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Beyond the Check-In: A Loyalty Program That Is Worth Checking Into

Photo credit: A Year of Yesterdays on Tumblr.If you have been reading my blog posts for the last few months, you know that I am a fan of social media, and location-based social networking sites, in particular.

In a previous post, titled “In the Spotlight: An Introduction to Foursquare for Business,” I wrote about some of the ways that businesses can use Foursquare to market their products and services.

In that post, I pointed out that businesses can offer Foursquare specials (e.g., mobile coupons, prizes or discounts) in an effort to get customers to visit their physical locations more often.

PlacePunch

In today’s fast-paced world, innovative startups often find a way to take a good thing and make it even better.

In the realm of location-based marketing, PlacePunch is one of those innovative startups.

PlacePunch is an Atlanta-based company that was formed in the summer of 2010 with the help of Shotput Ventures, a technology startup accelerator located in Atlanta.

According to placepunch.com, “PlacePunch is a location-based marketing platform that enables businesses to drive more customers to their venues, build customer loyalty and gain new insights into their customer base. PlacePunch includes tools to run loyalty and marketing programs that integrate with Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and other location-based social networks.”

An article on techcrunch.com, titled “PlacePunch Launches Location-Based Marketing Platform For Foursquare, Twitter And Facebook,” that was written by Leena Rao, gives further insights into how companies can utilize PlacePunch’s services.

According to Rao, businesses can create custom loyalty programs that offer rewards and coupons to customers just for checking in on various location-based social networking sites. PlacePunch provides the infrastructure to run these programs. Businesses can also run personalized messaging programs through Twitter that allow them to communicate with their customers who check in at specified venues. For example, you could set up a recurring tweet to welcome your customers when they check in at your venue.

“PlacePunch also provides a dashboard of reports and analytics to help businesses learn more about their customers and venues, including demographics, time of check-ins, and more,” Rao explains. “And the bootstrapped startup has signed on InterContinental Hotels Group as a client.”

However, it was the way that another one of their clients used their services that really caught my attention.

Check In to a Concentrics Restaurant and Get Rewarded

According to its Facebook page, Concentrics Restaurants, founded in 2002, has “some of the industry’s most unique and electrifying restaurants.”

Their Facebook page describes their restaurants like this: “Each with its own mesmerizing design and unparalleled approach to food, these dining sensations are setting creative trends in both the hospitality and wine industries across the country.”

When it comes to loyalty programs, they are definitely doing some innovative and creative things, including utilizing PlacePunch’s location-based marketing expertise to reward customers who check in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp. (Note: I am not sure what effect, if any, the recent changes that Facebook has made regarding check-ins will have on this program. If you have an answer, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below.)

A blog post on placepunch.com, titled “Concentrics Restaurants Debuts Loyalty Program Powered by PlacePunch,” written in October of 2010, states that, “Using PlacePunch, Concentrics will be able to reward customers for checking into its restaurants with Foursquare or Facebook Places. For every 5th check-in via Facebook Places or Foursquare, Concentrics customers will receive the choice of any beer, wine or dessert, under $9. For the 50th and 100th check-ins, Concentrics customers will receive 50% off their check. (Max discount of $25.)”

When customers sign up for this loyalty program, PlacePunch keeps track of how many times they check in to participating venues on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp. When customers qualify for rewards, they receive an email inviting them to redeem their reward at a participating Concentrics restaurant. In order to redeem the reward, customers must use their mobile device to show the email to their bartender or server.

To find out more information about Concentrics Restaurants, visit their website: concentricsrestaurants.com. (Note: You might want to check out some of the other offers that are currently available, including their “Circle Concentrics” loyalty program.)

Conclusion

Location-based social networking sites give businesses another opportunity to reach their customers wherever they are.

This includes giving businesses a very cool, technology-enabled way to offer deals that reward loyalty and encourage customers to visit their physical locations more often.

Innovative startups, like PlacePunch, have found ways to take a good thing and make it even better.

Several different businesses, including Concentrics Restaurants, have utilized PlacePunch’s expertise to help them with their location-based marketing efforts.

