How location tools are honing brand radars

With the right promotions, smartphones and location-based social networks can drive customers into bricks-and-mortar businesses, writes Maeve Hosea


It’s not just Oyster cards and ever-present CCTV cameras that provide information on where everyone is at a given point in time. Fuelled by the growing use of smartphones, social applications centring on sharing geographic information in real time are gaining ground and, most importantly, they are doing it on a platform of fun.

Facebook Places, the geolocation app from Facebook, launched in the UK in September 2010 and took the geolocation buzz – catalysed early last year by online games Gowalla and Foursquare – into the mainstream. Facebook Places lets people connect with their friends on a new level, enabling them to tell their network where they are in real time and share tips on what they have found there.

Game playing as a mechanism is raising the stakes in the marketing arena and is central to the concepts of two key geolocation players. Foursquare, based around the deceptively simple idea of using your mobile device to “check in” to any place once you arrive there, was widely considered 2009’s breakout application. This competitive adult game has two key aspects: virtual achievements called “badges” such as the Gym Rat badge, awarded when someone has checked in on ten trips to the gym in 30 days, the Explorer badge when they have checked in to 25 different venues, and even the Last Degree badge, awarded when checking in at the North Pole. Foursquare’s most significant concept is the “mayorship”, which allows participants with the most check-ins to a place to become its virtual mayor. Despite having only about 5 million global users, Foursquare is beginning to make its mark as an experimental marketing tool.

Rival app Gowalla similarly centres on rewards-based achievement for its 1 million-strong user base. With its user-experience couched in terms of a “passport” of collectable “stamps”, Gowalla’s USP and badge of cool is well-executed design. Since its launch in March 2009, brands have been partnering with the service to scatter a variety of virtual and physical goods and services.


All these applications have obvious benefits for marketers. Increasingly, when a user checks in, they not only share geographical location, they endorse places or venues, and stake their claim to a variety of branded deals, offers and incentives.

In November 2010, billboards featuring the nation’s current sweetheart Cheryl Cole promoting her album Messy Little Raindrops pouted down on passers-by across the UK.

Devised by her record company, Polydor, in association with digital agency MediaCom, the three-week long advertising campaign prompted fans to access Facebook on their smartphones and use Facebook Places to check in to the billboard itself. “We wanted to make the advertising work harder,” explains Aaron Bogucki, senior digital campaign manager at Polydor. “Although we were going for a mainstream audience that does not have a huge understanding of this technology at the moment, we had thousands of downloads and hundreds of check-ins.”

Fans were offered the chance to win tickets to The X-Factor. The activity was designed to give fans a physical location to engage with excitement around the release of Cole’s new record. “Because it’s early days for this technology, the number of check-ins we had was less than expected,” says Bogucki. “But we will definitely be using this and other geolocation services in the future – it is a game and therefore fun and a valuable way to engage with our audiences.”

Amsterdam-based music promoter Dancefoundation recently started a campaign with Flowd, a location-based social media tool for record companies and artists to promote directly to their fans. Flowd works by allowing fans to check in to their favourite artist’s events. “Location-based social media adds the ’where’ to the ’who’ and ’when’,” says Lennart Bader, founder of Dancefoundation. “This is interesting, because fans can literally follow their idols, check in at the same places and leave their comments.”

US car brand Chevrolet wanted to target people attending the South by Southwest interactive festival in Austin, Texas in March last year. People who checked in to Austin Bergstrom International Airport on Gowalla were randomly chosen to receive a free ride to their hotel, courtesy of Chevrolet. “All they had to do was tap the ’yes, please!’ button highlighted on their check-in confirmation and they would be greeted outside the airport by a driver holding a sign with their name,” explains Pia Arthur, head of marketing at Gowalla. “It is an example of how nimble the service can be for brands.”
Platforms such as Foursquare and Gowalla also enable users to leave tips at locations they visit and this exploratory element, along with the social aspect and ’boast’ factor, are key to their growing popularity. However, to garner mainstream support there needs to be more emphasis on incentives.


case study: disney parks on gowalla

The Disney brand inspires a sense of creative freedom and play among children and adults alike. Seeking to up engagement levels with visitors, Disney theme parks have partnered with mobile social network service Gowalla. Through it, users can add a layer of online social networking to their physical exploration of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World venues.

