Shock, awe and admiration. These overcame me when I read in Mashable that Mayors of Starbucks Now Get Discounts Nationwide with Foursquare.
“Starbucks…is officially turning on the rewards side of its experimental Foursquare loyalty program with the first-ever nationwide mayor special.”
I’ll explain my reaction, but first a little background: Foursquare is a location-based mobile application that allows users to “check in” from their phones at the places they frequent. People do this for a variety of reasons:
- to let their friends know where they are
- to show support for their favorite haunts
- to get actual rewards from participating businesses
- to collect virtual travel badges and become the virtual mayor of places
- and so on…
Businesses have begun to recognize the value of these location-based games, because users are broadcasting information about the businesses to all of their online friends. When users check in on Foursquare, they have the option to send that information to: 1) their Foursquare friends, 2) their Facebook friends, 3) their Twitter friends or 4) all of the above. That in itself is a goldmine for businesses. It means that your Foursquare-using customers are telling all of their friends that they shop at your store, eat at your restaurant, etc. Then, it gets even better. Users can include a message. They might be doing your marketing for you:
Finally, Foursquare includes a link at the end of the message that provides more information to users about your business. It tells them where you’re located (and shows a map), who’s the mayor (who goes there most often), who else has “checked in” there, any “tips” that other users have left, etc. It even makes it easy for users to “like” your business, which connects them to you on Facebook.
If you still don’t get the point of Foursquare (either for a user or for a business), consider reading these great posts:
- Is Foursquare Worth The Trouble? By Phil Buckley of 1918.com
- Social Media Case Study: How The Pit Uses Twitter and Foursquare By Phil Buckley of 1918.com
- Pop Culture TV + Mobile Game By Ellie Johnson of Media Two
Now, on to the point of the post. Shock, awe and admiration. I am very impressed and inspired by this maneuver on the part of Starbucks because I’ve had personal experience trying to help clients take advantage of location-based mobile apps. The problem is not in getting the client to see the potential and realize the value. The hard part is in the implementation. Once you’ve coordinated the two teams (the app developers & the business/company/client) and come up with the special offer, you have two more battles to fight:
- Programming the Point of Sale system to accept the offer
- Employee awareness (to accept the offer)
Finding a way for the registers to accept the special offer at the point of sale isn’t as easy as it seems. Since these are coupon messages that people receive on their phones, there is no printable coupon and no scan-able offer. Getting around this means programming the system to accept some type of code and then training employees on how to key in that code, which brings us to number two.
Employee awareness and training is the single most difficult part of implementation and is what sparked such admiration in me for this effort by Starbucks. I am, of course, speaking of businesses with many locations. This is not an issue at small businesses with one location, a handful of employees (if that) and an ever-present owner. This becomes difficult when you have thousands of employees across a large number of locations. They work varying shifts. Some are part-time, some are full-time. Some are in high school, some have grandchildren. Some started yesterday and will quit tomorrow, while others have dedicated themselves to the company for years. And finally, some are Twitter-Facebook-Foursquare-users, and other are most definitely NOT.
Without the proper strategy for implementation, here’s your scenario:
- Your customer arrives at your location and “checks in” (telling all her gazillion Facebook friends that she likes to shop at your store)
- The mobile app gleefully informs her that she is now the mayor of your store
- Since you understand the value of this app, you offer a special deal to your mayors
- Her phone displays your message: “Since you are the mayor, we’d like to reward your loyalty. Enjoy 10% off your entire purchase.”
- “WooHoooo!!!” she cheers
- Now your customer arrives at the register, ready to pay (she decided to splurge and buy a few, extra, not-on-the-list items because of the special offer, btw)
- She shows the phone message to the cashier
- Uh-oh. BEWILDERMENT in the eyes of the cashier!!!
This is where your hard work behind the scenes can turn into a big fat FAIL. The cashier doesn’t know how to ring up the offer. Pray that your employee does not say, “What the heck is Foursquare? I have no idea what you’re talking about. There is no coupon for that.” Instead of saying that, your employee is digging through memos and paperwork while waiting for the manager to respond to the call for help that went out of the the loudspeaker. The line begins to get unruly. The 3rd person in line is tapping her foot, the man behind her is huffing and puffing and sighing loudly, while the woman at the end of the line abandons her cart because her toddler has GOT TO GO, and this is taking too long. The worst part of this is that in your attempt to please your mayor, you have royally embarrassed her. At this point, everyone is looking at her like she has two heads. The cashier is rolling his eyes, the manager is sweating, and the rest of the customers have lost their patience and are not being nice about it. Then, to just get this whole ordeal over with, the manager does a price override. You just lost your tracking, measuring and reporting data. Without the code, this sale won’t get tied to the special offer, and you’ll be scratching your head wondering why no one is taking advantage of your super-duper 10% off deal. With zero reported ROI, you pull the plug. Little Foursquare-fairies die.
I offer you this scenario not to scare you away from spoiling your mayors, but to implore you to have a hearty strategy for implementation before you jump in. You absolutely want to spoil your mayors because these are the people who end up being your spokespersons, whether you like it or not. When people can see that Bobby goes to your bar more often than anyone else, they’re going to ask HIM about your bar’s atmosphere, crowd, events, music, specials, menu and brews. Make him an offer to make him happy. But, don’t fudge it up like in the scenario above — it may sound ridiculous, but this person can carry a lot of clout over your other customers and potential customers — after all, he’s your mayor. You do not want him to endure a situation like the aforementioned scenario and then tweet about it.
So, I’d really like to say: Hats off to Starbucks and Foursquare! I’m very impressed and inspired. I’m curious to hear how it works out for people. Please, please leave comments below and tell me about your experiences redeeming special deals offered through location-based check-in apps.
I’d also like to plug TriOut (www.TriOutNC.com), a location-based check-in app that was developed in the Triangle area of North Carolina. I will attest to the fact that the developers behind this application are very open to working with businesses — you help them offer value to their users, and they help you offer value to your customers. Win-win.
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