Gowalla, a location-based social network, and Incase, an Apple accessory manufacturer, have teamed up to create one of the first ad campaigns to live exclusively on a location-based social network. (They’re calling it a ‘collaboration’, but it’s still a proof of concept even if Gowalla isn’t getting paid for it.) The campaign features six Incase-branded virtual items which are modeled after actual Incase gear. When Gowalla users check in at any Apple Store around the world during the promotional period, they receive one of those six virtual items, and a few lucky users will even receive an actual Incase Slider case in addition to their virtual item.
This ‘real prize’ functionality debuted during Gowalla’s 10 and a Half Days of Christmas promotion, but this is the first time it’s been sponsored by another company.
Lastly, if a user collects all six virtual items, they receive a special ‘Incase Pin of Glory’ to mark their accomplishment. (Pins are one feature of Gowalla’s system.)
Since Gowalla, Foursquare, Loopt, Whrrl, Brightkite and the rest of the location-based social networks are all relatively new, they’re all still trying to figure out how to monetize their service, which should make this an interesting space to keep an eye on in 2010. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that location-based social networks will be the space to watch in the coming year, as they have the potential to revolutionize how companies advertise to consumers on a highly targeted and hyper-local level.
Currently the two leaders in the space (at least in terms of buzz) are Foursquare and Gowalla, and each service is trying slightly different methods of advertising to their users, with each method having unique advantages and disadvantages. Gowalla gives users items related to the locations that they check in at, such as Incase items at Apple Stores, and a digital icon of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It book at all stops on his book tour. Foursquare on the other hand shows users sponsored locations that are near their check in location, offers users coupons and specials based on check ins, and also counts the number of times that a user checks in at a location, turning Foursquare into a hosted loyalty rewards program. Regardless of which advertising method comes out on top though, expect to see each service adopt parts of what works well with the other services as each continue to refine their offering.
To test drive this campaign, I visited the Apple Flagship Store in San Francisco and checked in on Gowalla. The first time I checked in however, nothing out of the ordinary happened, so I returned later that day and checked in again, and received an Incase Slider Case item in return. There wasn’t much more to it though, which left me feeling like they could have done so much more with the idea. (Note: I did receive a tweet the next day, shown above, which said that I was the winner of an actual Incase Slider case. While I’m excited to have won, I think the points below are still valid.) A few potential ideas/changes that crossed my mind:
- Explain the campaign in the item messaging. Had I not been actively reading the Gowalla blog, I would not have known that the Incase item was any different from a normal item that you receive when checking in on Gowalla. At the very least, Gowalla should have included some information about the campaign and the fact that you can receive a special pin for collecting all six limited edition items, as this would go a long way towards increasing the repeat engagement of each user, and highlights the specialness of the item. Taking the sponsor integration a step further, if Gowalla included a web browser in their app, they could include a link to the Incase product page in the message, and if a user wanted to find out more about the featured product, they would be just a click away from detailed information and potentially even an online storefront.
- Turn each item into a coupon. If Incase wants to convert Apple Store shoppers into Incase customers, they should use the message attached to each item as an opportunity for them to give Gowalla users a special deal on Incase products. The timing is perfect, since they’re reaching a very targeted audience at or near the point of purchase, and they’re also able to specifically target early adopters and heavy social network users who are the most likely to be using Gowalla at this point, and are also the most likely to help spread the message to others. Even better (for Incase at least, though maybe not for users) would be to turn each item into a small coupon, and allow users to combine the six items together to create a larger coupon, creating an incentive to collect all six items that has more real-world value than a virtual Gowalla pin.
- Get users to share. Encouraging users to collect all six items is a great way to motivate repeat visits, but if Incase wants to spread the word from the initial group of influencers to a larger audience, they need to incentivize the sharing of items with others. Perhaps it’s a coupon that is only activated when one user gives an item to another user, or a contest where the person whose item is subsequently picked-up and dropped-off by the most users wins a prize from Incase, but a little motivation can go a long way toward the spread of information from user to user.
As the Gowalla/Incase campaign shows, advertising on location-based social networks can be integrated into the experience in a fun way that adds to a user’s enjoyment of the service, rather than detracting from it. And while Twitter continues to struggle to find the best way of monetizing their service without angering their users, Gowalla and Foursquare have both introduced advertising very early in their growth, which should help users accept ads and other promotions as a part of the user experience. As they continue to grow however, the key will be for location-based social networks to work closely with sponsors to help create campaigns like the Incase sponsorship that integrate ads in a non-invasive and additive way, so that users welcome and respond well to these ads, since they will ultimately provide value to both the sponsor and the user.