I first witnessed the excitement around the potential of location-based mobile marketing back in 2000 at one of the numerous m-commerce conferences. Back when the coolest phone was Nokia 9110, and mine was more of a cute Alcatel, the common marketing dream went like this:
Stores will be able to market their products and services by transmitting promotional coupons and messages to passers-by: "Come in and enjoy a complimentary cup of our new coffee blend," or "Get half off, if you make your purchase within the next 30 minutes". (The quote and the image above are from this pdf published a decade ago.)It seems like a lot of thinking today rolls along the same tracks: a user pulls out his smartphone, opens an app, and sees banners with offers from nearby establishments. I've been somewhat skeptical about the whole banner-on-the phone thing as much as I once was about SMS promos, but this kind of location-based advertising probably makes sense, not least because it has been around forever in its lower-tech form of the "Sale" signs you see in store windows every day.
One thing I'm hopeful for, though, is this whole emerging checking-in behavior. If enough people get used to the act of announcing where they are, retailers will get a new way to guide and measure shopping behaviors with the granularity that can't be afforded by the traditional loyalty card. Loyalty cards reward purchase. A program based on check-ins would be able to reward a much wider range of actions, from spending a certain amount of time checking out the merchandise in a particular aisle to bringing along friends. The reward might not be large enough to get people to drive all the way across town to check in, but it might just be the force that gets mall shoppers to poke their nose into the store they wouldn't otherwise visit.
I don't think badges and other forms of social recognition will remain a very strong incentive for a whole lot of people for too long, and I just posted an argument to that effect on Forbes, but a program that follows the frequent-flyer mechanisms of point accumulation and tiered rewards could be very interesting.