Don Campbell, founder of Expand2Web, is our featured guest blogger. He continues our small business highlight series by discussing how location-based services are becoming an increasingly important marketing tool.
With the explosion in popularity of smartphones, location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla are emerging as important new ways to connect with customers.
While these services certainly lend themselves to B2C enterprises such as restaurants and retail stores, they can also be used by nearly any business that wants to enhance customer experience.
What Are Location-Based Services?
Location-based services reward people for “checking in” using the GPS on their phone while they are at a place of business or event by giving them points that allow them to earn badges. With FourSquare, the person who has checked in the most number of times in the past 60 days becomes the “Mayor” of that business. Savvy businesses make sure to know who their “Mayors” are and reward them.
Yelp has also recently introduced a new feature that enables customers to check in, as well as share their experience with business owners and other customers. It’s also rumored that Facebook will soon add “check in” capabilities.
Just how widespread is the usage of these services? As of June 2010, FourSquare was adding 15,000 new users each day to its service. This kind of growth is being fueled by the rapid adoption of smartphones. With more than 40 million iPhones already sold and more than 160,000 Android phones being activated every day, the number of users of location-based services is expected to increase.
Four Practical Ways to Start Taking Advantage of Location-Based Services
1. Engage with Your Best Customers
Start by setting up your business profiles on the three major location-based services – FourSquare, Gowalla and Yelp. Then, regularly monitor your business on these sites to identify your best customers. Make it a point to connect with them while they are at your location and consider offering a discount or prize to those who are the most loyal.
Businesses of all sizes are beginning to integrate these services into existing loyalty programs to reward repeat customers. For example, frozen desert chain Tasti D-Lite has recently rolled out TastiRewards, a social media rewards program that encourages customers to use FourSquare to receive points that can be accrued for free products.
2. Provide Discounts and Promotions to Mobile Customers
Offering a discount, special or freebie to anyone checking in at your business is a great way to engage mobile customers. It’s also an extremely useful way to track visitors, customer demographics and peak sales times.
Some hotel chains, including Sheraton and Hilton, have begun experimenting with location-based services by introducing food and beverage promotions and extra reward points for mobile customers who “check in.” Even luxury Las Vegas hotel The Wynn has embraced this new opportunity to engage customers by offering checked-in guests a free glass of champagne.
3. Take Control of Your Online Reviews
Encourage your customers to write online reviews on the spot while they are at your business, and consider asking your best customers to write an online review.
When customers are in your place of business, explain to them that online reviews are important to your business and ask them if they would be willing to spend five minutes to leave you a review. Most will say yes, and at that time, give them a link to your online profiles in Google, Yahoo or Bing (or whatever site you want to emphasize for reviews).
It’s a good idea to establish a goal to obtain 20 to 30 initial reviews of your business. Having these reviews will help your business’ search ranking and make it stand out from your competitors. Imagine the reaction of the person who searched and saw a list of 10 results. If you have 20+ reviews and the others have one or none, who do you think they’re going to contact? Yep, you!
Mobile Enable Your Website
Since more people than ever are using their smartphones to find local goods and services, you should also make sure your website looks good and is easy to use on mobile devices. There are many great tools that can help your mobile-optimization efforts. If your site runs on WordPress, there is a free plugin that can quickly optimize your site for smartphones. There are many tools available for other types of sites, too.
The growing adoption of smartphones, combined with the popularity of location-based services, provides myriad opportunities for small businesses to engage customers, market their products and services and increase loyalty. Early adopters of these services are reaping big rewards from their efforts by connecting with their best customers while attracting lots of new business.
Don Campell is the founder of Expand2Web. He specializes in helping small business owners build WordPress websites that rank in the top of local search results and creating training and tools for consultants and do-it-yourself small business owners. Follow him on Twitter: @doncampbell.