How Coca-Cola, Weight Watchers, and McDonald's have developed location-based apps that demonstrate how to integrate message with functionality.
Gary Stein has checked in at the brink of Location-Based networks.
I have uninstalled Foursquare on my mobile device. I have done this with the same spirit with which I installed Foursquare: to see if having it made any real difference to my life. The answer, I'm afraid, in both cases is…no.
I'm a pretty big proponent of social media, in general. I truly enjoy using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, and many other social networks. I've recently added Scribd to my list of sites-I-visit-regularly and am playing around with GetGlue.com. But I try to stay very close to a core belief that I have about technology, which is to stay focused on my particular goals for my day or for my life, and add in tools that make achieving those goals easier, faster, or somehow better.
One of my goals is to be able to share the small thoughts that come into my brain with people who may be interested (and vice versa). Twitter helps me do that. I want to be able to reconnect with colleagues and coworkers when I need to. (LinkedIn…I love you.) The fact of the matter is that Foursquare and other check-in apps really don't answer any clear need that I have in my life, and, as such, it is fading in importance for me. I was neither getting much value out of the network, nor was I putting much value into it. No one cared that I was getting my car washed.
Of course, this is just me, and I know that there are loads of other segments who have behaviors where checking in is precisely what they need. Off the top of my head, I can see where Foursquare and the other apps in the category would be hugely valuable for club-goers, frequent travelers to particular cities, parent's wanting to coordinate ad-hoc playdates, and foodies looking for hidden treats. There are many more, but there are also people who just are not going to be interested.
Advertisers have naturally been attracted to location-based social networks, mainly because they very quickly became popular with a lot of people and they have a new functionality that we hadn't seen before. But that's not enough online to develop a real strategy. When we go interactive, applications are not the same as magazines or TV shows. If everyone starts watching a particular show, then you can just go ahead and place your ad on it. If everyone starts using a particular app, you need to figure out how to get your brand's message integrated with the app's functionality. This is a fundamentally different exercise and it's not easy.
Leading by Example
Probably the best way for us to figure out how to use location-based apps (as advertisers, not as individuals) is to look at a few examples of brands that seem to have sorted it out and struck gold. There are scads of examples of campaigns, but below are three recent ones from around the world that not only have proven successful to marketers, but have also shown some very strong thinking around how to integrate message with functionality.
Coca-Cola's Coke Machine Fairy
In Australia, Coke created an account on Foursquare called the Coke Machine Fairy. The fairy would visit a Coke vending machine within Sydney and place a "magic" can. He (she?) would then check in and announce the location. The first person to show up and find the can wins a prize, such as a gift certificate to a clothing store.
This campaign is excellent because it plays directly into the brand campaign, communicating happiness - using Foursquare, the brand was able to blanket the city with a sense of wonder with the ubiquitous vending machine as its new hero and icon.
Weight Watcher's Loose-a-Palooza
The diet center brand Weight Watchers created a simple program where each time a consumer checked in at one of the meetings held by the brand, it would donate a dollar to a famine relief project. This is a simple concept and execution, but the Weight Watchers brand is very much about taking charge of one's life, health, and weight. The very nature of the meetings is to share that commitment with others. By engaging with Foursquare, that action and that sense of sharing are taken outside the meeting and to the dieter's community of friends. It is just the sort of virtuous circle that the brand is built upon, made better through technology.
McDonald's and Visa "Easy" Badges
Well, I feel a little guilty going from Weight Watchers to a new, quicker way to buy Big Macs, but here we go.
McDonald's has launched a significant campaign, promoting the ability to pay with a Visa. The ads center on a new level of ease with which you can buy your food. To support this, McDonald's is using Brightkite. Check in and you get a branded badge; do it five times and you get a $5-off coupon. This campaign makes great use of the inherent competition in many of these apps, as well as focusing on the habitual nature of them. By having people do something five times (for a reasonable reward), McDonald's is going a long way toward getting not only the concept but the actual practice of buying at McDonald's locked in the consumer's brain.
Brands Driving Networks?
I suppose I may reinstall Foursquare. The fact is, while I do travel about frequently, I am a creature of habit and visit familiar haunts on a pretty regular schedule. The ways that the creative geniuses at brands and the agencies have been adding value to the networks may just be able to lure me (and I imagine others just like me) back into using them. As I said, I have only checked in at the brink…
Huge hat tip to my colleague Dan Calladine for providing the case studies here. Want to get smart? Follow him at @dancall1.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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