Commentary

Geofencing: A New Generation of Mobile Check-Ins

I think we can all agree that while the mobile check-in enjoyed its time in the sun, it didn’t quite have the staying power everyone initially banked on. Even the almighty Foursquare has reconsidered its game plan as evidenced by its latest platform update, which features expanded app functionality that prioritizes non-check-in features like recommendations, comparisons, and insider tips to drive users into businesses. This doesn’t mean, however, that the check-in trend is over -- it’s simply getting smarter.

The difference in this next generation of check-ins is defined by the value that both the user and the businesses receive from one another. In its original form, users gained only the social value that came from reporting their whereabouts to friends. In its next iteration, however, the value of a mobile check-in shifts away from the social realm and toward the commercial arena where businesses and consumers can use the check-in for mutual benefit. Powering this evolution is a new concept of combining geofencing technology with mobile-activated calls to action (CTAs) to deliver relevant content and customized mobile experiences to the proper audience the moment they request it.

Due to the near ubiquity of smartphones in America, there are roughly 150 million people in the U.S. alone with a GPS in the palm of their hands, and knowing where your audience is -- especially in the mobile marketing channel -- is invaluable information. It allows advertisers to deliver content, be it mobile video, coupons, apps, sweepstakes, etc., that is completely tailored and customized to a specific audience in a specific region where it will be the most well-received. Of course, to deliver content the consumer must first request it -- and this is where mobile-activated CTAs displayed or spoken on television, radio, billboards, in print or other traditional channels enter the equation. It is also how, in conjunction with geofencing technology, the “traditional” check-in truly evolves into the manifestation we’re encountering today.

Luckily for marketers, now that we have all of these new capabilities based around mobile location services to play with, we have already seen some innovative and creative ways to take advantage of these new technologies in the marketplace. One of the more interesting things we’ve seen is from Meat Pack, a regional sneaker retailer. They built a custom app, appropriately named “Hijack,” that recognized when users that had opted in to receive information from them were in a competitor’s store by geofencing the competitor’s locations. The user then received a notification immediately to their phones that informed them of a 99% discount that was decreasing every second until that user entered the Meat Pack store within the same mall. The campaign was a hit and a creative way to use all of these new technologies together. However, it must be said that relying on flash discounts and stealing consumers from competitors is a difficult strategy to sustain.

Ford, on the other hand, has been a pioneer in the geofencing arena, and their campaigns follow a format that lays out the foundation of a strong geofencing and mobile CTA strategy. Most recently they placed CTAs in strategic areas at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival that ran in conjunction with their “Fiesta Movement” marketing campaign. Along with the CTAs they geofenced the grounds of the festival so that any user who checked in with Ford via the mobile prompt within the designated area received a customized experience tailored to the audience at the concert. This included the ability to opt-in for more updates from Ford, directed users to a mobile-optimized microsite where visitors could find information created specifically for them and entered them in a sweepstakes to win a car from the garage Ford placed on site. All delivered to a user’s phone with the push of a button.

Of course, the geofence works two ways, as there are always people inside and outside the designated area, and Ford catered to both audiences. Running concurrently with the promotion at Bonnaroo was a larger national campaign that utilized the exact same mobile CTA being advertised at the festival, but if the platform detected the user was outside of the geofenced area they received a completely separate experience. This also included the ability to opt in for further updates, but it directed the users to a totally separate microsite with custom messaging and content tailored to a national audience. To make a long story short -- by creating a smart strategy based around mobile CTAs and geofencing technology Ford allowed their audience to check in with them and receive compelling and relevant content in the moment, upon request.

In a perfect world, consumers would only ever encounter content or advertising that is meant explicitly for them. We do not live in a perfect world, but we’re getting closer. The old days of spam emails, flashing banner ads and browser pop-ups are slowly going by the wayside as both consumers and marketers become increasingly savvy, intelligent and demanding in their expectations of one another. Driving this evolution in mobile marketing is, of course, new mobile technology that has created novel functionalities and data capture mechanisms to deliver experiences like never before, and on the leading edge of this new wave of mobile marketing strategies are geofencing and the mobile CTA. 

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