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Checking In On Location-based Services

I swear we’re not turning into a mobile MR blog! The response to our series of posts on mobile market research has been so high that we decided to wrap up with one more on location-based services and what that means for the future of MR.

A while back we wrote about location based social media services (LbSM) and provided an overview of the current players in the space. Since then, we’ve seen the major development of Facebook entering into the market with their Facebook Places offering, and in what I believe is a first for a non-mobile software provider, USamp has announced the launch of their own mobile offering leveraging LbSM:

…uSamp says surveys delivered through its latest mobile application will be of a short duration, and rewards for participating will be centered on virtual currency and remain user-specific.

Lavin says the launch dovetails with the growth of the ‘check-in’, in which mobile users share their current location with friends through social networking sites such as foursquare, Gowalla and the recently announced Places feature at Facebook.

‘When mobile users check-in and announce their location, we can serve up targeted surveys based on both geographics and demographics,’ explains Lavin. ‘This is location specific through the GPS systems built into mobile devices, not through the less precise means of triangulation or ZIP Codes.’

LbSM is a core component of most mobile research platforms, but so far no one has stressed this functionality as a major focus of their offering. USamp continues to impress with their innovative approach to leveraging technology for researchers, and with this offering they catapult to the forefront of the next generation of research technology suppliers. It will be very interesting to watch how this stimulates further creativity by others in the market.

Up until now, most of the buzz regarding LbSM has centered around marketing opportunities, although I’ve thought for quite some time that MR was missing the boat by not exploring the concept further. The opportunity to engage with respondents on their terms in very targeted interactions based on their actual location and behaviors is simply unprecedented. Let’s look at how marketing organizations are embracing this technology to put it in perspective.

First, BDNooz looks at what the entrance of Facebook into the mix portends for the LbSM industry in their blog post So Facebook added Location. What’s next? Location Based Services for marketers 101. It’s a great overview of the current state of the industry and offers some broad predictions for the future. Here is one of the key points that stuck out to me:

If this option is available, you could create a marketing campaign targeted not only by a certain demographic but also to customers that at the time of ad delivery are close to your business, or close to a competitor, or located in a certain place at a certain time. During the football season you could offer discount tickets to fans who are close to the stadium minutes before the game. You could send a beer coupon to New Orleans Saints’ fan page members who are located at the stadium every time the team scores a touchdown. And after the game, you could send to more than 500,000 of those fan page members a coupon with an address and map to their closest TGI Friday’s.

Where occasion meets location

The availability of your customer location allows you to create powerful tools. Companies like Foursquare and Gowalla are redefining what it means to be a “regular/patron;” others like SenseNetworks provide you with tools to dissect location information and give you human predictive analysis. Companies like Waze offer users free navigation and redefine the concept of “driving” customers to your business, and there are those pioneering location-based mobile marketing, advertising and content management like 1020 Placecast.

We live a mobile lifestyle in which immediate contact is important. Place and time matter. Location makes the occasion, and in the occasion lays the opportunity. Are you ready to seize it?

The same idea applies to mobile MR. It’s not simply a new channel to deploy surveys; with LbSM it becomes a whole new engagement, sampling, and research paradigm. Imagine if you are conducting a study of shoppers of a specific store as they enter it; the possibilities for true point-of-experience research are amazing. Or, to take it a step further, how about asking shoppers in a specific store while they are in it to go to a specific department and evaluate a display or other merchandising set-up? This takes the concept of virtual ethnography to a whole new level. The implications for media measurement, customer sat, in-store observations, product evaluations, and a hundred other research applications are staggering.

Sound far fetched? You haven’t heard of ShopKick yet then. RetailGeek has a great overview of the current state of retail applications for LbSM in their article What Shopper Marketers Need to Know about Location Based Marketing. In it they profile ShopKick and several other players that are looking to revolutionize the the relationship between consumers and brands using the mobile check-in process. Here is an excerpt:

ShopKick, a startup headed by the former EVP of mobile at CBS, has reportedly raised over $15M in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins and others.  They made their debut on the Apple App Store Wednesday morning.

Shopkick improves on the basic check-in model in two very important ways.

1. Automatic Check-In.  If the Shopkick app is running, it automatically detects that you have entered the store (or department) and relays the check-in points and promotions.  You don’t have to do anything other than have the app running.

2. Micro-Location Services. The app doesn’t rely exclusively on GPS. it also detects in-store beacons that emit audio signals outside the range of normal hearing. This allows Shopkick to track you location in the store.  I refer to this “micro-location” capability but I’ve also heard it referred to as “hyper-location.”  This capability is what allows ShopKick to offer , for instance, a Samsung promotion only to shoppers standing in-front a competing brand’s product.

The rest of the piece offers some great ideas on where this is all heading from a marketing perspective, and that dovetails nicely into where it is headed for MR as well. I highly suggest you take a few minutes to read the complete article.

On a similar note, Retail Prophet Consulting has an overview of LbSM as well, and they get to the heart of why this all matters to us. In the blog post YOU ARE HERE…Whether You Like It Or Not Doug Stevens outlines not just how some companies are using LbSM, but also why:

Techno-Anthropologist Clay Shirky is quoted as saying that “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”   To that end, Khan sees the use of LB reaching critical mass in 18-24 months.  “I think Clay is right” said Khan. “I don’t think it’s about technology at all.  At least, I don’t think people care about which app they use.  They only care about the size and relevance of the deal.   For brands and retailers engaging with these tools, the real measurement of success will not only be ROI, but Return on Relationship (ROR).

As for the future and the continued evolution of location-based technologies, Khan suggests that the very context in which we consider the term location will also evolve.  “Today, we think of location as only the physical space.  But I see a time where we will be in virtual spaces and augmented reality where brands and content will live as well.”

I think that is right on. Ultimately, the goal of MR is to help our clients understand their relationship with consumers in order to help that client deepen the relationship and generate more revenue from the relationship.  Consumers recognize that and expect brands to work hard now to earn their share of wallet, and LbSM creates heretofore unthought of  opportunities for research to not only achieve that understanding, but to also actually help brands in their mission by reinforcing brand preference via LbSM rewards systems. Research needs to not just measure, but to be  a part of the ROR of clients, and it seems to me that we can best do that by using the same technologies that  are being adopted for marketing purposes to the research space as well. It’s that kind of value-added approach that will help us earn a seat at the table as strategic consultants, and that defines th future of MR more than anything else.

To be clear, LbSM is just a technology and it won’t solve all of the challenges of the industry itself; it will come down to how we as researchers use it to make it fulfill it’s potential and push the boundaries even further. It won’t replace all other research approaches, nor will it address the needs of every client. What is will do is create an opportunity for innovation, repositioning, and repurposing that the industry badly needs, and I can’t wait to see what other companies do with this unique chance!

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