Tag Archives: Marketing

Universal Innovation

Sometimes, it seems like innovation is all anyone talks about. It’s been a really hot topic for the last five or six years; probably more. In the last two years before I left Rocketdyne — let’s see, that would have been from 2008 to 2010 — I participated in several innovation classes/exercises and, in fact, I setup the SharePoint collaborative spaces that were used by the teams in one of these exercises that were exploring different avenues for the company to invest in. I was also part of a team looking at one of the many technologies we were investigating at the time, and we even brought in a Professor from the USC Marshall School of Business to help us “learn” innovation.

I’m not going to get into my thoughts about what it takes to be innovative, or creative, but I just want to throw out this observation I’ve been mulling over for some time and see what others think about it. One of the things I think I’ve noticed is that almost everyone approaches innovation primarily as a way to come up with new products or services to sell. There seems to be what I think of as a blind spot when it comes to how we got things done, to our processes and procedures that are the backbone of our day-to-day activities. I’m also not confining the daily activities we might look at to businesses or governmental agencies and institutions either. I’m also thinking about things like mass public transportation and local traffic patterns and uses, our use of public facilities like parks and schools, the ways we approach (or choose to ignore) recycling, the value of our food and how we produce, distribute, and consume it – and on and on.

So here’s my big question for now. What if we started looking at enabling – empowering, if you will – everyone who was interested, to be involved in social and cultural innovation; in our continuous social and economic evolution . . . as citizens of our local municipalities, our neighborhoods, our nations, and even as inhabitants of the planet Earth, i.e. as a species? What if we came up with ways to encourage, communicate, evaluate, and pursue ideas that would improve – dramatically or otherwise – the lives of many people, perhaps everyone? Very public ways. What would that look like? How would we do it? What would be the biggest challenges? What infrastructure and social constructs are already in place to support such a thing?


I Review Age of Context: A Must Read

Age of Context Cover

I’m not in the habit of reviewing books, but I have a special interest in this one, not merely because I played a role in its production, but because of what the book means to us culturally and economically. What follows is the review I posted on Amazon.

I have long been enamored of the concept of Systems Thinking, which holds (among other things) that systems cannot be understood absent their context, the interrelationships of components within each system and with other systems of which they are a part (or are a part of them). In my career I have often heard it said “context is king.” I am predisposed to look for the contextual interrelationships in all things I attempt to understand.

It was nearly a year ago when Shel Israel posted a request for help on Facebook. He was looking for people who could serve as fact-checkers for his and Robert Scoble‘s new book. At the time, I responded and suggested I could serve as his proofreader. He accepted. Thus began a wonderful adventure. Soon I was proofing Shel’s columns in Forbes (q.v.) under the general title “The Social Beat”. Most of them were portions of what would become the chapters of this book “Age of Context”.

Since that time, I have proofed nearly every column he’s written related to the book, as well as each chapter that ultimately became this wonderful book. I also outlined at least six of the chapters for the authors to use in interviews and at speaking engagements and, toward the end, ended up checking each hyperlink and compiling them into a single document.

I bring all this up in part to reveal what surely has the appearance of a conflict of interest in my recommending you purchase and read this book. However, the greater part of what I’m revealing is how thoroughly it moved and excited me. I will admit to being a techno-geek, and I am naturally drawn to shiny new things. I am somewhat prejudiced. However, Robert and Shel have carefully scoured the tech world and now present their findings and conclusions, and many of them should fairly knock your socks off. I can’t tell you how many times I practically came out of my seat as I was reading about their discoveries. It made it hard at times to do my job. Frequently, I wanted to add my own comments to what they were explaining. I somehow managed to contain my excitement. It’s their book, after all.

In “Age of Context” you will find dozens and dozens of applications and approaches that seek to more completely understand, and integrate into, various aspects of our lives. Whether in the home, at work, or at play; whether in their approach to health, recreation, designing and building cities, or marketing product intelligently, Robert and Shel bring together (put into context, if you will) what these developments mean and how they can — and most likely will — improve our lives. They also recognize, and in no way gloss over, the important issues of privacy and safety many of these developments raise.

Yes, I am somewhat prejudiced. However, I feel quite safe in saying this is an important book. I don’t care for the term “futurist”, but I’d like to think I can recognize some of the next big things. There are a lot of them in this book. You owe it to yourself to understand the coming storm of innovation and change the authors so presciently offer.

Buy it at Amazon
My Review on Amazon


What Goes Around . . .

