Archive for the ‘community-at-large’ Category

Consistent rewards programs pay off in consistent customer loyalty.

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I’ve previously commented that FourSquare hasn’t managed to become enough of a player in the rewards programs of major chains, leaving the ground-breaking application a little on the flat side of a robust loyalty-program enhancement. Well, finally, a major consumer-frequented chain has instituted something substantial in the way of FourSquare promotions…. Starbucks reportedly is now officially turning their FourSquare loyalty program into a bonafied, dividend-paying rewards system (albeit on “trial” basis) to provide actual guaranteed loyalty program rewards to those who frequent the coffee-house chain frequently enough to become “Mayor”.

While the program expuires on June 21st, both FourSquare and Starbucks reportedly think it could easily be extended thereafter. Is this the future of FourSquare? I think that this is the kind of use FourSquare needs to institute (read quickly institute) on it’s own to become a salable offering, or an IPO able to generate substantial sales of shares in the near future. Certainly it’s a step in the right direction for all involved, including the customers of Starbucks and the users of FourSquare. Kudos to Starbucks for taking the lead here. (Hint to FourSquare: shouldn’t you really have created a universal and fully customizable retailer loyalty program by now that retailers could opt into? And isn’t that a regrettable missed opportunity for FourSquare?).

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Congratulations for checking-in!

Congratulations for checking-in!

Just days ago, I wrote a piece on how social media brands need more user-perceived and business-perceived depth to become truly sustainable. About that day, Ben Parr (whom I read a lot, btw) wrote a piece on Mashable on how FourSquare’s growth is “not slowing down”. Of course, nobody on this blog implied that it was, and nobody else that I saw on trending blog posts that day was suggesting that it was slowing down in terms of growth, only that fewer and fewer of the initial “elite” 4Sq users are tweeting their locations and badge-earning “out loud” like they once did, anymore. And that’s still true. Are these articles propping FourSquare’s relevance a mere coincidence? Well maybe, but knowing how keyword searches on social media platforms work for brand managers and how those brand managers communicate to major medium voices, yeah it’s probably not a conincidence. I’m flattered to think that my little blog got noticed, if only hurriedly skimmed in all liklihood, as part of the analysis of the noise on the horizon of FourSquare’s brand consciousness. Or maybe it’s just due dilligence on the part of these two fine journalists. Like I said, I’m a fan of both. At any rate, let’s get to it… 

The main critiques that myself and one or two others advanced in my last post on FourSquare, was that there is ennui afoot and it has to do with the “game”, the opportunities for abuse and the lack of forward-looking innovation to maintain the excitement. The game is tedious unless you’re the one doing it and you’re out sight-seeing or flitting about town, and even then, the numbers on how many do not elect to check-in or attach a true identity to their check-ins has not been publically disclosed, if it is even being tracked at all. The onlookers don’t care about your badges, so obnoxious tweeting of check-ins via Twitter won’t last much longer. It’s already almost stopped completely!  

And of course, the final critique is on how the limited potential for businesses is not being expanded on nearly enough to help brands justify spending money to enact internal programs that work with 4Sq. Magically, just today an article was posted by the lovely Jennifer Van Grove (again, someone I read and respect a lot on Mashable) with the title How 5 Brands Are Mastering the Game of Foursquare. It illustrates how 5 companies/brands are taking advantage of the badges to help foster knowledge about cities like New York and more notably Chicago. Badge-earning is also being used by Las Vegas venues to better serve cutomers (the ubiquitous freebies” and special attention that FourSquare customers in exchange for patronage and as a preventative against for looming the threat of customer complaints and retaliation via 4Sq). Starbucks with its internal QA program and Lucky Magazine are also fine uses of FourSquare along these lines. The only problem is…we already generally know about these kinds of benefits to businesses and customers for using FourSquare. The sole exception might be the story of Chicago and the promotion of historical tourism. That is innovative and truly embraces the community-at-large within Chicago, not just for one or a handfull of businesses. Success stories aside, there remain a lot of businesses who fid the thought of FourSquare users more troublesome than titilating. Take, for instance, big chain store with lots of traffic and too many understandbale opportunities for failed customer experiences (Wal-mart comes to mind).  

