5 Reasons Not to Give Up on Location-Based [Cause] Marketing

Few users. Mostly male. Educated and influential among friends and family. It's great, but wait until it becomes more mainstream before jumping in. Those are the findings of a recent Forrester study on location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt.

You can check out the executive summary here.

Forrester's "wait and see" findings on location-based marketing (LBM) are not new. Hesitation has always preceded major cultural shifts.

Steel swords will never work. Besides, iron is non-stick. ~ King of the Gauls, 1 B. C.

Printing press? But what will we do with all the monks? ~ Pope Sixtus IV, 1501

I bet I can shoot this arrow faster than you can shoot that gun. ~ Dead Wompanoag Chief, 1676

Take the automobile. In 1900 there was just over 4,000 built in the United States. At the time, the U. S. had a population of 76 million. That's well less than 1%. Makes the 4% using LBM look like a crowd.

Few drivers. Mostly male. Educated mavens. Not a great time to jump into the car business. But smart people like Henry Ford recognized the opportunity automobiles presented and the shift that was about to happen.

While not as dramatic as the emergence of the automobile or plane or electricity, LBM will nonetheless change marketing, advertising and cause marketing forever. Now isn't the time for nonprofits to let the future drive by them, especially when change in 2012 is moving a lot faster than a Model T.

Here are a five reasons why nonprofits should stick with location-based marketing.

Forrester didn't say never, they said not right now. They even went as far to say that brands in the gaming, consumer electronics and sportswear industry should test LBM. Just as Foursquare may be great for male-oriented brands, what about male-oriented causes like City Year, testicular cancer groups and charities that raise money for police officers and firemen. Even if you're not a male-oriented charity, Forrester isn't calling LBM a fad that should be ignored.

The web is dead. Long live the mobile web. Steve Rubel cited a Morgan Stanley report earlier this month that said within five years global internet consumption on mobile devices will surpass the same activity on PCs. No one knows for sure how much Internet use on mobile devices will grow, but I these pocket devices will play a bigger and bigger role in web surfing. And with it how products and services are marketed to us when we are in or near our favorite businesses. Forget the players. Foursquare, Gowalla and other location services will come and go. But location-based marketing will be a mainstay of the mobile web.

Pinups won't last forever. No one is sadder than I am about this since Noland Hoshino has crowned me the "Pinup King." But the bloom is already off pinups, which have been around since at least the 1970's, and their bar codes are numbered. Location-based marketing is a new opportunity for cause marketers to engage consumers where they shop and where they care. Shoppers that check-in to a retailer will be asked to support a cause, possibly in exchange for savings at the register. If they agree, they can make the donation right on their smartphone independent of the cashier. Or perhaps they'll get a reminder when they check-in that a favorite shampoo in aisle four supports a cancer cause.

Don't wait for users. Enlist them. Don't wait around for Foursquare to become Facebook. Create your own success now. Last week I wrote on QR codes--a new concept to most people--and how a UK nonprofit didn't wait for supporters to show-up at their second-hand clothing stores with smartphones with QR readers. They made QR readers available to their customers so they could try-out the new technology for themselves. Find ways to integrate LBM into your existing programs and events. If you do a walk, ask walkers to use Foursquare to check-out all the tips you've gathered on interesting landmarks, water stops, prize areas, etc. along the route. Motivate and incentivize people to become users, instead of just waiting around for them to catch-up.

We're not talking about a huge investment of time. It's not like dropping LBM activities from your social media portfolio will save you 10 hours a week of work. Foursquare may be tiny compared to Facebook, but it's also a lot less sophisticated. That will change as the platform evolves but right now you need to (1) use LBM, (2) encourage others to use it and (3) stay abreast of new developments (which in the cause arena I'll share with you here so that's really no very hard :)). Of all the social media tools my organization uses, LBM requires the least amount of work.

It also currently delivers the smallest return. But like the seeds you plant in the spring, I know that's going to change. And one day I expect to harvest a bumper crop.