Mobilisms Labs: Chevy @ SXSW 2010 – Location-based Engagement

SXSWLogo

This past spring we worked with our client Chevrolet to re-envision the concept of a sponsorship.  In a world with multi-million-dollar stadium naming rights, athlete shoe endorsements and primetime television buys, Chevy wanted to bring something different to the SXSW experience.  And, it started there – with an experience.  That theme guided every decision and ran through every program tactic at the conference.  It also influenced how Chevy experimented with technology – which the brand recognized as an opportunity to surprise and engage the tech-savvy and trend-savvy crowd that congregates at SXSW.

GowallaJoshYouTubeGrab

The mobile execution focused on using those technologies to create an experience or to enable or enhance one.  Most of the technologies we used then are quickly becoming mainstream.  From the use of QR codes to make a connection to mobile information, to location-based services that can engage and give the brand an opportunity to interact with people.

Chevy’s SXSW Gowalla Experiment
One of the technologies we used last year isGowalla. The goal for the Gowalla program, and much of Chevrolet’s presence there, was to bring something to the attendee experience that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  To experiment with a “what-if” attitude that brought forward new technologies and new ways to engage to let the community decide what they liked, what they didn’t and how to improve it.

Airport Pop-up

The Chevrolet Gowalla program included the following elements.

  • A welcome message when passengers arrived and checked in at the Austin airport.
  • A special offer for a select few who checked in, offering them a free ride to their hotel in an awaiting Chevrolet.
  • Specific location markers in the game for the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge and the Chevy Ride & Drive spot.
  • A unique item that could be found in the game and redeemed for a Hot Wheels Camaro or Corvette at the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge in the convention center.
  • A Chevy Walking Trip of select Austin landmarks that show Austin’s unique culture, which upon completion of the trip was also redeemable for a Hot Wheels car at the Chevy Volt Recharge Lounge.

What we Learned

Since this was a first for all of us, there were a lot of unknowns when we began the program.  And I can say that we’ve just scratched the surface on the implications of these technologies for brands.

  • We showed that a big brand can integrate into consumers’ lives in a relevant way
    • We didn’t force users to embrace the technology, instead we created an experience by plugging into technologies that the community was already using
  • We were able to create something fun for users to do (free rides from the airport, downtown walking tour, collecting items) which made it an experience, rather than just a message
  • We learned that these applications can drive people from one location to another with a specific call to action (offering a redeemableitem at one location for completing the walking trip or finding a game item at another location)
  • Word of mouth helped spread news of the program organically, supplementing blog posts about the program on SXSW.com
  • We mapped anonline/mobile experience to an offline experience with a genuine pay-off for the participant

In the end, we were able to learn about the opportunities these platforms hold for brands and their value in extending a mobile, online experience offline where a transaction can take place.  We will take these learnings into account as we plan and build next year’s SXSW location-based experience.

GowallaCatchAChevy

By the numbers

In all, we learned a lot from the program, and it generally reflected well on the brand.  Some of the hard metrics include:

  • Several hundred people saw the Chevy welcome message when they checked in at the airport
  • 40+ people completed the downtown walking trip – putting it among the top most-completed trips on Gowalla at the time
  • Close to 75 Hot Wheels cars were redeemed at the Volt Recharge Lounge
  • 730 check-ins by446 people at the Volt Recharge Lounge – second most check-ins behind the SXSW badge pick-up location

While the numbers in aggregate tell one story, the overall message is that a brand can use these channels to engage in a way that people appreciate.  With more access, greater integration and new offers, these numbers will rise.

GowallaWalkingTour

Conclusion
Location provides a third dimension to social media that will continue to heat up over the next several months.  In that time, we’ll also see a huge push by the wireless industry to increase the speed and ubiquity of their networks.  This will bring more access at greater speeds over phones that continue to become the center of a consumer’s lifestyle.  The GPS capabilities of these phones that will fuel the mobile-social firestorm will also likely go through a firestorm of their own for security and privacy reasons.  But through it all these mobile applications will continue to be the bridge between online and offline social interactions – both for individual consumers and the brands that are trying to reach them.

