I have a mortal enemy. We’ve been engaged in an ongoing battle for over a month now and there is no end in sight to this particular conflict. What saddens me is that we’re old friends, we used to visit each other’s homes and our wives are fond of each other too. Regardless I now track his every move, try to outflank him with moves of my own and keep a running tally each day.
The demise of this friendship?
We’ve both fallen for 4Square, the most popular of the increasing number of location-based services available on smartphones. 4Square operates on several levels of addiction. For many the “check-ins” allow them to keep a real-time map of where their social circle is, meaning that a rendezvous is no longer a dizzying amount of logistics and text messages. For others, mayorship, badges and the proliferation of retail deals is reason enough to play. I’m way lower in Maslow’s hierarchy. I’m only in it for the points that accrue with every check-in and the rush that comes from being at the top of the weekly leaderboard. Sad? You betcha. To the rising chorus of readers shouting “Get a life”, I respond with “Sod off, I need to steal a mayorship or check-in to a place none of my friends have ever been too as they’re both worth 5 points”
Why all the hoopla?
Location-based services (or LBS) is not a recent phenomenon. In addition to 4Square, you’re likely aware of services like SCVNGR, BrightKite, Whrrl or Gowalla. Each has their die-hard fans, unique interface and game mechanics but in recent months 4Square has quickly become the 700-pound gorilla of the pack. Deals with American Express, launched at this years’ SXSW, catapulted 4Square into the ionosphere. The service has grown from 500K to seven million in the past year, includes over 15 million venues, has driven over half-a-billion check-ins and, with the release of version 3.0 and a stronger “recommendation engine”, 4Square is likely to retain their dominant position.
So why do I see a bright future for LBS for many of my clients?
- It inherently motivates loyalty behaviour : Mayorships aren’t earned. They are hard fought for and savagely defended. I should know. During a recent trip to rural England to visit my parents, I checked-in to the local fish and chip shop in a town of 10,000 numerous times. Over the course of a week I lost and re-won my mayorship 3 times. Each quest to retain my mayorship necessitated another visit to the friggin shop. Perhaps not traditional loyalty but I did buy a shed-load of cod and chips.
- It promotes switching behaviour : Check-in at a busy mall and see the proliferation of “Special Nearby” pop-ups you get – typically from competing retailers. Not a bad way to get folks over to your store if they’re shopping nearby.
- It promotes customer traffic : “Specials” are also great for drawing attention to a new feature, like a refurbished bar or new restaurant, and using LBS as a kind of smartphone lighthouse.
- Credit-card integration deepens the benefit of playing : American Express is the first of many integrations that allow 4Square to actually drive transactions, deepening the value of the “Specials” to both retailer and consumer.
To many marketers, LBS still lacks the type of broad adoption that would make it a de-facto requirement in their plans. Users are still predominantly young males <28 years old and if the largest service only has seven million users, is it worth the investment?
To my mind, Yes. All the principal LBS providers allow access to their API because they want to help spread the proliferation, and integration, of their platform. The game play is a stroke of genius because it makes the services highly addictive but also gives them tremendous utility – wanna see how great a restaurant really is? I checked into Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Heathrow and 25 helpful 4Squarers (is that a term?) provided a wealth of great tips. Couldn’t beat that.
Regardless, I’m still locked in this battle with my former mate Chad. Two hours ago I stole a local neighbourhood mayorship and the ensuing points took me back to the top of the leaderboard. Mmmmmm…Perhaps a late night stroll and a few more check-ins might keep me ahead until tomorrow? See ya…