Why the changes to @foursquare with #4sq3 are game changing in location-based marketing

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If you use Foursquare on an Apple or Android smartphone, you will notice a significant update to the app this week. Version 3.0 has been released, and with it come significant changes that not only change the app experience, but also show that Foursquare is maturing in its use and positions is clearly alongside Facebook Places, the other dominant location-based service. We have written before about the power of Foursquare, about how location marketing should be about more than just vouchers and discounts, and about how Foursquare can really help you to discover new places. This latest version changes the game in a number of small but important ways.

The value of a tool like Foursquare is not necessarily the race to earn points and to become mayor (although I am in a fierce competition to be Mayor of my favourite local deli). The value is in the data that Foursquare captures: the listing of places, the reviews and tips, and the popularity of them as judged by how many people check-in there. The gaming tactics that are used to grow Forusquare are just that - tactics to help capture and gather this information. It is in this that the value really lies, and a major weakness to date with Foursquare was how this data adds value back to users. The new version of the app changes that. And changes it for the better.

What Foursquare really cracks with this new update is the discovery of this information; using it to provide a real service back to users. It turns the service from being fun to being useful. The two most significant changes are improvements in the way you can explore areas in your locality, and ways to find deals and offers:

1. Explore new places

Previously it was very difficult to find venues on Foursquare, and the huge amounts of data they gather on user behaviour, friends and connections, reviews and comments was unused. The real benefit of Foursquare comes when it van help me find a new venue, when it can recommend places my friends like or places that are similar to places I have checked-in at before. The new ‘Explore’ feature does this and does this well. I can search by type of venue (such as my search for ‘Food’ places in the picture above) and find places based on where I have been previously and where my friends have been. It looks like I really should check out The Breakfast Club in Hoxton Square (my friends Sam and Blaise have been there) and I really should.

This will, for me, now be the single most useful feature of Foursquare. When I want to find somewhere to eat or drink, or somewhere to visit, Foursquare uses all its data, and all the data it knows about me to recommend somewhere it thinks I would like. This, in turn, will encourage me to check in more often (to improve the accuracy of these recommendations) and to review places it recommends.

2. Find deals and offers

Deals and offers have always been part of location marketing - both for Foursquare and for Facebook Places. The problem has been that finding these deals is difficult. You find them when you check in at a place and sometimes they are shown when you are nearby. They rewarded people after they had been to a venue rather than being used to attract people to go there in the first place.

A small but significant change in the new version of Foursquare is that I can now search for all deals and offers near me. This will include Mayor offers (as in the two closest to me in this screenshot) but also new Specials, including Friends offers and deals. This allows the specials feature to help drive consumer behaviour and visits, rather than just rewarding people.

Foursquare is growing up. These changes are significant as they change the game from one that captures what people have done to using information to help change consumer behaviour. This is where the real opportunity lies for location.

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Location-based marketing should be about more than just vouchers

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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.

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

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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.

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