(Originally posted on Mobilisms.com)

Advertisements

What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate

I recently spoke at the Location-based Marketing Summit.  If there’s one area where everyone is polishing their crystal balls, it’s in the future of location.  And, inevitably, the discussion turned to monetization.  As you can imagine, the first source for monetization that began to echo through the conference was advertising.  As I pointed out when I spoke, I like a paycheck as much as the next guy, but I wish there was a little more delay before we start to see an advertising discussion start around new platforms.  A little more time to let the concept breathe, and more thought put into how to use the platform for true, rather than artificial engagement. What I’m seeing, whether it’s at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, or at the Location-based Marketing Summit is a conversation that is starting to be dominated with an advertising voice – whether that’s from ad networks, technology providers or agencies and brands themselves.  It’s becoming predictable that, before the conversation begins about how people will actually use the new medium, how the platform will grow a community and what role the technology means in the greater context, someone in the back of the room stands up  and asks about the ad creative dimensions. I was reminded of this by the news/rumor that Twitter will begin to push ads into a users Twitter stream.  Twitter has a couple of years on the location platforms, but it’s still at a critical point in its evolution.  Is it that pushing ads into the experience is the only way to help get to its monetization goals, or is it a lack of creativity – on Twitter’s part or the part of the brand and their agencies – that other alternatives haven’t been explored?  Like anything, if you try to force it into the experience, the community will react negatively.  But, the last two offerings I’ve seen from Twitter that point to a monetization effort have been (paid) promoted Tweets and now potentially ads in the Twitter stream.  I think there needs to be more innovation on the part of the platform to find new and interesting ways to build an experience, rather than defaulting to advertising as a go-to strategy.  Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to give Twitter too much of a hard time for this.  I’m not the one sitting across the table having to justify my existence with investors, and they now face a similar challenge as Facebook with a platform that’s interwoven into the fabric of the social media experience.  I just hope that more opportunities for innovation and experimentation can lead the conversation and be given as much credence as monetization through advertising.

(There are any number of holes in this, so if you feel like weighing in, make sure to let me have it in the comments.)

UPDATE: In the spirit of fairness, here is an account from AdAge of Twitter in-stream ads as told by a user who has them.

The State of Location-based Services and Marketing

Location-based services (LBS), or geolocation applications, or “the creepy tech that lets everyone know where you are” is so new that there’s still little fighting over acronyms or adjectives to describe the category.

In reality, a fraction of people who have technologies that enable LBS even know they have it, and an even smaller fraction of those actually use it, and an even smaller fraction of that set use it actively.  So, for the three of you who are actively using these technologies (and I know where you are), you don’t have to read any further.  You get it.  You understand, or like the rest of us trying to understand, the implications that LBS will have on the social dynamic. With this post, I’ll try to put a stake in the ground and mark where we are in the adoption, proliferation and understanding of LBS and its potential.  Because, it’s early.  Really early.  But, it’s one that will continue to grow and change many of the tenants of social interaction and online/offline integration.

Location: A Brief History & Technology
Here’s my best attempt at a brief history of location and its technology that you’ll have to fact-check me on …. Location became relevant approximately 10 billion years ago when the earth was created and there became a locale to attach location.  Fast forward about 9.999 billion years (give or take a 9) and people are roaming the earth in search other people and places.  Discovering new continents, finding lost cities, creating beer trips in college towns.  The point is that location has always been relevant – whether you’re searching for the new world, or the closest World Market, location is important.  And, the technologies used to map and define location have become and continue to become more accurate and integrated into the other technologies we use every day.  Just as the use of these technologies will continue to evolve, so will the applications that sit on top of it.  Until recently, the technologies that power location weren’t refined, and the networks that they ran over weren’t dialed in enough to make the experience a good one.  So, to understand the proliferation of LBS, and anything that’s built on technology, you have to understand where we are in the evolution of the underlying technology.  While there are still pieces to fall into place (WiFi, other broadband technologies, etc.), the technology foundation LBS rides across and gives the consumer a good experience is now in place, and improving – which will facilitate broader adoption.

