Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Socializing Loyalty with Foursquare

Location-based services hold the promise of targeted advertising and ultra-relevant content for everyone. Are these services just high-tech coupons or is there a larger promise? Tristan Walker, VP of business development, from Foursquare sees something much deeper. He calls it socializing loyalty. This isn't a Tweet that I checked into Nola's with four friends, this is a way to tie a brand's existing loyalty program directly into their customer's social graph. Imagine a check-in at your favorite book store that occurs when your credit card is swiped. Or even better, a check-in that is tied to the book you just purchased. In an instant, you receive your loyalty points from the book publisher, bookstore and American Express. With your permission, that information is then shared with your friends. Instead of pulling out my phone and checking in and showing it to the clerk, all this occurs through the credit card payment systems that connect directly to the Foursquare system. All secure and all measurable.

From a brand's perspective, that engagement is very deep. If you have enough affinity for the brand to grant them access to your social graph, it is clear that you are a brand advocate. The customer also becomes a rich vector to connect the brand to like-minded customers. You are unlikely to grant a random taqueria the right to publish on your behalf, but you might trust French Laundry. Even everyday experiences such as visits to your favorite coffee shop or gym could trigger loyalty points and generate additional impressions for a brand.

The concept of loyalty programs and publishing your check-ins is not new, but the combination in a familiar mobile experience is different. Point solutions pop-up for all sorts of individual brands or specific campaigns, but they don't sit on everyone's mobile phone like Foursquare. In this scenario, Foursquare is much more like a platform than an mobile phone app. It allows for brands to build their loyalty programs around a consumer experience that guarantees engagement and relevancy.

We've seen other purchase broadcasting services go awry so good privacy control is needed, but people are quickly warming to the idea that they can get more from a brand if they are willing to share their experience with their friends.

This idea can change the market because instead of keeping Foursquare locked into brands with physical locations, they can now work with every brand in the store. Loyalty is extended beyond the bookstore to now include every brand, publisher and product in that store.

The concept of socializing loyalty with a location-based service such as Foursqure is still without a concrete, real-life example. I understand that Foursquare may be changing that soon. I'd love to see a major brand tap into their existing loyalty program and reward Foursquare users based on their past purchases. Imagine walking into the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay and upon checking in you are upgraded to a bigger room or treated to free marshmallows and chocolate by the fire. I know Robert Scoble would love that since he is the Ritz mayor.

Now that I've met Tristan Walker, I was able to take the first step toward getting my Foursquare stalker badge. Hint: Tristan's business card has the pizza symbol.

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