Location based services

Free burrito! Pic courtesy of SCVGR

We had the first in a series of debates at work last Wednesday on Location Based Services (LBS). 

The idea for the debates is to replicate the arguments we have internally via group emails in a collaborative, informal lunchtime session.

Mark Kelly – who previously debated the pros and cons of LBS here – chaired the session.

I made the case for LBS.  My first point was that the technology is being discussed from an individual user point of view. Free muffins, vouchers and games are great – but the real power of the technology will come when large groups of people are using it in a network:

  • Checking in and seeing who’s about could be a great way to get a Saturday night going
  • Crowd sourced local recommendations make choices easier, like when you’re on holiday looking for a restaurant, and LBS will guide you to the door of where you want to go
  • Friends’ LBS history means you can let your best travelled friend be your tour guide

From a marketing perspective LBS solves a problem that local businesses have always had – understanding how their online spend translates to footfall and spend in store. Return on investment. Facebook deals for example allows you to see local offers on your phone. Emily White, director of local at Facebook states about businesses:

“They’ve been told they need to be online. But it hasn’t always been clear what the benefit is. That’s what this Deals platform allows. It’s turning those fans, those visitors, those eyeballs into real dollars, real people and real business.”

I ended with a more emotional argument to stick the knife into Sam Watson, my debate opponent.

The rich data trail LBS leaves could be invaluable in the future provided you are sensible with privacy settings. We rely – and have done since cavemen were daubing on cave walls – on our external environment to assist our memories & therefore enrich our lives (extended mind hypothesis). The photos, videos, places, people and events bound up in LBS form a digital layer to your life. In 20/30 years time when you are approaching your silver wedding anniversary you might want to remember in detail that autumn you met your other half, the places your went and the people your spent time with.

My verdict? Location Based Services make life a little easier, and encourage serendipity and connection between friends. Why wouldn’t you take advantage?

Sam Watson then countered, centring on three areas:

  • The noise – just another status update clogging a social network news feed
  • “The next big thing” – the danger is that brand managers will jump on the bandwagon because it’s a free tool – not because it offers anything meaningful to customers
  • Privacy & data security – what are we doing with the information? Where is it being stored? Who can get access to this information and what could be done with it?  

To conclude we took it to the floor and asked:

Q: As Marketers, would you use this tool?

A: A resounding “Yes”

Q: Would you use it personally, as it currently stands?

A: “Maybe”

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About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at a communications agency. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
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