All that aside, there remain some very salient critiques forming about what’s not happening yet on FourSquare: the persistant lack of a universally-adopted FourSquare points system and the lack of a diversity of models (for now, it’s “checking in” and getting special treatment, maybe, or points, if it’s the one or two businesses using FourSquare for an internal promotion campaign). And not everyone shops in person. For instance, I’d just about rather be punched rather hard in the face than go shopping for clothing in person at the mall. I shop online if at all possible to avoid standing aroud for hours on end. I learn my size for each store I shop from, and then I do that unpleasant business in just minutes, rather than via hours and hours of driving, walking, and standing in lines. Unless it’s food, then I go local. I’m not all that unique in my shopping habits, just a better planner and time manager than many who really just want to go outside for a bit. And hey, who doesn’t? Also, I get the going out. I go out, too. Most of us do sometime. But I feel pretty weird about whipping out the cell phone and enduring the “oh, you’re checking in, now, aha…” looks. I’ve got to confess I’ve never done that. Don’t plan on it. If, however, FourSquare can devise a way to beep me in inconspicuously, nobody’s going to object to that and us private types won’t be “living out loud” to our own chagrin.  

Why am I pointing out these weaknesses? Not because I want FourSquare to fail. I don’t. I’m a marketer who wants to be able to promote this form of mobile opportunity with more confidence to clients. I think there is lots of opportunity for expanding the model to be more inclusive of things people actually want to do with a geo-targeted mobile app. The point is that…it’s just not happening yet. One, five or even 10 companies doing a rewards program isn’t going to revolutionize how people shop. It will take a universal rewards program with some real clout to get everyone on board. And until there are additional options beyond just “check-in”, it’s got a ways to go before my mother is going to use FourSquare. And if my mother doesn’t use it, let’s face it, the majority of shoppers are not being effectively roped in, not even in theory. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

The FourSquare "Game"

The FourSquare "Game": This year's model in barhaopping, and not much else?

 

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There is a great piece (great as in hilarious) that vents on FourSquare making the rounds today. The argument is not a new one, but ages well over time. It runs along the lines of “we’re sick of seeing your pointless FourSquare updates” and extols the virtues of real-life connections over virtual ones. In part, I think this is dead-on, and in another sense I think the ennui of virtual connections has mostly to do with their inherent shallowness of purpose to begin with. A lot of the shallow/surface short-term limits of social media tools like FourSquare are about context and can easily be overcome with some longterm branding vision.      

Say you’re a location-hopping fool and just too social to know what to do with yourself. FourSquare’s “check-in” game makes sense if you are checking in for the sake of connecting with just the people you know well. It becomes a surreal, futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie when all the personal elements of one’s day are turned into a voyeuristic game for anonymous onlookers to engage in from a window. Afterall, do you really want everyone to know what you’re doing 24-7? Are there really no negative repercussions to checking in everywhere you go? In fact, we all know there are. FourSquare may be banking a little too much on the “game” lifecycle of its own service.      With social media comes more opportunities to socialize and make new connections. Networking for business benefits from social media and so do tribes with common interests. When it comes to forward-looking insights on how social media does and doesn’t make sense, FourSquare looks a little like another 5-year company to me (being generous here), unless they can seriously come up with new ways to market their service to young professionals and entrepreneurs and innovative company management.      

For instance, checking in makes sense to your boss if you’re on company time and he’d like his team to spread out, get things done and stay plugged-in with each other. Same holds for family and friends. As a gamy fad, however, it’s not a business proposition so much as a bet on how long a fad can be stretched before it implodes and fades away under the fierce cacophony of public derision that once also embraced MySpace as an open-ended social media tool.      

Social media tools with investment behind them need to have better longterm strategies than they currently do, or else there is going to be a bubble for them, too, and then the investment just won’t be there anymore for the true innovators of the future. We need more niche content partners and fewer monolithic vertical companies trying to do everything and absorb it all into a over-extended brand (Take Google’s gradual digestion of the Twitter and YouTube brands and their continual “user interface improvements” which will probably hurt the brand in the short-term, not help). We all get hurt by poor strategy and over-extension in the end, not just the companies, but the audience who could truly benefit from the tools, but ultimately won’t due to poor brand management and short-term gimmicks like games that age and start to annoy and lose relevance in the eyes of advertisers. Have we forgotton how to “focus” on the brand? Where is focus in the age of social media marketing? Is the lifecyle of a brand automatically reduced to 1.5 years peak and then resigned to being dumped into the cyberspace wasteland? Why are so few companies seriously thinking about the longterm viability of the brands they’ve creating and asking others to invest in (both capital-wise and attention-wise)? [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]