Location-based marketing is evolving beyond check ins and cheeky reviews. And while it may still be cooler to check in at your local mom-and-pop coffee shop than to advertise your last visit to Starbucks, location-based marketing has become too important for national brands to ignore.
Foursquare members have penned more than 33 million user-generated tips about stores, restaurants and other venues represented on the site. These sentence-long tidbits offer social networkers advice on where to find the best vegan smoothie or the most extensive milkshake menu in town. Even larger is Yelp, which averaged 117 million unique monthly visitors last quarter and features 47 million localized reviews on everything from hobby shops to hookah lounges.
While most LBM sites are known for their free tools to help local business owners monitor the tips and reviews customers share, some sites’ paid advertising packages are becoming increasingly attractive to bigger brands.
“Their upper hand is they already have an engaged viewer,” said Kristen Whisenand, senior public relations manager for Yelp Inc. “People are turning to Yelp to help them make a spending decision and there is a unique opportunity here for brands to get in front of a highly engaged audience. Yelp works with national brands to create custom programs that incorporate content from some of Yelp’s 47 million reviews.”
Among those custom programs is a sweepstakes from Toyota that prompts Yelp users to pin nearby restaurants for a chance to win gift certificates to their local favorites or a grand prize dining extravaganza for two to New York or San Francisco. Then there’s the Shell sweepstakes that offers users a chance to win a $50 gas gift card as well as suggestions on “where to fill up on excitement” at nearby parks, martial arts studios and climbing walls. Or Yelp users can “indulge anytime anywhere” at local wine bars and coffee shops without worrying about staining their smile if they enter and win free products from Rembrandt’s line of teeth whitening products.
Small, midsize, and big businesses alike are also increasingly using online loyalty programs like Belly, which allows customers to track their activity through a smartphone app, to offer frequent visitors personalized or location-specific prizes. Belly and programs like it let businesses create localized rewards that go beyond generic discounts and free appetizers. For example, Saint Louis’s Big River Running Company offers running enthusiasts the opportunity to have their favorite shoe named after them at the retailer’s three stores. For those who prefer watching sports over participating in them, some Buffalo Wild Wings locations in the area are currently offering Blues hockey tickets in exchange for Belly loyalty points.
Other brands with big budgets are creating their own LBM apps to encourage user interaction online, in person and through social networks. One example is Target’s Cartwheel program that allows users to go online and create their own personalized coupon collection. The savings are unlocked in store when cashiers scan a specialized barcode on the user’s smartphone. The Cartwheel program also allows users to reuse coupons, double up by using traditional coupons and earn badges in order to expand their list of available online coupons. Users can unlock badges by encouraging Facebook friends to join the program, adding coupons from a friend’s list or saving $10 or more with the program.
“I think the common theme right now is incentivizing people to interact with your company,” said freelance writer and content marketing consultant Brian Honigman.
One of the latest trends is tying those interactions — whether they be in person, online or through social networks — together through a single loyalty program that makes patronizing your favorite places seem like a game in which earning points and prizes makes spending money fun.
“Location on its own is getting integrated into every aspect of marketing,” said Honigman, who writes about social media marketing trends at www.brianhonigman.com. “It’s all one cohesive experience.”