Big Idea: Marketing using Foursquare

Location-based marketing is everywhere, from pizza to weight loss - but how can you make use of it?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

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What is it?

‘Geotagging is the future’, predicted one of MT’s geekier (but strangely psychic) colleagues late last year. And so it has transpired – location-based apps like Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla and, latterly, Facebook Places are everywhere. They’re all subtly different, but the one thing they have in common is that users can broadcast their location to friends by ‘checking in’ to a place (be it shop, café, office, bar – whatever), which then lets people know where they are. Users then accumulate rewards – like ‘badges’ on Foursquare – which turns leaving the house into a sort of game. Good for burglars? Probably. Good for business? Definitely.

Who uses it?

With three million Foursquare users all over the world and 15,000 businesses signed up to its special offers, the short answer is, lots of people. Dominos Pizza and Debenhams became the first major UK brands to sign up to Foursquare earlier this year. While Dominos offers one free small pizza a week to the ‘mayor’ (the person who checks in the most) of each of its branches, Debenhams in Oxford Circus trialled an offer giving free coffee to anyone who checked in on a Friday (whether the company will be rolling out the strategy any further is unclear).

Elsewhere, campaigns have been more complex: in Australia, Coca-Cola created an account called the ‘Coke Machine Fairy’ which would put a ‘magic’ can in a vending machine, and then check in to let people know where it was. The first person to turn up and find the can won a prize. Weight Watchers, on the other hand, has used it for a more philanthropic purpose – every time someone checked in at a Weight Watchers meeting in the US, it would donate a dollar to charity. (Although we’d add that as Foursquare users become more widespread, schemes like this might not be quite so viable…).

What’s in it for me?

To get the most out of Foursquare, you’ll need to sign up to its ‘special offers’ system, which allows you to offer various incentives, like a special discount for the mayor of your business, or money off based on the frequency of someone’s check-ins. That means the more someone comes to your business, the more they are rewarded – which only serves to entice them back for more.

That said, Foursquare is still in its infancy, so it hasn’t yet achieved the mass appeal Facebook, for example, has – but nevertheless, it’s still the king (mayor?) of the location-based apps, which means it’s potentially a pretty powerful tool when it comes to marketing. At the moment, whether it works out for your business or not will depend on your clientele – Foursquare users are a tech-savvy bunch, and usually owners of iPhones or BlackBerrys. Indications are that it’s increasingly crossing over into the mainstream, though – so be prepared for the onslaught of locationistas, coming soon to a business near you…

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