Beyond Location Whack-a-Mole (Part II): Push vs. Pull

The Push for Pull

Most of the discussion in location to date has been about some variant of pull-based engagement: the user takes a phone out and does something, be that a check-in, a location-tagged tweet, a game, or a search for something nearby.  As discussed in the previous post, these variants are popping up and down, falling in and out of favor and spawning on-going discussions over who will win. All assume an active user and a reactive cloud: the cloud responds to the user action in some rewarding manner.

There are a lot of advantages to pull-based tactics. They have the advantage of known (or suspected) intent by the user.  The user pulled out a phone and started something so presumably he wanted some response.  Since he tells us what he wants, we don’t need a lot of advanced customer knowledge to initially engage with him. The app can build user knowledge over time and become correspondingly more engaging.

But what if we already HAVE a lot of information about the user?

The Coming Pull for Push?

Many enterprises already have huge databases on their existing customers stashed away in CRM databases.  They know your name and address, your buying preferences, your income level, your hometown, possibly your credit history, assumptions about lifestyle and potentially a lot more.  Think how much data your grocery store loyalty program collects about your family.

Now think about trying to focus all that contextual information through the rather constrained lens of one of the popular location based apps. It doesn’t work. The Gap might know my name, my address, my demographic information, my choice in clothes and my pants size…and with all that info they can do what?  Make me Mayor?  Give me a 34-inch Inseam Badge? Not too compelling.

Brands are experimenting with pull apps but not really spending big money.  There are successful stories about conversion rates and new customer outreach, but they have not yet spent significant percentages of their ad budget on these services. But they are getting more comfortable with the idea.

Now, what happens once the brands decide to leverage their own CRM databases to connect to their customers? While they will still work with these applications for new customer outreach, I believe that they will increasingly turn to push-based models to connect with their core customer base.

Here’s why:

1.     To leverage customer knowledge:  As these companies extend their CRM to mobile (and local), they will want to leverage the richness of the CRM data to connect with the customer in meaningful ways. The only way they will leverage their CRM data will be to drive the engagement, not fit into someone else’s box.

2.     Community Ownership:  Applications create value through the community they build.  Key word: they.  It’s their community, not the brands’.  While brands may want to access that community to fish for new customers, they want to use their own lists for their CRM.  And they aren’t giving that information over to the apps

3.     Brand specific apps aren’t the answer:  The brands could develop their own app, and indeed many have.  If they are downloaded at all, you find them on the fifth screen of your iPhone, along with the other free apps that seemed like a good idea at the time.  A specific brand won’t create the continual mind share to drive consistent active user engagement.  So that’s out.

As brands get more comfortable with location-based engagement, expect them to increasingly opt for services that push context-relevant offers to known users at appropriate time and places.  There are a lot of examples of this:

  • When you are at the shopping mall, American Eagle (where you buy your jeans) sends a message to you, by name telling you that the jeans you like are on sale
  • As you pull in to their parking lot, Safeway sends a link to your online shopping list of your regular items along with some coupons from Proctor & Gamble.
  • At the trailhead before a backpacking trip, North Face sends you a message with a weather report, just to be friendly (this one already exists).

Brands will not want to be constrained to the structures, games and most of all the shared customer ownership imposed by applications.  For mobile CRM, they will turn to push based notification.

So Apps are out, Geofences are in?

No, not really.  Pull-based apps have a lot of attraction especially for reaching new customers.  But it does mean that there are some interesting opportunities in the push-based location services that are only just starting to emerge.

More thoughts on that, how this trend might emerge and why this isn’t the same old stupid Starbucks Coupon scenario in the next post.

What do you think?

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