Beyond Location Whack-a-Mole (Part 1)

It’s Noisy Out There

This week’s SXSW event did nothing to lessen the din around social location services. The first six months of 2010 was “The Year of the Check-In”. The last half was the “Year of Why it isn’t Check-Ins”. The last six months was also the “Year of the Geo-Fence” and the “Year of the Local Deal”. And this week we hear it’s the “Year of Local Group Chat”. New location models are coming and going like the plastic rodents in a Whack-a-Mole game.   We can’t even dedicate a full twelve months to our “Year of the _____” meme.  If it’s confusing for the Geo-Crowd, it must be incomprehensible for the advertisers who don’t have time to take aim at one trend before it disappears and another pops up. And that is NOT GOOD since it results in desultory experiments with location rather than concerted efforts.

It’s all about Engagement

Rob Reed of MomentFeed has written about Location Based Engagement as a unifying concept across all these new applications. He defines LBE as the ability to engage end users with the physical world around them through their mobile phones. Check-ins, badges, Fan-dom, Games…all are tactics that get the user to engage with the local world. Some drive pretty superficial engagement while others take you deeper.  But engagement opens the door for a conversation and a conversation opens the way not only for interesting applications but also marketing.

The key take-away is that all these various flavors of engagement are tactics, not strategy. As a brand or enterprise, the strategic question is how you want to engage users, which users and what conversations you want to have.  Are you talking to your known customers or trying to pull in new ones? Are you pushing direct deals or building brand awareness.  All those Marketing 101 questions. Based on the strategy, you can pick and choose the tactics.  Tactics come and go, strategy should stick around a while.

In that light, the frequently asked questions like “Are check-ins dead?” or “How many laser hair removal deals can we send him before he buys one? or “Will only losers want to chat with people the don’t know?” are not the primary questions. The primary question is on a strategy for engagement.  Figuring that out might lead to a more determined plan rather than frenetic bashing of fast moving trends.

More on that in the next post.

(Authors Note: Did anyone else play Team Whack-a-Mole…where you use the hammer from the adjacent game on the same set of moles? Dramatically improves your scores!).