SURF THIS: Foursquare attempts to corner walk-in business market

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Jim Cota

It used to be that engineers developed a product based on some perceived need, marketers sold it, and customers bought it.

In some forward-thinking companies, the marketing department might help drive product development based on user feedback, but the experience was almost wholly internal. Those days are gone.

Now products are often developed by someone either seeing an opportunity or, perhaps just as often, having an idea they think might be interesting. A product is developed and released and people use it.

Then an interesting thing happens ... the product-development cycle responds to the way people are using the product. Engineering might have a few tweaks they’d like to make, but much of the innovation comes from how people are using (or want to be using) the product.

Which brings me to Foursquare (foursquare.com). At heart, it’s simply an application that runs on your smart phone allowing you to “check in” at various locations throughout your day. Let’s say you stop at Starbucks in the morning. You open the application on your phone, select the Starbucks, and hit a “check in” button. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even write a short message: “Getting my morning pick-me-up.”

Each time you check in, you earn points based on a system of Foursquare’s devising, and you can unlock badges for certain aspects of your movements. Check in at several venues and earn an “Explorer” badge. Visit one location more than anyone else and become “Mayor.”

Now, at least a few of you are asking yourselves why you would want to do that. Who really cares where you are and where you go throughout the day?

The answer is, your friends might (with emphasis on the might), but the businesses you frequent most certainly do (or should.)

Foursquare began as a way for friends to check in wherever they are and notify one another about what they’re up to, much the same way Twitter was originally intended for friends to tell one another what they’re doing. But just as Twitter dramatically evolved based on how people actually used it, Foursquare stands at a similar threshold.

Businesses are now realizing that some of their most loyal customers are checking in at their stores, bars, restaurants, etc. And Foursquare sees an opportunity here, adapting into a way for businesses to communicate with these people. If you check in at a business enough to become the mayor, you might earn yourself a special perk. If you simply check in and tell other people about it, you might be rewarded with a discount.

Because the application is location-aware (meaning it knows where you are), business owners also can add tips to help people find things nearby. If you’re standing outside a coffee shop, you might see that a competitor up the street is offering free pastries with a cup of coffee this morning and adjust your habits accordingly. As the owner of a business, you can add these tips to your location to help bring people in the door.

Much of the new development of Foursquare seems to be related to finding ways to better serve both the customers and the business owners using it, and I suspect we’ll see more robust tools to help you track and analyze what’s happening. But if you own a business that relies on walk-in traffic, this is a creative way to potentially increase that traffic.

And as the user base grows (100,000 new people joined in the last 10 days!), you might find it too useful to resist.•


Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.


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  1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

  2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

  3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

  4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

  5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim