Recently, in a marketing meeting, we discussed, debated and argued the pros and cons of location based services. Are they the next big thing as some seem to be hailing them, or are they a premature technology hyped out of the game before their time?
Four members of the marketing team, representing very different views, gave us their thoughts:
Location-based services have been bubbling along for a while now but haven’t managed to really ingrain themselves into the masses. There are a number of reasons for this (scalability, relevancy, privacy etc.). However, my feeling is that they simply haven’t found their true purpose yet, and maybe won’t for some time. I’ll try to explain.
At the moment we’re trying to apply old marketing techniques to new technology. The idea that people are constantly searching for deals on their phone or are happy to be interrupted with offers is flawed and out-dated. It’s the same model used to describe what would happen when Bluetooth technology first hit. We’re now even less tolerant of overt marketing than we were then.
Where location works right now is when it’s useful. For instance Disneyland Paris have a great app that lets you plan your visit, marks you on the map, informs you of the waiting time for each of the rides and even throws in a bit of AR for good measure. The only interruption is a handy reminder of the things you have booked 10 minutes before they start.
I think the future of these types of services will rely on them being applied to new technology or behaviours yet to be assimilated into society, rather than trying to apply them to existing marketing practice.
I have almost 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook, yet barely ever see anyone check in anywhere. On the rare occasions a check-in appears it’s often met with mocking “who cares?!” comments underneath it.
People say of location, “why would I want to tell people where I am?”, in the same way they used to say “why would I want to tell people what I had for lunch?” about Twitter. Except this time they’re right. Check-ins tend to be quite bald. Sure, one can append additional information to them but this rarely happens and so the update simply reports the user’s location. Actually pretty boring.
More critical to location’s success or failure is the privacy issue. One of the main aversions to video calling is the technologically small but psychologically giant step it introduces, moving the user from the abstract to the real. The fact is, people like having a degree of anonymity while they communicate. Email, SMS, IM all allow you to deal with responses in your own time in the context of your choosing. Even speaking on the phone allows you to do other things while you talk without offending the other party.
Unless enough people overcome their aversion to giving away that degree of privacy location is unlikely to attain the traction it needs for mass appeal.
There’s also likely to be a headline at some point involving location. Probably a young person abducted or killed with their attacker’s action being enabled by the location info the victim was giving away. Once that happens parents and schools will kill location as quickly as they can. Not unreasonably.
I check-in regularly via Foursquare which updates my Twitter feed. I find it a quick and useful way to share somewhere interesting I’ve attended with my real life friends that I chat with via tweets. I favour Foursquare’s automatic updates to Twitter rather than Facebook Places’ updates to my wall because I like the light entertainment of badges and points. I also find my iPhone’s Facebook app a little unwelcoming and occasionally enjoy browsing Foursquare’s user generated tips.
Social media activity’s often about showing off; you won’t see me shouting about being at the local takeaway in the early hours or sitting on a park bench, but you will find me putting my virtual flag in the digital ground of interesting gigs, museums and great restaurants or bars. People using location treat it as another outlet to present themselves in a way they’d like to be seen. I want people to see that I went to a Rakim show this month so they associate me a little more with decent, historic rap music and knowledge. So I checked in at the gig. I don’t want people to know I munched through an all you can eat buffet at Pizza Hut because I’m a bit ashamed and would rather people not know that I’m unhealthy and live off grease from time to time. So the phone stayed in my pocket.
In terms of what location can offers brands, I think this will increase with time and new developments in tools and functionality. At the moment, location’s a fairly separate aspect to social media activity, homed in its entirety on a lone platform (Foursquare) or hidden in iPhone app tabs and busy news feeds (Facebook Places). If Facebook were to put a leader board at the top of every user’s profile page showing the places they’ve visited the most or most recently, there would suddenly be a permanent, prominent place for a brand’s name to be championed to a user’s private network. I think that’s when critical mass will pick up location more and people’s inclination to check-in at locations will increase. Then brands can start promoting themselves to more people at a louder volume.
I’m certainly seeing some drip-through from my colleagues and techie friends (as you’d expect) using location based applications, to my school friends who don’t work in the industry.
For them it seems to be a rather practical device, allowing them to let key friends know where they are at any time (usually the pub).
The thing that is holding massive growth is confusion in my eyes. One friend frequents a certain pub, on an almost daily basis (yes we have talked to him about it). Nowadays he happily checks-in on Facebook to let his friends know he is holding fort as per usual. He became increasingly frustrated, however, that he hadn’t “become mayor yet” and looked dejected when I told him he needed to download Foursquare.
It is great to have competition with very different service offerings in the LBS arena but I feel it’s one of the main things holding it back. It seems all too easy to talk about it from a marketing point of view, but we really need to consider the regular, less digitally-savvy users.
Ultimately Location Based Services appear to be on a knife’s edge, it could go either way. All four of our team believe that there is scope for them to continue but to what degree and will it be in the same form? The answer to the former is probably little and the answer to the latter is almost certainly no… but until then there is still some fun to be had with these services both on a personal level and for brands.