When customers sign up for the Concentrics Restaurants loyalty program and check in at any of the seven participating Concentrics restaurants via Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp, their check-ins are tracked by PlacePunch. After the 5th check-in, customers receive an email that invites them to redeem their reward (i.e., any beer, wine or dessert, under $9) by using their mobile device to show the email to their bartender or server.

If you own a restaurant, you might want to take a page from their playbook and offer a similar type of loyalty program.

Although I don’t have access to any of the actual data that could be used to measure the ROI of this loyalty program, I can tell you from personal experience that when I lived in Atlanta, I visited each of the seven participating Concentrics restaurants as a result of the rewards that they offer when customers check in at any of these restaurants on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

I have also recommended all seven of the participating Concentrics restaurants to friends and family who have visited Atlanta in the last few months. And, I am willing to speculate that others have probably done the same thing.

In my opinion, the PlacePunch-powered loyalty program offered by Concentrics Restaurants is definitely one that you should check into.

For additional information about this loyalty program, click here.

Photo credit: A Year of Yesterdays on Tumblr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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In the Daily Deal Marketplace, I’d Bet on Scoutmob

Photo credit: BurgerAustin on Flickr.Groupon and LivingSocial are unquestionably the market leaders in the daily deal marketplace.

As a blog post on blog.comscore.com, titled “Groupon, LivingSocial Grabbing Different Segments of the Daily Deal Marketplace,” points out, “The daily deal industry is busy, to be sure. There are hundreds of regional and internet-based competitors in the space, with one of the newest entrants being Glenn Beck’s Markdown.com. Anyone and everyone, it seems, is trying to grab a piece of the pie. But despite the deluge of new entrants, the market is not necessarily crowded – especially at the top. The tail is long and fragmented and Groupon and LivingSocial sit as gorillas among ants, accounting for over 90% of all visits among all group buying websites tracked by comScore. Among the top daily deal sites, we notice a significant drop-off after the top two players.”

Survival of the Fittest

As comScore pointed out in their blog post, there are hundreds of sites that are offering daily deals to consumers.

Although there is a demand for this type of service, success is not guaranteed.

Recently, the social media giant known as Facebook announced that it was getting out the daily deals business just four months after it began testing Facebook Deals.

And, while Yelp is not completely discontinuing Yelp Deals, it announced that it will be scaling it back.

An article on businessweek.com, titled “Yelp Follows Facebook in Scaling Back Daily-Deal Service,” has some insights into why these two well-known social networking sites decided to scale back their daily deal offerings.

The article points out that the big players are getting out of the daily deal business because it does not make a dent on their revenue numbers.

The article also mentions that, “More than half, or 52 percent, of U.S. consumers who use daily-deal services say they feel “overwhelmed” by the number of e-mails they receive about deals on a daily basis, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by PriceGrabber, a division of Experian Plc. About 60 percent of people surveyed said they feel the daily-deal industry is too crowded.”

For smaller daily deal sites to survive in the long run, they are going to have to find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.

In my opinion, Scoutmob is doing just that.

Scoutmob’s Daily Deal

Scoutmob puts a slightly different twist on the daily deal.

From a consumer standpoint, Scoutmob eliminates the commitment. That is, you don’t need to pay up front to receive Scoutmob’s daily deal.

As Scoutmob’s FAQs explain, “Well, if you’re worried about being committed to a deal, then chill; unlike other deal sites, we don’t require you to give us your credit card information, any cash money, or your first-born child. Ever. All we need from you is a mobile phone number where we can send the deal — it’s just like a virtual pinky swear that you intend to use the deal some time in the near future. And we promise to never, ever, ever spam you. See? Not so scary.”

Scoutmob’s website explains their deal process like this:

“We’re out creating exclusive deals at places locals actually go.”

“You read the email, you like the deal, you send it to your phone. No need to print, no need to pay ahead. Just good old-fashioned deal-getting on your mobile.”

“Deals move fast. You have limited time to claim them but a longer amount of time to actually use our deals. So you best be checking your email daily.”

