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Where next for location marketing?

4 min read

Digital Technology

This post is by SmartBrief on Social Media contributing editor Ben Whitford.

The exciting thing about location marketing is that right now, nobody knows exactly where it’s headed — not even the executives and marketers who are spearheading the industry’s geo-location push.

Speaking at TWTRCON this week, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, Gowalla CEO Josh Williams, Starbucks social strategist Brad Nelson and SimpleGEO chief Matt Galligan admitted that the industry was going through a “Wild West” period, and that it would be some time before the sector’s conceptual foundations and technical know-how shake down into an equilibrium. Here are five take-home points from the location bigwigs’ on-stage debate:

  1. Location marketing will suit some brands more than others. Starbucks loves social media, but it’s especially interested in location services, said Nelson. While retailers such as Dell or Gap can push mail-order sales directly using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, Starbucks needs people’s physical presence in stores to convert buzz into sales.
    So far, Starbucks has stuck with Foursquare for its location-based promotions, but Nelson said the company hopes to integrate rival services such as Gowalla into its location strategy. “We can’t make a cup of coffee over the Internet, so being able to connect with people while they’re in stores is huge — it’s a real game-changer for us,” he explained.
  2. Technological hurdles will slow location’s spread. Many retailers would love more accurate location-based tools — for instance, systems that let them serve up different promotions depending on whether a customer was standing in line at the checkout or browsing the clothing aisles — but for the time being that will remain a pipe dream. Location services need better hardware support and more standardization across phone platforms before pinpoint accuracy will become viable; in the meantime, the services are likely to remain fuzzy, limiting their ability to serve up precisely targeted promotions. “The ideas we’re pushing are more advanced than the technologies that are driving them,” said Foursquare’s Crowley.
  3. Location will mean different things to different people. The rush of geeky early adopters onto location services has created a false impression of uniformity, but that won’t last, said Crowley. “Everyone in this space thinks it’s all about the check-ins, but it’s important to look at the way Twitter has evolved over time,” he said. Twitter has bifurcated into sub-classes of passive consumers and active contributors,  and so location users will find new patterns of creating and finding value on their own terms, he said.
  4. Location will be everywhere. Check-in services such as Foursquare and Gowalla won’t maintain their location-marketing monopoly, says SimpleGEO’s Galligan. While location’s current rulers will remain influential, marketers will grow more adept at developing custom location-aware applications that let them tailor promotions and collect data to suit their brands’ specific needs. “We’re on the brink of a new wave of apps where everything uses location,” Galligan said. “You’re going to have location with everything, and everything’s going to have some use of it.”
  5. Complexity will be the new simplicity. Location-based services have been growing more minimalistic in a bid to create a seamless, near-passive user experience — but it’s high time for a backlash, said Gowalla’s Josh Williams. “Check-in became this frictionless way to update someone on your status by pushing one button — but in time it becomes this primitive thing,” Williams said. “We’re looking right now at what you add to that  … besides the act of just saying ‘I’m here.'”
    That could entail more active user experiences like location-aware photo- and video-sharing services, more complex privacy features to let people share their location with select circles of friends, or an increase in location-based games and marketing promotions that let users redeem online points or badges for real-world rewards.

Where do you see location marketing heading? Is the industry ready for prime time, or will we be stuck in a chaotic Wild West environment for the foreseeable future? And as location marketing matures, how useful do you think it will prove for your brand or sector?

For more news, case studies and best practices relating to location networks, check out SmartBrief on Social Media‘s new special report, “Social, Meet Local.”

Image credit, LdF, via iStockphoto