Google-Backed SCVNGR is Ready to Challenge Foursquare’s Location-Based Crown

Location, location, location! Foursquare is the current social and location based gem which everyone is looking to leverage. SCVNGR could be the next big thing, with Google behind them, adding deep commerce ties to a familiar ‘check-in’ system. How does getting a special offer for 20 check-ins sound?

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Online-2-Offline Commerce is a Trillion $ Opportunity

The explosive growth of Groupon, OpenTable, and other tools which enable consumers to interact with stores online and lead to offline purchase is presenting unique opportunities for our clients. Leveraging mobile devices and applications to generate in-store, localized sales is the next revenue stream, and we’re on top of it.

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Loyalty Cards Go Mobile

Look in your wallet. Do you have a “loyalty card” jammed in there somewhere? Chances are you have at least one tattered paper card that might even be partially hole-punched and close to earning you a free coffee. Companies have been relying on these cards for years to condition consumer behavior and ultimately to drive loyalty.

The keys to the loyalty castle are now contained inside your cell phone. Today’s cell phones are indeed smartphones in every sense of the word. They provide a digital genetic code that companies need only to unlock. For years this has been a struggle; there was always a missing link between the cell phone and the point of sale.

You may have heard about location-based social platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla. These social platforms rely on people’s “need” to share where they are and what they’re doing. The common vernacular for this is “checking in.” When people check in, they are essentially raising their hand and saying, “Hi, I’m at your location.” Despite the early success from companies like Pepsi and Starbucks, few others have figured out how to master these platforms.

One of the earliest location-based social platforms to launch was Loopt. Despite being one of the earliest on the scene, it hasn’t garnered the recent notoriety or popularity of Foursquare. That’s probably about to change. Loopt recently announced a major evolution of their platform that’s set to create a win-win for retailers and customers.

Retailers will be in control of how they reward those who check in. Gap is sending customers a 25 percent discount coupon after they check in to a Gap store twice. Burger King is offering a soda with a sandwich or a coffee with a breakfast sandwich to those who check in three times. Universal Music will send five free songs to people who check in to any bar along with two friends.

Retailers control the reward. Loopt is simply offering the means that will allow consumers to check in. This is a copycat industry, and you can bet Foursquare, Gowalla, Red Laser and all the other location-based social networks will be providing similar offerings. More people have cell phones than they do home computers, and social marketing can no longer be considered a fad.

The cell phone is now clearly becoming the entry point into the lives of consumers. And why not? After all, it’s the one thing we never seem to forget when we leave the house. Loopt’s news has upped the ante for its competitors. It has transformed the concept of platforms like Foursquare from cute games that lack scale to transformational forces to be reckoned with. As more major companies jump on the bandwagon, consumers will become conditioned to expect this type of service. And that’s why you can no longer think of location-based social networks as an optional investment. Instead, you may just find that they become the centerpiece of your holistic strategy to drive consumer loyalty.

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The iPhone 4 is Here – Get Ready for the Smartphone Revolution

Recently Apple presented the new iPhone. This is the 4th generation of the iPhone. It’s definitely worth your time to understand the major hardware changes, because ultimately those hardware changes will drive innovation in the app market.

Instead of focusing on features and functions, at MARC USA we think the big story is that the smartphone market is going to explode.  Apple will be selling the “old” iPhone for only $99.99 at WalMart.  This will make smartphones very attainable for all demographics.  Despite a big push from phones running on the Google Android operating system, the reality is we still live in a smartphone market dominated by Apple. Apple’s success will ultimately drive the success of the entire smartphone market.  With more smartphones, apps, SMS as part of CRM and mobile-optimized sites will become more critical.

Consumers expect that your site “works” when they visit it via their mobile device. This isn’t a given. Any website that leverages Flash will “fail” in the visitor’s eyes unless a mobile optimized version has been created to ensure a positive user experience.  Additionally, you can bet that consumers will be scanning the iTunes App store looking for your company’s app.  The mobile revolution is here.  For years we’ve heard that this is the “year of mobile” only to be let down. With smartphone penetration at 40% and set to blow past featurephones in 2011, this is one trend you need to be on top of right now.

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aLoft Creates Value through Technology and Convenience

We’re all looking to add value. Value often comes in the form of financial incentives. But lately we’re seeing a shift. Companies are going beyond price discounts. aLoft Hotels is a known innovator in the hospitality space, and their recent partnership with VingCard demonstrates how they got that reputation.

aLoft is currently piloting a new program that lets guests bypass the traditional check-in process by transforming their cell phones into virtual keys that unlock their rooms. But here’s the brilliant catch – this program is only available to registered Starwood Preferred Guest members. Those members are given special “loyalty” cards that have RFID technology built in. On the day of a guest’s arrival, they receive a text message indicating their room number. Guests then flash their SPG loyalty card in front of the door to unlock and enter.

This isn’t just a marketing gimmick; it’s an operational efficiency program. Staff can be removed from the front desk and redistributed as needed to make the guest’s overall experience better.

When you see true added value like this, it’s hard not to offer up your personal information, spend the time registering and then make aLoft your hotel of choice. That’s not just value – that’s loyalty.