It’s been nearly three years since I “retired” from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve been through several iterations of “What do I want to be when I grow up” and I think my latest incarnation is actually working! I’ve given myself until the end of this year for it to prove out to be a viable trajectory, at least for a few more years while I still have to tend closely to my children. You can read my most recent self-assessment/self-promotion at LinkedIn.

Additionally, some of the seeds I planted a while back may be sprouting, which would be really satisfying and might steer me comfortably toward another line of work I can enjoy.

It seems understanding Social Media’s role, both inside and outside the corporate firewall, wasn’t a terribly interesting subject for most organizations and, despite my zeal, I couldn’t get the traction I needed to do what I thought made sense. Equally, at least here in Simi Valley, small businesses have had a very hard time – as a whole – seeing how social can be used to promote their business or organize their work a little more effectively. I need to say . . . there were lots of opportunity for being a charlatan and raking in some dough or for doing something I didn’t really enjoy just to make money. I’ve chosen not to follow those paths, so the challenge has been finding – again – who and what I want to be or, more accurately, continue becoming. Being frugal’s been kind of important as well. :D

It’s important to note there are lots of large organizations who recognize the value of social for reaching out to, and communicating with, their current and potential customers. There are fewer, in my estimation (disclosure: I have not researched the numbers. I have, however, been observing for a long time) that appreciate the value of social to build community inside the firewall, let alone in the space they share with their suppliers/vendors.

At any rate, I haven’t given up entirely and I was gratified to be contacted by someone who interviewed me on the subject nearly 2 years ago. He asked if the audio could be used in a couple other blogs and sent me a link to it. Frankly, I had completely forgottenI did the interview. Also, inasmuch as I am now doing some editing/proofreading professionally, I was a tad dismayed to read the copy that accompanied it, and I’ve asked for the opportunity to proofread these new publications prior to publication. I don’t believe I  had that opportunity with the first publication, which can be found here. Below is the Vimeo audio file with my interview. I don’t think I made a fool of myself. I’m hoping I actually make more sense today than I did back then. I’m gratified Dustin felt it was worthy of being repeated.

PS – I may no longer be a Chief BooMillennial Officer, but I do think I’m still an Emergineer and definitely a Serendipity Wrangler.


Important Stuff Happening Here!

Installation Marketing - Lowe's

Hey! Guess What I’m Doing Inside.

As I was leaving my house yesterday to go pick up my daughters from school, I noticed a sign reminiscent of the political signs that had been so ubiquitous in my town for the past month or so. This one was in my neighbor’s yard, stuck in the median grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. Although I wanted a picture of it for this blog, I was in a bit of a hurry to get my oldest and had to continue on. I was pleased to find, upon returning to drop her off, it was still there. I got out of my vehicle for a moment and snapped this picture before going after my younger one.

Right after I saw it, though, I found myself wondering if there was a way I could do something like this. My first thought was I should have a big sign I can raise on my roof that says things like “Rick writing here!”, “Rick editing text in progress”, “Rick proofreading a blog post right now”. Now that I think of it, I doubt that’s a very good idea. Actually, the city would likely frown on it and I’d soon find myself at odds with the very people I wish to work more closely with. There’s likely an ordinance prohibiting it. Scratch that.

So, how about this? In keeping with my theme of being a Senior Inspector of the U.S. Grammar Police, I’m thinking when I go to someone’s house or office I should put up some yellow plastic tape that reads “Possible Literary Crime Scene. Do Not Cross!” How’s that sound? Any better ideas?


People ARE Talking. Are YOU Listening?

Infoweek Cover

Yes. They Are. You Need to be Paying Attention.

The title of this post used to be the tag line I put on my business card. It’s still on the vehicle sign that covers the rear window of my Honda Pilot, and it’s still in my Facebook Fan Page’s “about” section. The first paragraph of that section continues, “Your company – your brand – is being discussed publicly. Don’t you think you should join the conversation?”

Information Week made it the cover story of their June 25, 2012 edition and I pointed out the similarity in a graphic I created and posted on my Facebook Fan Page. In some respects, we weren’t quite talking about the same thing, though, but they’re closely related. Their article focuses on sentiment analysis and my thoughts were more directed toward overall engagement, which includes sentiment analysis. They are also far more attuned to the needs of larger brands, whereas my concern is for small businesses and the value they can get from what I see as the proper use of social media.

Today I was pointed to an article by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, entitled “Why Digital Influence is So Important“. Brian discusses the value of shared experiences, the building of trust, and the spread of influential content, pointing out the value of online recommendations from people we know and trust. He concludes with the following questions: “Do you know what’s being said about your business? And who’s saying it? How are you getting closer to your customer by examining your digital influence?”

