, but what others, people like them, or their friends, think of them. Or they may allow consumers to keep a record of when they have visited a location (maybe a gym or swimming pool) and the activities they did when they were there as part of a training diary.

Location-based tools offer a new way to engage with customers. And the successful brands will be innovating with these in 2011. Vouchers, discounts and coupons are just one thing they can be used for. But the best brands will do so much more.

This post is part of an informal series: Social Media in 2011.

Three ways location-based services can add value to consumers and marketers

You Are Here
Image by thejcgerm via Flickr

This week’s New Media Age contains a feature on location-based marketing looking at some case studies of where it has been used well and the opportunities for it as part of the marketing mix. We’ve written before about opportunities that location-based services offer to marketing. From using Foursquare as a small business to the many ways to use Facebook Places, location-based services offer many potentials for experimentation and new ways of communicating with and marketing too consumers.

As I comment in the NMA article, there is “a temptation to think that location-based marketing is the next big thing”. A temptation for marketers to put their efforts into location-based-marketing because it is new and because case studies are emerging of it being used in a way that really adds value to the business. But really we are entering a period of experimentation with these tools. Marketers should be using them strategically and trying them as part of their marketing or broader social mix.

Marketers need to be sensible in their use of location-based marketing. It’s important to think strategically and assess whether or not it can add value or have an impact. In the next year there’ll be more experimentation and more campaigns, some that work and some that fail.

This is an exciting time, there are many ways in which location-based marketing can be used but three clear ways where we should see experimentation are all areas where the services actually add real value to consumers.

1. Help me to filter information

This evening I was looking for a restaurant for dinner with a friend. One of the most important criteria was that the restaurant was near where we were when we decided to go and eat. Location was a significant variable in our choice. Or rather ‘near me right now’ was the filter we wanted to apply. Location-based-services allow consumers to apply a simple but effective filter to information they are searching for - especially when that information is reviews or advice. And it allows them to apply it instantly.

This is very powerful. It helps a consumer get straight to the information that is relevant, and provides a real use for reviews and advice not just as a planning tool but also to influence consumer behaviour in real-time. I like to think of it as there being reviews dropped on streets across the world that my phone lets me read. Secret messages that location-based-services unlock when I am near them and when they are relevant to me.

2. Help me to find people like me

Location-based-services not only know where I am, but also where other people are. Putting these together means that I can easily find people or other groups. And the power comes when you use this to help people connect if they have similar interests or concerns. Online communities are successful where they connect people with similar problems, questions, interests, issues or concerns. And they can be particularly valuable at getting people who don’t know each other to share and discuss - from people who want to talk about a broadband provider to those with a particular medical condition who want to talk to fellow sufferers even if they don’t know any personally.

Location-based-services can take this experience of connecting affinity groups and make it happen offline too. You can find if people with similar interests to you are nearby. Maybe you enjoy softball and want to find out where others are playing one Sunday morning, or maybe you just want to find other people like you. A highly successful iPhone app has done that for a niche market (the gay dating app Grindr) and similar behaviours can benefit many other groups.

3. Help me to organise events, parties and rallies

What’s the simplest way of knowing how many people are at a protest? You could count them all, or you could ask them all to register. But how about getting them all to check-in. This not only gives you a count of how many people have joined your event at a particular location but will give you access to lots more information about them and, perhaps critically, a route to contact them again after the event. Location-based-services, and particular the notion of checking-in, allows a number of existing processes to be both simplified and enhanced.

Could we use location-based-services to let a restaurant know we’ve arrived and are waiting in the bar for our table? Could we use them to gain access to parties, or can we use them as a way to organise and direct political protests or rallies. Location-based-services provide a number of potential organisational uses that need to be explored and experimented with.

The dark side of Facebook Places? Nobody is making you use it

Green Energy (Energie verte)
Image by Gilderic via Flickr

People will be bored of what you are doing. By knowing more about you they may like you less. You are advertising when your house is empty to rob. And you are making it easy for paeodophiles to track you down. These are the charges leveled against Facebook Places in a piece in this weekend’s Sunday Times (no article link I’m afraid - behind the paywall!). Of course, these are all dangers and it would be foolish not to agree. But Facebook Places is not as threatening as this piece might lead you to believe. Mainly because on Facebook, like in the rest of your life, you only actually share what you choose to.

Facebook Places is doing many things to the way people use Facebook. But it is not sharing information about you unless you choose to. Facebook is not automatically checking you in to venues without your say so when you arrive somewhere. If you over share or share information dangerously then you will only have yourself to blame. That or your choice of friends (as they can check you in somewhere too!).