“Our scouts are bringing you the scoop on the people, places, and events worth knowing around town.”

“Victory dance. You scored.”

“Do it again tomorrow.”

And, if you have a smartphone, Scoutmob’s iPhone and Android apps make it even easier.

When you install Scoutmob’s app on your smartphone, all the current deals are automatically available to you. Therefore, there is no need to check Scoutmob’s daily email. Plus, you get “Return Perks” when you use Scoutmob’s deals via their app.

How Scoutmob Works for Local Businesses

Although more people are currently using Groupon and LivingSocial, Scoutmob can compete on price.

According to a blog post on blogs.reuters.com, titled “Scoutmob tries to outdeal Groupon,” Scoutmob makes their deals free to consumers and only charges local business owners $2 per converted customer. In comparison, Groupon takes a percentage of the sale for its deals (on a typical $25-for-$50-worth-of-food coupon, Groupon charges $12.50.)

For additional information, visit Scoutmob’s website.

Conclusion

Groupon and LivingSocial are the current market leaders in the daily deal marketplace.

However, there are many other daily deal sites out there.

If some of these smaller sites are going achieve long-term success, they are going to have to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

In my opinion, Scoutmob’s approach to the daily deal gives them an edge over some of the other sites.

Scoutmob doesn’t require that you purchase anything up front.

Therefore, it eliminates the need to plan ahead.

More importantly, Scoutmob customers will never lose money as a result of a daily deal coupon expiring.

And, Scoutmob’s iPhone and Android apps deliver all of the active deals to users’ smartphones, thus eliminating the need for consumers to check their email to receive the daily deal.

What this adds up to is an increased likelihood that consumers will use a Scoutmob deal that is being offered by a local restaurant or merchant spontaneously. That’s a win-win-win for the consumer, the restaurant or merchant, and Scoutmob. (Note: Groupon offers Groupon Now!, but in my opinion Scoutmob is easier to use. Plus, Scoutmob’s deals can be claimed over a long period of time, while Groupon Now! usually requires that you use the coupon on the day of purchase.)

Furthermore, Scoutmob only charges local restaurants and merchants a nominal per-customer fee to offer a deal on their site.

With some of the bad press that Groupon has been getting from both the consumer and business standpoint, it makes me wonder if they can remain on the top of the heap in the long run with their current business model.

In my opinion, Scoutmob is a better deal for both the consumer and the restaurants and merchants that it partners with.

It is for that reason, when looking to identify a company that will achieve long-term success in the daily deal marketplace, I’d place my bets on Scoutmob.

Photo credit: BurgerAustin on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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In the Spotlight: An Introduction to Foursquare for Business

Location-based social networking sites are very intriguing to me.Photo credit: Sham Hardy on Flickr.

Most location-based social networking sites allow users to see where people in their network frequently visit. This has value, in and of itself, because it shows users places that they might want to explore in the future.

However, in most cases, that’s only the beginning.

As a marketer, I see the tremendous opportunities that are available to businesses of all sizes, from the “mom and pop” store on the corner to major retail stores that are found in malls all over the world. Even brands that make the products and services sold at these stores can utilize location-based social networks in their marketing efforts.

To illustrate this, let’s focus on some of the basic features of the most used** location-based social networking site: Foursquare.

Recent Major Milestones

In June of 2011, Foursquare became the first location-based social networking site** to pass the 10 million user mark. That means that over 10 million people, worldwide, are using Foursquare to share where they are with the people in their network.

It’s not surprising then, that a few weeks later they announced that there are over 500,000 merchants on Foursquare.

Foursquare Venues

Venues are the foundation of Foursquare.

The basic idea behind Foursquare is that when users visit their favorite places in the terrestrial world, they can check in to the venue on Foursquare and let the people in their network know about it. (Note: Foursquare also allows users to share their check-ins with people who they are connected to on Facebook and Twitter. And, Foursquare can also be linked to some other mobile apps. This adds even more value to the Foursquare check-in.)

