Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts today is launching a 10-week test on Gowalla in some California markets. The development represents Gowalla's fourth notable partnership in recent weeks, underscoring a flurry of activity in the overall location-based marketing space since Facebook launched its "Places" initiative on Aug. 18.
Elizabeth Pizzinato, VP of brand communications at Four Seasons, said that while her marketing team has been dedicated to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for some time, the Gowalla test was the brand's first foray into location-based services. Its new effort, which runs through Nov. 19, involves three Los Angeles locations, as well as one of the brand's hospitality spots in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Santa Barbara, respectively.
"Our guests are [increasingly] participating in using social media tools," Pizzinato said. "It's not just a younger demographic or somebody who is tech-savvy. People across all demographics and segments are using social media in various ways and very frequently."
Four Seasons decided the trial campaign deserved an attractive lure. Gowalla "Passport" users will be able get around $100 credit (dollar amount varies slightly per location) if they check in to three popular local spots recommended by the hotel's concierge. To give a general idea of the loss leader vs. potential return on investment, the average cost of a room at its Santa Barbara location is around $425.
Concierge recommendations appear in a "Trips" tab on Gowalla's mobile platform, available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Palm users. After checking in to the three spots, the platform will deliver a branded Four Seasons "pin" that can be shown at the front desk and then redeemed at the hotel's spa or restaurants. The offer is good for one voucher per room and per stay, Pizzinato explained, and there will not be a limit on the number of people who get the reward. Interestingly, she said the hotels will not have special partnerships with the businesses or attractions required to visit in the "Trips" reward program.
"We are giving it a good run throughout the fall," Pizzinato said. "It's a time where we know that people are taking those short breaks and are taking travel trips. So, it seemed like a good way to test it out."
Geo-Social Campaigns Are Trending Up After Facebook Places
Gowalla has also signed deals with AT&T, Toms Shoes, and CNN's "John King, USA" program during the last month.
Brand interest in geo-social campaigns has not slowed on location-based platforms like Gowalla and Foursquare, even though Facebook looms as a threat to their prosperity. If anything, the campaigns have begun appearing at a faster clip.
In one example, Foursquare recently made a big splash with American Eagle Outfitters. The two companies advertised their partnership with a gigantic digital sign in New York City's Times Square in August, while the retail brand is offering 15 percent discounts on purchases for a single check-in through the rest of this month.
Meanwhile, Virgin America ran an extremely successful four-hour promotion via Loopt on Aug. 31. On Aug. 24, AT&T began running promotions on SCVNGR's platform that extend to 50 stores across the Midwest. And the day before, Jive Records' artist Miguel announced a deal with geo-social company Whrrl to award fans who showed up at his Labor Day weekend performance in Las Vegas.
It remains to be seen whether brands will continue to use other geo-social platforms once Facebook's 500 million users start checking in more regularly via Places. While major companies have yet to roll out Facebook Places campaigns, Pizzinato from Four Seasons suggested that the social giant's emergence indicated that geo-social marketing is likely headed into an even more prolific environment.
"Facebook is such a dominant force and a market leader in so many things," she said. "It's really interesting they are getting involved in something that was started by smaller players in the marketplace. I think it's a really good indication that [location-based marketing] is only going to continue to grow in importance."
Ian Shafer, CEO of social media company Deep Focus, took Pizzinato's comments a step further while suggesting that Facebook Places could help the likes of Gowalla, Foursquare, Loopt, SCVNGR, and Whrrl. Each of those geo-social brands have recently announced that they have integrated into Facebook's API platform for Places. Their users can now communicate or transmit their check-ins via the Facebook newsfeed, giving brand campaigns on platforms like Foursquare (2 million-plus users) a potentially longer tail.
"People have criticized [location-based services] because of their limited reach," Shafer said. "The promise of Places removes that limitation."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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