The problem with this analysis is that many people using Facebook don’t always realise quite how much they are sharing for two reasons:

  1. The privacy filters on Facebook can be complex - it is well known that Facebook has complicated privacy settings, at one point giving users 170 different options to control who sees what on their profile. This is confusing and can be difficult for people to get on top of. Also, Facebook doesn’t let you choose who sees an update (but rather who doesn’t see it). From a user experience perspective, this assumes that you want to share with more people (and exclude a small number) rather than sharing with small groups of people (and excluding the mass). Facebook is structurally designed to share and to encourage you to do so. This is obvious, it is one reason it is successful.
  2. People do not always realise how much they are sharing - Facebook, for many people, feels like a safe, very personal space. You are here with your friends, hearing about what they are doing, organising events with them and seeing and sharing photos of places you have been and things you have done. When you are using Facebook you do not think of the 500 million users the social network has. You think of the friends you have on it - probably nearer 150 people than 500 million. Facebook is a classic social network - it is a collection of networks of people who are connected because they know each other. And when you are in one of these networks you may not always remember that you are also part of a much, much larger one.

Facebook Places is not scary, but it yet again highlights the fact that, as users of Facebook and of social media, we are all still learning. We are getting used to what we want to share and how we want to share it. Challenges and opportunities we have not had before. Some people will want to share a lot of things with other people (whether they know them or not). Some will not. The challenge is that people now need to think about exactly what they want to share and with whom, and then make sure this is how they act and how they setup their use of social networks to support this.

I’m probably in the not sharing category. At least for Facebook Places. Mainly because I really don’t go to too many interesting places and because I don’t want to flood my friends’ walls with many more status updates. I am, however, an avid user of Foursquare; even on holiday. Different tools, and different groups of friends for different reasons.

Why Foursquare is the (almost) perfect travelling companion

parallel travels #1
Image by lorenzo cuppini verducci via Flickr

I wrote previously about how social media is changing travel, comparing a journey I have just taken traveling across the Balkans and Greece with a trip I took 15 years ago across Western Europe. The rise of social media has changed the way we travel. It has given us new opportunities to help plan our travel, and to help us whilst we are en route. It helps us choose hotels and restaurant, to see what others have experienced and to keep in touch and give real time reviews whilst we are travelling. And many travel and leisure companies are planning their social media strategy to help them capitalise on this change in consumer behaviour.

Having just returned from the trip, I can report that social media has helped to change how we travel whilst we are on holiday as well as in the planning phase. The use of reviews and forums to help choose locations is common to many of us. Using social media in real time as a travel assistant is less so.

Social media as a real time travel resource

We are very used to social media as a tool to help choose and plan travel. To help learn what others thought of particular hotels, restaurants or venues. And to learn about what there is to do and see in different destinations. But social media as a real-time travel resource is developing. Whilst away in Greece, I saw how this could work best. Using Twitter, I posted a picture on Twitter of where I was and what I was doing. A few minutes later I had a response recommending a place to eat - a place that was not touristy but full only of Greeks, and that I wouldn’t have found at all without this piece of advice.

Of course, it helped that my friend, @AJBradburn, works in the travel industry and has lived across Greece. But it did mean that I had perhaps the best meal of my trip thanks to advice I got in real time on Twitter. An experience I would not have had without social media.

How Foursquare could become the ultimate travel companion

Perhaps the most useful social media tool when I was Foursquare. And in an unexpected way.

I have often thought that the greatest value you can get from Foursquare is not in gaining Mayorships or points, but in leaving reviews and information around a town for others to pick up. Then, when I’m in a new town looking for a place to eat or drink, I could just switch on Foursquare and find somewhere to go based on the tips (or reviews) left by others).

When I was travelling I did this for the first time, with much success. Travelling in relatively less well-travelled places (including Bosnia and Serbia), I was surprised to find quite so much activity on Foursquare. But using it I was able to find bars and restaurants, read reviews and even find other information, including the passwords for various cafe wifi access, based on the tips left by other users. This was incredibly useful, and after benefiting from these tips I was even prompted to leave my own. Including for the bar that was recommended for me in Athens.

There is a real opportunity for Foursquare to become a valuable resource for travellers and for others looking for reviews of venues near where they are. This would be particularly useful for those visiting new places or new areas of town. When you want to find places near where you are and read reviews of them.

Of course this is not necessarily what Foursquare was designed to do and there are some changes that would help to make it more useful as a review site like this. Notably it would be good to improve the ability to search for venues. It would be great if I could search for venues before I visit a town and then favourite ones I want to try out. Then, when I’m on location, I could look at my favourites on a map and visit them.

Also, as Foursquare grows it will become important that I can filter tips. In a city such as Sarajevo there are not that many bars recommended on Foursquare. In London there will be hundreds (if not thousands). I will only be interested in certain reviews and those from certain reviewers - usually people that I consider to be ‘people like me’. An ability for Foursquare to learn what I like and what I do and then tailor recommendations based on this will add significant value to the service.

Of course, the first stage will be to encourage more people to leave tips. Foursquare is not about becoming Mayor of a local venue. It is about you sharing the best of what is in your town with others. And it is about you being able to tap into local knowledge when you are on location. Or it will be if it becomes and more user-friendly resource for this type of knowledge exchange.