The current version of the Foursquare app also has a feature that lists the nearby venues that are the most popular on Foursquare. This can help people plan their day, by recommending businesses that they might want to check out. (Hint: This might be a reason to encourage people to check in to your venue.)

As users check in, they earn points and badges from Foursquare. Users can also become the mayor of a venue if they have the most check-ins in the last 60 days. (Hint: This could be one way to identify some of your most loyal customers.)

Furthermore, users can also take advantage of the Foursquare Specials that the venue is offering, if there are any.

What are Foursquare Specials?

Foursquare Specials are mobile coupons, prizes or discounts that owners of a venue can set up, in an effort to get customers to visit their physical locations more often. A post, titled “Over 500,000 businesses are on foursquare! That’s a lot of Specials!” on Foursquare’s blog, gives examples of some of the Foursquare Specials that were being offered at the time the post was written.

If you do offer Foursquare Specials, be sure to let your employees know about them. It’s also important to train the appropriate staff on how to process these transactions.

Foursquare Pages and Partner Badges

Businesses that don’t have a physical location can still use Foursquare in their marketing efforts by taking advantage of Foursquare Pages and Partner Badges.

A business can set up a page on Foursquare with information about the business, links to other locations where they can be found on the Web, and a banner with the business’s logos and other graphics.

With Foursquare, a business can also create Partner Badges that users can earn for doing things that help the business achieve its goals. For example, Lucky Magazine awarded badges to users who checked in to recommended fashion boutiques.

Check-ins

Businesses also have the ability to check in to venues on Foursquare.

If your business is built around delivering products or services to customers at events, this could be a very useful feature. For example, event decorators, caterers and entertainers could use this feature to check in to the venue at each event that they are hired for, and include a message about the event and a photo of their contribution to the event.

Don’t Forget to Tip

Tips are suggestions that you can give to followers who check in at a given venue. This can be a great way to keep your business in the minds of your customers and potential customers.

The Foursquare website gives the following suggestions for leaving tips:

“Tips should be interesting, clever, and worthwhile nuggets of information (like a tweet) tied to a specific location.”

“Tips can be actionable: Go here. Order this. Ask for extra of that.”

“Good tips share insider info, like specific dishes, drinks, or secret details. Bad tips are just descriptions of what a user can see themselves.”

As an added bonus, tips that your users are interested in taking advantage of can be saved in their to-do list on Foursquare. This feature will remind users to do what you suggested the next time they visit the venue.

Conclusion

There are many opportunities for businesses to take advantage of Foursquare in their marketing efforts.

Keep in mind, I haven’t covered everything. For example, Foursquare announced that it will be incorporating daily deals from its partners (e.g., Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.) into its app. However, I haven’t seen this feature in action, so I will have to leave that for another post.

What I can say, though, is that businesses should at least consider using Foursquare to market their products and services. With over 10 million users worldwide, it could definitely be worth their time and effort.

If you are looking for additional information on using Foursquare in your marketing efforts, you might want to check out this Mashable article and the articles that they have listed at the end of it.

Finally, if your business is already using Foursquare for marketing purposes, I’d like to hear about your results. I might even be able to use your business as a case study in a future post.

Photo credit: Sham Hardy on Flickr.

** Note: This is limited to location-based social networking sites where location-based check-ins are the primary purpose. (Therefore, it excludes Facebook Places, Twitter, Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp.) See the Mashable article, titled “Foursquare Surpasses 10 Million Users [INFOGRAPHIC].” For additional information, check out the post on bynd.com, titled “The Reality Behind the “Check-In” Hype.”

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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In the Spotlight: Shopkick

Photo credit: qnr on Flickr.On July 6, 2011, the shopping app, Shopkick, passed the 2 million active user mark. That’s pretty impressive, considering the fact that it has been less than a year since they first made the app available to the public.

With Shopkick, consumers can earn points, or as they call them, kicks, for performing tasks like walking into a store or scanning items with their smartphones. The kicks can be redeemed for products at participating retail stores.

The growth of this app is definitely good news for retailers, brands and consumers.