Availability Doesn’t Mean Adoption
With a strong technology foundation and a good user experience, LBS is ready to take off.  Wrong.  Just because the technologies are available, doesn’t mean people will begin to use them.  With this category, I’d say there’s almost an inverse correlation between availability and adoption.  LBS hit at the core of many of the fears people have about the Internet, generally, and cell phones specifically.  There will exist for a while a creep factor when it comes to letting people know where you are at any given time.  The fact that our phones can share that information is cause for concern for many.  But, the one thing that LBS has going for it is the great equalizer, Facebook.  Or, as I call it “the gateway drug to social media.”  With the addition of Facebook Places, that platform alone will accelerate the adoption of location-based features.  The more your friends share their location with you, the more you’re aware of and likely to share your location with them.  Pretty soon (in about 18 – 24 mos) we’ll see not only a proliferation of brands using even more location-based applications, but more consumers sharing their location.  And, it’s all going according to plan.  Technology — Availability — Propagation Across Social Set — Adoption

Location: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
Or at least, location is only part of it.  It’s what location enables, and to paraphrase Gowalla’s Josh Williams, “It’s what happens AFTER people check in that’s going to be interesting.”  As we’ve seen with Twitter and now Facebook, location is quickly becoming a commodity.  For all the talk of “checking in,” it’s equal parts location and experience.  This is where the real value of location becomes apparent.  Whether checking in is a trigger for your friends to find you, or it’s an opportunity for the restaurant to enhance your experience, what happens because you’ve identified your location is the future of these technologies and where marketers have an opportunity.

Enter: Marketer – Stage Right
I’ve often said that location is the third dimension of social media, and that it’s one of the few platforms that get better when marketers are involved.  When done right, brands and marketers can bring greater relevance to not only LBS, but also to the locations themselves.  Part of the draw of these platforms is the element of surprise that’s possible through them.  Getting a benefit for being a loyal customer just got a lot more real.  At least, the opportunity for it to become more real and personal just got easier.  The challenge for marketers is to use these platforms in a way that’s not intrusive and to bring a real value to them.  I have a hard time when I see some brands trying to offer the same benefit they push through the Sunday circular in their location-based programs.  Ten percent off a car wash after your third check in doesn’t hit the mark for me.  Initially people may be intrigued by the function of checking in and seeing something, anything, from the business, but as we’ve see with other social channels, expectations advance faster than marketers can adapt to those expectations.  It’s best to try to stay ahead of that dilemma by starting from a place of value.  And follow the hallmarks of successful location-based programs – compelling, convenient, easy.

Exit: Marketer – Stage Left
As important as it is to be part of the location-based discussion about your location, it’s equally important to understand that these channels are best directed by the consumers who use them, not the brand.  As with any new technology that gets a brand closer to its consumers, there’s a delicate balance between helpful and relevant and forced and annoying.  The non-benefit I mentioned earlier is one example.  If you’re not able to offer something of value through your location-based program, look for other ways to be present.  Actively manage your location, engage with the people who frequent the location (engage, not harass with offers), find ways to show that you’re in tune with, value and understand these new channels.  In addition, find ways to incorporate other platforms and emerging technologies together to create a unique experience.  But, above all, be a human and bring value to the relationship.  If you’re not delivering value, wait until you can, but don’t wait too long.

Where we Are; Where We’re Going
We’ve established the relevance of location and that it’s inherent to our lives as human beings.  We’ve set the expectation that there’s a technology foundation from which to build, and building we are. We’ve established that, while location is important, it’s only part of the puzzle.  And, as location becomes a commodity, it’s the experience that’s enabled through location that matters.  We’ve also unraveled the adoption mystery and how that plays into our long-term strategy.  And, finally, we have a better understanding of the role of the brand in these channels and how to add value.  So, what’s next.  Since I’ve taken far too much room to lay this all out, I’ll save that for the next post, where I’ll draw insight from the Location-based Marketing Summit and the discussions I’ll have at that event.  I’ll meet with some of the platform providers themselves as well as some of the brands and marketers who are exploring and using these new tools.  I’ll package all of that up and offer a view of where the group thinks LBS is going.  I’ll finish with this.

I’m speaking at the Location-based Marketing Summit about a category of technologies that haven’t even hatched yet and with the experience of about a year actually developing these types of programs.  But, I view LBS like I did Twitter and similar platforms early in their development and adoption.  And, I encourage clients in the same way – experiment now to find the relevance for you as a consumer and for your brand’s consumers.  Because these tools are so new, as a brand, there’s no reason why you should have already explored the options that LBS holds for you and the connections they’ll enable with your consumers.  You have time to justify it and make good decisions based on how consumers engage with your brand.  But, as an individual, there’s no reason why you can’t create a trip on Gowalla, download SVNGR and complete some tasks or begin to attach location to your Tweets to understand how the technologies work, what’s possible and what’s worth exploring more.  Discover, learn and activate.  Now is the time.

(Previously published on Mobilisms.com on 9/28/10)