Dec 15, 2010

"Suck Less" Works Too

Engineers and techies hate Verizon. They’ve got a list of complaints a mile long about the cell carrier, ranging from its insistence on filling phones with useless branded applications that duplicate superior third-party ones to the overall inferiority of its product line.

Marketing pros marvel at what I’ve heard described as Verizon’s “death wish” – the fact that the carrier has passed on opportunities that many have felt would have put its rivals out of business. (The iPhone, for example.)

Consumers, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind. They’ve focused on the fact that a Verizon phone generally does what a phone is supposed to do: make and receive telephone calls, far more reliably than any of its competitors. (This is especially true in major cities like New York and San Francisco.) For many people, that’s proven to be a far more important factor than the model of their phone or the clunkiness of its apps.

It’s an interesting paradigm: in an industry where consumers have little love for any of the major players, the company that’s focused on the basics has proven to be the gold standard.

That “best of the worst” theory doesn’t make for a sexy marketing strategy, but by actually doing the groundwork, Verizon has established enough word-of-mouth buzz to overcome its rivals marketing-based efforts at stealing the “best coverage” crown. And while no company should strive to be the least lousy player in the market, there’s a lesson in there about sticking to the basics.

Dec 9, 2010

Do Location Based Check-Ins Have To Be Real Time?

One of the biggest hassles of location based services like FourSquare is the actual process of checking in. You arrive at the restaurant, your friends are already waiting at the table and there’s not really a socially acceptable way  to whip out your phone and begin the 5 minute ignore-everyone-at-the-table-and-stare-at-your-phone process that a check-in often entails.

But what if check-ins weren’t real time? The original reason for making them real time was so that your friends could find you if you were out in a nearby bar. (It also played into the whole badge/mayor game thing.) Which is one reason to use an LBS, but far from the only one: more often than not we’re checking in from our office or the supermarket or a client lunch and no one’s really looking for us at those places.

What if location based services evolved into recommendation engines: here’s where I was today, I ate at Elm Street Café and recommend the artichoke soup. I bought a Calvin Klein sweater at Macy’s. They’re on sale this week.

Most of the time when I check in to FourSquare (or Gowalla, or Facebook Places) the results I’m seeing from my friends are several hours old anyway. So at lunchtime, I’m finding out where they had breakfast or drinks the night before.

A location-based service that was not real time would seem to have a number of benefits:

  1. Ease of Use: I’m thinking most people would be more prone to “check-in” at the end of the day or whenever they had a spare 5 minutes alone and could input the highlights of their day rather than the random stops that comprise most people’s LBS check-in log. It also stops checking-in from interrupting a fun experience and forcing us out of participant mode and into reporter mode (e.g. the restaurant scene I laid out earlier.)
  2. Deeper Engagement: Rather than just a rushed click to let the world know “Hey! I’m at the dry cleaners!” someone doing an end-of-day check-in is more likely to add tips and recommendations too, especially given that they’ve had some time to reflect on the day’s experiences. 
  3. Increased Loyalty: If I’m bothering to check in at Elm Street Café after the fact, chances are I’m a fan of the place. And if they were to send me a coupon for a free artichoke soup, chances are I’d use it next time I went. That’s a lot more appealing than getting hit with random coupons from a store I’m already in, particularly if I’m checking in as I’m waiting on line to pay. (Which is often where I find myself pulling out my phone - not, as many have postulated, upon entering.) 
  4. More Valuable Information: When checking in becomes thoughtful rather than random, informed rather than scattered, marketers (and other users) are provided with more useful information: did Bob check in from the dry cleaners because there was someone in front of him on line and he was bored, or did he check in to give them props for the way they iron his shirts? That sort of information is much more likely to be offered during a non-spontaneous check-in. 
There are still plenty of situations (concerts, conferences. etc/) where real-time check-in can be a valuable tool and I’m not proposing that sites eliminate it. I’d also think these sites would want to set some sort of limit (24 hours?) on how much time passed between visit and check-in.

I think eliminating the requirement that all check-ins be real-time would greatly enhance both the appeal and the value of location-based services.

If nothing else, it would make the process a whole lot easier.