A quick walk down Main Street will soon become a lot more complicated. Just a block or two down the road, your phone tells you that your two friends have gathered for a beer at a pub on the right. Three steps later, your phone alerts you that the bakery across the street is offering two-for-one macaroons. I’d argue that beer and macaroons are perfectly complementary, but that’s beside the point.
Location-based check-in services and applications (using GPS-enabled mobile devices) scare some and excite others, but if we were to judge the trend by the recent growth of services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Yelp and countless others, there are certainly a growing number of folks in the latter camp.
At Wednesday’s Social Media Week session, “The Future of Space and Time,” attendees got a good look at what the future may bring — from a few guys who are blazing the path. Denis Crowley, founder and CEO of Foursquare (full disclosure, Denis and I are friends from college), Chris Dixon, co-founder and CEO of Hunch, and Tony Jebara of Columbia University and Sense Networks touched on some key themes that progressive marketers should be thinking about.
Before you turn your nose up at these services and ask, “Who would want to share their location?” let’s first take a look at some history. Tony Jebara of Sense Networks referenced a McKinsey study from 2001 indicating that just 10% of the population would pay for any type of broadband. Seems odd now — but in 2001 there was little reason to want or even need broadband, he noted. Fast forward to the world we live in, complete with streaming media of all shapes and sizes, and it’s almost a necessity. Foursquare’s Denis Crowley brought another illustration closer to home, asking if anyone would want a GPS device in their car if it didn’t transmit location signals. It wasn’t until the data receipt provided information on accidents or traffic jams ahead that these devices became so valuable. In short, we’re just scratching the surface with mobile services. Pair collaborative innovation with richer, more socialized data, and naysayers may be eating their words sooner than later.
Discussing what needs to occur for real mainstream adoption of these services, Crowley pointed out that “the products, not the technology will define acceptance.” There is no question that increased engagement and product innovation will continue to drive usage, but the business community will need to play a significant role in the growth of these channels if it plans to market inside them. Marketers can either view these services as another chance to broadcast their message indiscriminately or work to add value to the community as a whole. Some restaurants and bars are already buying in, offering frequent visitors (or “mayors”) a free drink or appetizer, but the opportunities can go beyond a freebie here and there.
This is not your father’s (or older brother’s) online marketing. We’re not just talking about engaging on this site or that social network. This is engagement on a more personal, physical level — location. When discussing the difference between what makes these services intrusive or not, Chris Dixon underscored the critical importance of opt-in as a standard. The second consumers feel as though their data is being used without a consensual value exchange is the second the relationship goes sour. The very same goes for businesses looking to market in location-based spaces.
If you’re not willing to make the game better, maybe you should sit this one out.
Image credit, anyka, via iStock