The check-in is lazy marketing

When I was younger I spent a lot of time on my parents couch. I mean a lot of time. When I was caught dozing in the afternoon or when asked what I did during the day, my fathers response to my feeble answer was always the same: “Opportunity doesn’t knock on your door – no one simply shows up and offers you something.”

With my fathers advice ringing in my ear I can’t help shake the feeling of deja vu when it comes to the way people have come to rely on the check-in as a marketing crutch. How many are lying on their parents couch simply phoning in this stuff today? A lot and that’s not good for the industry.

Most of us have carried a mobile phone for years. Most of us have also spent a good amount of our professional work life dedicated to moving this industry forward. I, for one, have not spent 10+ years learning and living about mobile, thousands of dollars on hardware, thousands of dollars in connectivity charges and thousands of dollars in applications just to be fed a coupon that I can get in my Sunday paper or delivered to my mailbox.

This isn’t what mobile marketing is supposed to be about. Coupons are not personal, nor are they enough incentive to entice people to change their behaviour in the real world, why should we expect them to continue in the virtual one?

Are we regressing?

At least coupons worked in creating awareness – you didn’t have to be in a specific location in order to see if there was a special. Heck, you didn’t even need to be in the same city to see if there were any coupons for, say, Disney World. With the check-in / coupon combination, you are essentially taking money out of your own pocket. Would you ever walk up to someone standing in the checkout line, product in hand, and offer them a 15% discount just because?

So why do this just on mobile? Reward people for helping you market your product, don’t adjust your profit and set pricing expectations when you don’t need to. Do something meaningful that creates or fosters an existing relationship. Build fans. Build regular consumers based on something other than discounts.

The challenge is getting them there

The function of the coupon has not changed much since Coca-Cola first used one to give away free samples in the late 1800’s. It is used primarily as a way to attract customers and by the early part of this century people had shaved almost $4 billion off their spending. A side note that coupons really took off during the Great Depression for obvious reasons and I wonder if the reason we are seeing so many “check-in for coupons” initiatives is because of the global recession we are emerging from or are we just out of innovative ideas?

Coupons are not the answer

Check-ins don’t bring in new customers. In fact, there are so few people using these tools worldwide that their impact is negligible today. It makes me wonder how the pure concept of coupons has been so altered from its original purpose as to be unrecognizable. If you are hell-bent on using coupons as a check-in reward, offer them on specific products, not just a blanket store-wide coupon. At the same time, think about what impact the discount will have on your marketing budget – the money to cover the discount has to come from somewhere. How much would you put forward to promote a certain product or offering? How much is it worth to your organization to have your customers mention the product on Twitter? Facebook? Foursquare? Discounts aren’t free for you.

Think about it before you do it

There is already a current running through your business. People are already stamping their location in or near your business or will be soon. The question is how can you participate and interact with existing and potential customers in a meaningful and mutually rewarding way. Giving some thought on how to do this is what’s important so don’t just jump in and give away your profit, build a strategy to make sure you can succeed.

When the dust settles on this first phase of location-based marketing I’m pretty sure my father’s words will ring true again. Time to get off the couch and get to work.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • Good thought provoking post. I love it. Coupons aren’t personal but the ad dollars to support such initiatives are coming from either, agency funds, traditional media advertising and/or execution funds. It also raises the whole slacker movement where people are just involved in ‘social media’ activities without actually creating any value for the ecosystem — just increasing noise.

    I am still pondering about the Groupon Model for the business themselves. Large majority of the “retail” businesses cannot afford to re-do the offer again from my own experience.

  • You miss a very important point about location-based services: The business can learn more about thier top customers. Who are my top customers? How often do they come in? What are they saying about my business?
    Offering discounts is a way to encorage these customers to participate with the business so that more can be learned about them. Knowing your customer better is a good thing!
    While I agree that coupons aren’t the best option for all businesses, they can help gain customers and certainly with digital, they can help learn more about the customer.
    As always, it takes advertising (online and possibly offline) to make consumers aware of the discounts.

  • Thanks for contributing to the conversation Brian. You are 100% correct that mobile is the most personal and direct medium for interacting with customers and potential customers and location services – context and relevance – are key ingredients for this. The point of this article is to force us all to think of a better, more engaging way to connect with our customers – time to move beyond one-off discounts and into conversations.

  • Interesting perspective Bilal – thanks for voicing it here. I’m also not convinced that there is a long-term business in Groupon. I’d have taken the money and run!

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