Now the reason I bring this up is there are a number of people here in Simi Valley who have created Facebook groups designed to help us communicate or promote local businesses or both. One of the activities that’s taking place is what some call “Cash Mobs“. We are trying to pick out small, independently owned businesses that we might be able to help out (at least with their cash flow) by patronizing them.

As a result of this, one of the members suggested a location that might be able to use a small infusion of business and, consequently, cash. Since I have been trying to get locals to realize the value of using mostly free platforms, services, and apps to market and publicize their businesses, I’m always wondering how well certain ones are doing this. So I decided to check out this particular business with respect to a few things I think it could (or should) be doing.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I did find out some things I think are interesting in light of what Brian has to say about digital influence, as well as what I know about it from my research and experience. What I found was the following:

  • They have a Facebook fan page but do very little with it. The page has 45 likes and 10 people have gone to the trouble of checking in there.
  • They haven’t bothered to claim their venue on Foursquare (a very simple process) and, even though 30 people have checked in a total of 106 times (that’s an average of 3 times per person; an indication of some loyalty), they cannot create specials to reward that loyalty and, perhaps, entice more people to try them out.
  • They also have two listings in Yelp but have yet to claim either of them. Were they to do so, they would be able to correct one of the listings, as well as provide accurate information on what it is they do. What they do have is four (two for each listing) high quality, five-star reviews for their establishment. I say high-quality because all of the reviewers have numerous friends and have posted multiple reviews in Yelp.
  • I also checked Yahoo Local (basic minimum listing), Bing Local (basic listing w/two of the Yelp reviews), and they don’t show up at all in Google+ Local.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s another quote from Brian:

“In the end, people are at the center of your business. And connections are the ties that bind in social media. Your next step is to see what people are saying or what they’re not saying about your business to learn how you can become part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

My contention is that by not taking the small amount of time required to at least claim venues and ensure they are completely populated with information about your business, you are showing you don’t really care what people are saying about you. Your absence from Yelp means you lose the ability to both thank people who take the time to say something nice about you, and to respond to those who take the time to report a problem they may have had. Without Foursquare you lose the ability to create specials designed to reward loyalty from current customers who are using the service and to entice new customers to try you out.

Even if you’re reading the reviews on Yelp and the tips on Foursquare (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) you have no possibility of “becoming part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

There’s another factor as well, which Brian discusses in his article. When people check in to your business on Facebook or Foursquare or Yelp, which they can do with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops there is always the chance some of their friends will see where they are or where they’ve been. Since the most trusted method of referral is that received from a friend, either online or in person, every business that doesn’t take advantage of these tools is shortchanging themselves. There are other issues having to do with gamification, peer response, and virality but we’ll leave them alone for now. They are important to fully understanding how to use each of these applications, but they don’t matter one bit if your business isn’t using them at even their most basic level.

In this economy I’m of the opinion not taking advantage of free marketing seems almost criminal and, while the tools may change as time goes by, the concepts aren’t going anywhere. What are you doing about it?


I’m Selling Cars

Signing up Test Drivers

Here’s Where The Paperwork Gets Done

Now, everyone knows that Ford Motor Company is doing one hell of a job embracing technology and, especially, digital and social media. Scott Monty has been leading the way and doing a pretty good job of it. Now I’m selling cars; Fords to be exact.

I’m not actually a car salesman, but I have a Ford dealership as a client. This is the biggest weekend of the year and it’s being kicked off with a yearly event meant to raise money for two local high schools. It’s called Drive One 4UR School and, for every qualified driver who comes in a test drives a new Ford, $20 (up to a maximum of $6,000) is donated to either Royal or Simi Valley High School. There is no sales pressure and the only requirement is to fill out a very short form before taking out the car, and answering a few questions on a survey after returning. That’s it.

So, as part of my efforts on behalf of Simi Valley Ford I have been spending more and more time on the premises. I told the President I didn’t believe I could do a credible job of representing his organization if I wasn’t somewhat a part of it, so he agreed to give me access to an office and a computer so I can be here, even if I’m actually working on other stuff.

I’ve been working on the test drive program a bit, and even took out a 2013 Mustang for a long and varied test drive. I’ve done a little bit of video that I’ll soon edit and put up on our Facebook fan page. I’m hoping to get a YouTube channel for us. Unfortunately, for now it would be blocked here on the premises, which I’ve been trying to get changed . . . so far unsuccessfully.