As is typical for a Gowalla partnership, custom Gowalla pages, ’passport stamps’ and other Disney-branded tools help users track their trips in a virtual scrapbook. These bits of added value allow guests to view park happenings, to see maps with check-in streams and other special items.

“By rewarding guests with exclusive digital stamps, and by suggesting new ways to explore the parks with fun trip itineraries, Gowalla is the perfect complement to the park visit,” says Leslie Ferraro, executive vice-president of global marketing for Disney Destinations. “As we encourage our guests to make memories at Disney parks, Gowalla is a great way for them to share their memories.”

Gowalla users can earn virtual stamps at Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and 200 other Disney theme park attractions, which represents the largest amount of stamps Gowalla has created for a brand so far.

“Our focus is to encourage people to go out and discover the world, everything from the ordinary to the extraordinary,” says Pia Arthur, marketing manager for Gowalla. “We try to find and offer what is important for the brand partner and our community of users.”

If a consumer is following Disney on Gowalla, they have access to its trips tab that ’bundles’ attractions by age or interest. A sampling for the 2010 season’s greetings trip included Santa’s Reindeer Roundup, the Believe … in Holiday Magic fireworks show and Sleeping Beauty Winter Castle.

It is early days for the technology and neither consumers nor brands have widely adopted the use of location-based services. However, noteworthy patterns of behaviour and use are already emerging. Research conducted exclusively for Marketing Week by TNS Technology in December 2010 found that only 17% of people in the UK use mobile phone apps such as Facebook Places, Foursquare and Gowalla to log their location, and that 23% of people are unaware of and unfamiliar with these apps. The most frequent users, checking in at least twice a week, are 25- to 34-year-olds (21%) and also those with children at home (19%).

“At present, one-third of people cannot see any point in checking in their location,” comments Ged Egan, technology specialist at TNS Research International. “To increase usage of these location-based social media apps, marketers need to demonstrate a clear benefit to the consumer and tailor benefits to the individual.”

The research also shows consumers want to be more engaged with their location. Those aged 25 to 34 are most likely to be what are defined as explorers; with a fifth of this age group stating that ’looking for places and things of interest nearby’ is the main reason they use these apps. The research shows men are more likely than women to check in to their location for functional reasons such as leaving reviews. Women are more likely to use them for social reasons, with 62% using it mainly for staying in touch versus 41% of men.

Buzzy geolocation services are exciting for bricks-and-mortar retailers as they provide opportunity to increase footfall and recruit brand ambassadors who will pass on genuine word-of-mouth endorsements to their friends and Twitter followers. Debenhams, an early adopter of Foursquare, began by offering free coffee to Foursquare visitors in February 2010 to encourage interaction with the brand.

“We have been impressed by the potential of Foursquare as a channel to combine social media with physical experiences,” says Harriet Williams, strategy and online marketing controller for Debenhams. “In 2011, we’ll continue to work with the major players and emerging platforms to stay ahead of the curve.”


case study: metro newspapers on foursquare

Metro Newspapers launched a partnership with Foursquare in the UK last year. Working with digital agency Diffusion, London’s Metro has put a layer of its content into Foursquare, enabling users to see location-relevant film and restaurant reviews when they check in to locations around the UK’s capital. Metro’s restaurant reviews are tagged to various locations within the geolocation service and so the check-in becomes a commodity.

“Foursquare is a cutting-edge social tool that helps users find new ways to explore cities, so it’s the perfect fit for Metro’s City Clicker audiences,” says Jamie Walters, digital director at Metro. “What is driving usage of Foursquare is the aspect where tips and recommendations are left by users in specific locations.” There are 15,000 people directly engaging with Metro on Foursquare, testament to the fit between the review content and the platform. The media brand has plans to push that further through more tie-ups with its website and Facebook site.