The Benefit to Retailers

With the current economic downturn, anything that can bring consumers into their stores is a blessing for most retailers.

According to the article, “Shopkick Uses the Sound of Rewards to Bring Smartphone Owners into Bricks-and-Mortar Stores,” on xconomy.com, Shopkick’s CEO, Cyriac Roeding, says that retail stores will do almost anything to get people into their stores because conversion rates at bricks-and-mortar stores are very high.

Roeding says that about 20 percent of shoppers end up buying something when they visit bricks-and-mortar clothing stores. The conversion rate at bricks-and-mortar grocery stores is even higher; he says that about 95 percent of shoppers who visit bricks-and-mortar grocery stores make a purchase. In comparison, he says that the conversion rates for most e-commerce sites range from between 0.5 percent to 3 percent.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that retailers would welcome any technology that can help get consumers away from their computers and into their stores. That’s where Shopkick can help.

The current version of the Shopkick app allows consumers to see some of the featured items and discounts that are currently being offered at their favorite retailers. From time to time, consumers are also alerted to limited-time offers from select merchants. This alone will help get consumers into the stores.

However, that’s only the beginning.

As mentioned, consumers can earn kicks that can be redeemed for products from participating retail stores by completing certain tasks.

When they open the app, users will find a tab with a list of nearby stores with a green bubble next to the name of each store listed. Some of the stores have a green bubble with a number listed inside them. When users tap the bubbles with numbers inside them, they earn the assigned number of kicks and are shown additional deals that are available from that store. (Note: If users tap bubbles without numbers inside them, they don’t earn any kicks. However, they are still shown additional deals from those stores, if there are any.)

Another way for users to earn kicks is via the walk-in reward feature.

Using a device that sends data via sound waves that are above the range of human hearing to a smartphone with the Shopkick app running, participating stores are able to enable Shopkick users to activate the reward of the day. Because the sound waves can’t escape the building, users need to be physically in the store to receive the kicks. Thus, Shopkick is helping retailers increase foot traffic.

The Benefit to Brands

Once inside a participating store, Shopkick users can earn additional kicks by scanning in product bar codes with their smartphones.

Think about it, not only does Shopkick show users featured items and discounts that are available at stores, it also gives them an incentive to go to the bricks-and-mortar locations to earn kicks. Then, when inside the store, they can earn additional kicks for scanning in the bar codes on certain products.

Having customers scan in the bar code forces them to interact with the product. In the process of scanning in the bar code, customers are required to look at the item up close. In some cases, customers are even forced to pick the item up in order to find the bar code on the side of the bottle or package. And, once the product is actually in the customer’s hand, it makes it easier for them to put it in their shopping cart.

As an added bonus, after customers scan in products at a grocery store, they are often shown recipes that require the item that they just scanned in. This gives them another reason to make an impulse buy as a result of Shopkick.

In an article, titled “The Power of Velveeta: Shopkick Announces 3 Million Product Scans,” posted in February, 2011, on techcrunch.com, Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation at Kraft Foods, says, “If we can bring our brands front and center while the consumer is in the store, it’s almost like having a billboard in front of them while they’re considering what to purchase.” He goes on to say that Shopkick has been at least as effective as other social media programs that Kraft has done in the last few years.

The Benefit to Consumers

As mentioned, Shopkick gives consumers information about discounts at their favorite retailers. It also allows them to earn kicks at multiple stores and spend them at any of the participating retailers, not just the ones where they earned the kicks.

Furthermore, if they are feeling altruistic, Shopkick users can donate their kicks to a wide range of causes including those that help fight breast cancer, provide disaster relief, help care for abused animals or help deliver free vaccines, just to name a few.

In the previously mentioned xconomy.com article, Cyriac Roeding says, “Our vision is to transform shopping into a more personal, rewarding, and fun experience for everyone. We hope to make stores into interactive worlds where consumers are exploring in a completely new way. Shopping should be something you are not dreading but enjoying, and until we have managed to make that possible, we will not rest.”

I think that they’re off to a good start. What do you think?

Photo credit: qnr on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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