Right now I’m just enjoying being around a retail marketing event; something I’ve not experienced in this capacity for decades.  There’s Motown playing on a large sound system, American flags on all the vehicles, the weather is spectacular, and I’m sitting in my office waiting for a networking event (co-sponsored with the local Chamber of Commerce) to begin.

I’m going to have to leave early to attend open house for my 8 year old and then I’ll be back again tomorrow. I plan on spending time here over the weekend as well. That will also be something I haven’t done in years, although I work at home constantly . . . so it shouldn’t be all that weird. Ah – The Shirelles singing Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”. Guess I’ll find out!


Are You, or Should You be, Shopping Local?

Shop Simi Valley First Logo

My City's Logo for Encouraging Local Shopping

There are several commercial “movements” gaining steam nowadays expressing the desire of smaller communities to get residents spending more of their money at local, usually small, businesses. Small Business Saturday’s Facebook page has almost 3 Million “Likes”. My city of Simi Valley has spent a fair amount of money promoting the concept. Locally it’s called “Shop Simi Valley First“. Unfortunately, the money that was used to create the website and other marketing efforts to support it has now dried up, possibly never to return. On the bright side, some of our citizens created a Facebook page for them and it’s approaching 1K “Likes”. It might increase now that the “official” effort is unfunded. I think this is a good thing and here’s why.

For the last year or so I have been gently pushing the city, and local small businesses, to recognize the power available to them in the use of social media to market themselves, as well as to create connections that just haven’t been possible in the past. I think, when it comes to marketing – especially in terms of encouraging local residents to patronize small businesses in our city – the connectivity and mutual support provided by services like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp may prove a decisive factor in reasonable, if not substantial, growth.

As I see it, local small businesses can use these services not merely to promote themselves individually but, as long as there’s no conflict of interest, they can also promote each other. Here’s what I imagine happening.

Let’s say you have a restaurant that serves a reasonably upscale clientele. You know there is a certain demographic that’s not terribly likely to frequent your business. Maybe they’ll patronize your place on special occasions, but not regularly. Would it be a bad thing to give props to other eating establishments more desirable or affordable to those people? Would it threaten your business or might it not actually result in your being recognized as more friendly and approachable? I’m betting the latter is more likely.

Perhaps you own a clothing store, a dry cleaners, or you’re a Dentist or other professional or service provider. I see no reason why you can’t agree with other businesses to post on each others’ Facebook pages once in a while, sharing what you have to offer or special deals you’re running at the time. Frankly, I haven’t worked out all the details in my head yet. I’ve tried to work with local businesses and the City to encourage this type of practice using social media but, much like my experience at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I’ve met a lot of inertia and resistance to change, even in the face of impending closure or bankruptcy. Part of it is a lack of understanding and part of it is a lack of resources, but the result is the same. Nothing much is happening.

What I envision happening is essentially two-fold. The first thing is that participating businesses benefit from the following of the other businesses on whose Facebook pages they promote themselves. This increases the likelihood of their being noticed by a larger group of residents. Secondly, it also increases the chances people in outlying areas will become aware of local businesses, thereby increasing the possibility people from neighboring cities may drive on over and patronize our local businesses a bit more frequently.

Does this make sense to you? What do you think about promoting local small business and how well do you think the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can increase awareness of certain types of businesses? I’d sure like to see a more coordinated, concerted effort at making it happen.


Hey! Long Time, No See.

Putting The Pieces Together

These Trying Times

So . . . I haven’t written much lately. I had been writing about things I believe will be helpful to the people and organizations I’m beginning to work with to build their businesses in these trying times. This has been, however, a period of transition for me and sometimes I feel the need to concentrate on what I’m doing, as well as on my current clients and others who have expressed an interest in using my services. One of those services is not yet writing a blog; at least not this one.

The last few weeks have been quite interesting for me. I’ve been working in earnest with two larger clients, both of whom require a lot of attention and even more learning on my part. They are helping me continue my journey from the corporate world to the world of small business. The differences are stark and, sometimes, very challenging to deal with competently. Frightening is a word that comes to mind some times as well.

I live in a comparatively small town. Simi Valley has a population – according to the last census – of nearly 125,000 people. Not tiny by a long shot, but pretty small compared to its neighbor, Los Angeles. Everybody doesn’t know everybody, but it can seem that way at times. It took a while, but I finally settled on a business model I though made sense and, slowly but surely, it seems to be working out. The model is simple. Provide social media marketing coaching for small businesses.