“This is an exploratory and fun way to get content out – we want to reach out to early adopters because they will enhance our status in that group,” says Walters. “We like partnerships with forward-thinking firms because we push each other to innovate.”

Metro says there is no revenue motivation in the initiative at the moment, but expects there to be commercial opportunities with location-based services in future.

This is a valuable way for Metro to extend its affinity with readers. “All our digital efforts are geared at extending the reach of the morning paper throughout the day,” says Walters. “With this type of collaboration, we are only scratching the surface of what can be done with location-based services.”

Any Foursquare customer who makes it to be mayor of their local Domino’s Pizza is rewarded with a free pizza on a weekly basis while regular Foursquare users checking in receive a free side dish when they spend more than £10.

“Foursquare allows us to offer something extra to existing Domino’s customers who regularly visit their local stores,” says James Millett, multimedia manager at Domino’s Pizza. “Our Foursquare activity and the rewards for mayors have been well-received by customers, therefore geo-targeting through mobile will remain at the forefront of what we do.”

Launched only in the US so far, with plans to roll out this year, Facebook Deals is a natural extension of Facebook Places. With Deals, businesses now have the chance to link online conversations to offline results, giving consumers immediate incentivisation.

Las Vegas hotel The Palms is working with digital agency ICED Media. It has a target audience of young adult males, statistically the most likely demographic to use smartphones. The hotel recently ran a deal enabling anyone that checked in to The Palms on Facebook Deals to receive a third night free. At the same time as offering users an incentive to check in, the hotel brand earned viral impressions from them sharing their visit with their friends on Facebook.

“Location-based social media gives us the ability to seamlessly interact and reward those currently on our property,” says Jason Gastwirth, chief marketing officer of The Palms Casino Resort. “The flexibility, speed, and ease of changing offers through these applications also allows us to stay up-to-date with our information and promotions.”

So far, location-based services have demonstrated they can add value for the user through incentives and rewards and help brands directly target customers more efficiently and organically. If these game-like applications become a part of consumers’ habits, they will have wide-reaching implications in the future as providers offer new levels of sophistication. It’s game on for anyone who wants to play.


case study: visitbritain on facebok places

“In the past we have been guilty of creating our own platforms rather than capitalising on the platforms our consumers are actually using,” says Justin Reid, online marketing manager of VisitBritain. “The big online buzz now is around geo-location and we chose to work with Facebook Places because of the sheer number of people on it.”

The digital marketing development encourages visitors to check in using their mobile every time they reach a notable British location and then write a review of what they find. VisitBritain can work with all tourist destinations to show them how they can market themselves on the platform – including allowing tickets to be booked through the Facebook page.

Reid says that with major events coming up such as the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, the association will tap into the bragging mentality. “People love the boast factor,” he says. “Someone is able to say in front of their social graph that they are here right now as well as leaving a ’gingerbread trail’ for others.”

VisitBritain maximises the activity in campaign terms by pulling all the Facebook check-ins together into a more user-friendly format intended to inspire foreigners and locals to plan trips in Britain.

When users of Facebook Places check in to VisitBritain sites, the information automatically updates the new list of Top 50 UK Places on VisitBritain’s LoveUK site, a crowdsourced leader board of destinations.

The number of people checking in to VisitBritain locations on Facebook Places has already outstripped the Gowalla service.

“We are getting 27,000 people a day going to the Facebook Places tab and viewing the Top 50 destinations,” says Reid. “That’s more traffic than all of our other sites combined.”


key learnings

  • Tap in to consumers’ desires to boast and seek approval from people in their social network
  • Use incentives such as prizes to give people a reason to ’check in’.
  • Be brave/ it’s impossible to fully understand the influence of emerging platforms unless you’ve been there yourself.
  • Direct time and resources to the initiative so that it has some depth and there is a dialogue with the consumer.
  • Keep it simple – stick to an offer that is easy to understand and administer, especially because it will need to be tried out across numerous stores or outlets.
  • A presence on location-based services can signal a message that your brand is ahead of the curve.




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