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Linking Customer Loyalty with Social Networking

One of the mega trends we see in 2010 and 2011 is the focus on “where you are” instead of “who you are.” As the smart phone becomes the preferred choice for people both young and old, “demographics” will become less important. Why? Because, smart phones are the window into the consumer’s pocket and those pockets are next to their wallets.

Companies like Pepsi are hopping on the “where you are” movement by piggy-backing and partnering with existing location-based social networks like FourSquare. But they don’t see FourSquare as a niche offering or a means for driving “engagement.” Pepsi sees platforms like FourSquare as a conduit for fostering loyalty.

Starting this summer, FourSquare users will be able to see all the retailers that sell Pepsi near them. While that sounds “cool” and is certainly engaging, the real magic comes from Pepsi knowing that their customers are close to a retailer and being able to offer them a custom offer specific to the retailer. This not only incents the customer, but also drives that all important foot traffic to the retailer. When consumers check into these retailers via FourSquare or the Pepsi Loot app (another location-based app), they’ll earn points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards. This is the foundation of what we call Social CRM at MARC USA. It’s about realizing that CRM takes place even before you have the customer’s information.

Pepsi has the first mover advantage, and that’s the type of game-changing idea that helps drive meaningful business results.

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iPad Evolution, Revolution or Just a Pricey Toy?

So, you’ve heard about this thing called the iPad – maybe you’re even reading this on yours. Between the massive advertising blitz and tremendous PR buzz, it’s tough not to be aware of the newest game-changing device from Apple. At MARC USA, an agency focused on game-changing ideas that fuse creativity and technology, the iPad definitely caught our eye when it was announced last month. We had one on opening day. Now, after analyzing the hardware, software, features, functions, tools and apps, we’re ready to offer our strategic point of view.

The success of the iPad won’t be in sales. If that were the case, it would already be a failure. Analysts predicted Apple would sell 700,000 iPads on day one. One month later, Apple has finally crossed the 1,000,000 mark. Not unlike the iPhone, we’ll look back on the launch of the iPad as a major driver of consumer expectations. And that’s what will be the true measure of its success.

The iPad is an interesting piece of technology. At its core, the iPad is a super-sized iPod touch or an iPhone without a camera or means to make phone calls. It’s a niche “toy” that fills the gaps other devices have. For example, it’s nearly 3 pounds lighter than most laptops and offers 4X more battery life. What may ultimately doom the iPad is that it’s not only a niche device; it’s an expensive one. The cheapest model is $499 and the most expensive is $829. For your average family of four, in today’s economy, the price point is a huge barrier.

So who is buying the iPad? Well, according to a recent survey by Piper Jaffray, it’s exactly who you thought would be buying them. 74% of buyers were Mac users and 66% were iPhone users.

Plus, 39% of buyers opted for the cheapest one, and 96% admitted it wouldn’t replace any of the devices they had. While Apple may not have grown its laptop market share, it has come out with a great “line extension” for Apple fans to purchase and adopt. And, it has motivated some PC folks to try an Apple product.

Many companies are already plotting their “iPad strategy.” But, we don’t believe the iPad is a strategy. It’s more of a content distribution tool, just like your website. Eventually millions of people will want to consume your content from their iPads. And that’s the real opportunity and the reason for thinking about an overall content strategy.

So, what does that mean for you?

  1. As you think about your website experience, you can’t just consider the second screen – the laptop. iPad optimized versions of your website will become increasingly important.
  2. You’ll also need to be more mindful of the technologies used in developing your site. For example, the iPad, just like every other smart phone on the market, does NOT support Flash. If your website is Flash-driven and you don’t have an iPad or mobile optimized version, your visitors will see an error message. They aren’t going to blame their device – they’ll blame the website. This can lead to a negative experience and a missed opportunity.
  3. When developing apps, you’ll need to consider developing both an iPhone and an iPad version. There’s definitely a cost benefit to developing both versions at the same time, instead of having to retrofit later on.
  4. There’s now another place where you can place ads. Magazine publishers may syndicate the same ad you placed in their print version into their digital magazine. Apple will also now allow companies to run ads inside their apps. With the screen size of the iPad so much larger than the iPhone, this represents a big opportunity for impact.
  5. Perhaps, the biggest opportunity the iPad presents is how it could revolutionize point of sale. Retailers like Puma are going to integrate iPads into their store experience. Employees will be able to showcase product, check inventory, cross-sell, up-sell, enhance and simplify the buying experience. With the ability to check inventory in real-time, customers will never be recommended an item only to find out it’s not available in their size.

There’s no doubt the iPad is a game changer, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of something new. However, with budgets getting tighter and the country still mired in a soft economy, focus is needed now more than ever. So, we’ve been coaching our clients to focus on the true major opportunity that’s here right now with scale – MOBILE.

Apple has sold 45 million iPhones. People rarely, if ever, leave home without their cell phone. Last year, the number of cell phone-only houses trumped the number of houses using landlines. Mobile permeates the daily fabric of our lives. When you consider the shear size of the mobile market and its consumption by consumers, we need to consider the third screen as if it were the first screen.

So, before you start thinking about the iPad, start focusing on mobile.