The model may be simple, but I’m discovering the execution of that model is fraught with difficulty. I think there are two things that make selling my services so hard. The first has to do with the lack of understanding – and misunderstanding – of the role social media plays in marketing one’s products or services; the second is tied to the economics of very small businesses and the current state of the economy. I am addressing the former in several different ways, but the latter is something I have little control over.

What’s both interesting and frustrating is that various surveys are showing greater and greater acceptance of social media within large organizations, but it doesn’t seem to be translating into the same interest and use by small businesses. For instance, I am working with a small development company/landlord that has approximately 30 retail tenants. All of these businesses could benefit from the use of social media to market themselves.

They are a combination of restaurants, retail shops, service organizations, and professionals – each with slightly different but closely related needs when it comes to marketing. The landlord is very supportive of the tenants, always looking for ways to increase traffic and visibility of their businesses. They’ve even offered to underwrite some of my services, and I’ve endeavored to offer a package that would be both useful and quite affordable.

Regardless, it feels like pulling teeth to get most of these businesses to take advantage of either the services available to them or the coaching and analysis I can offer in their proper use. This is an ongoing battle I’m not willing to forsake at this time, as I am committed to seeing my little town weather this economic storm and, if at all possible, even thrive. I’m working on different methods to help and am hopeful that some combination of offers will allow me to be both useful and modestly profitable. In addition, I hope to share more and more of what I’m discovering as I travel this new road. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit:

Winston-Salem-SEO.com


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


Would You Pass Up Free Advertising?

Foursquare Logo

Attract New and Reward Loyal Customers

I’ve been concentrating on a couple of new clients and have neglected to post for a couple of weeks. During this time I’ve been thinking about some of the subjects I’d like to cover. One of those is the use of Foursquare for small, retail businesses. Actually, it can be used for virtually any type of business, but the usage model it presents is most applicable to businesses with lots of traffic and churn. I see them as being in somewhat of a pyramid. For instance, those businesses that will get the most value from Foursquare are restaurants, bars, and clubs. Next in line are retail outlets and, finally, service businesses with a brick and mortar location.

Other types of businesses can use the service to get some free advertising, but if your business isn’t amenable to friends sharing the location (primarily because they want to enjoy each others’ company), it’s not going to have the same kind of value for you. As an example, there are Dentist’s offices who use it to present teeth cleaning and whitening specials. I am pretty sure people don’t check in to their Dentist’s office because they’re having a bang-up time and want to share it with their friends. However, everyone who uses Foursquare on their phone is going to get an impression of the special the office has created. You never know and, after all, it’s currently free!

Thanks to a heads-up from one of my friends, @mor_trisha, I read an article at ClickZ (authored by )  making essentially the same points I wanted to make. I’d like give you my version of why I think Foursquare is an important channel for small business to use, with a bit of local flavor for examples. I’d also like to expand a bit on how to use the service if you are a business owner considering using it.

First, let me say a few things about Foursquare in case you aren’t aware of what it is and how it’s used. Foursquare is a location-based, check-in application that consumers with smart phones can download and use to find nearby locations their friends frequent, as well as check-in when they are there. In addition, those merchants who have taken the time to “claim” their venue using the website provided for their use can create specials to entice new customers and to reward the loyalty of their ongoing customers. More about that in a bit.

As a user, Foursquare provides you with the ability to “check in” at a restaurant, pub, retail outlet, or service provider’s location whenever you are there. Using your phone’s GPS system you are provided, through the app, with a list of those venues that are close by. You can also see if any of your friends (or anyone else for that matter) is at a particular location so you can join them if you wish. In a rural environment or in a small town with few users, this capability is probably not all that useful. In my hometown, which is relatively small, the usage is now growing to the point where enough people are checking in for it to be useful. I imagine in large, urban areas it’s very useful – and likely lots of fun for some. There is also a couple of gaming aspects (points, earned badges) to using the service, but I’ll save that for another post.

Foursquare Globe

Think Global, Check-in Local

For business owners, Foursquare provides some interesting capabilities that are available for free. You cannot access them, however, until you take a little time to “claim” your venue. This is a relatively painless process that involves creating an account if you don’t already have one, finding your location on their website,  and clicking on the link that appears on the right hand side of your screen. It says “Do you manage this venue? Claim here.” Once you click on the link you will have to answer a few more questions, then agree to receive a phone call where you will be given a four-digit code to enter on another screen. After that, you will have access to some useful tools, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Now, I said relatively painless for a reason. I have had several instances where a business that’s been around for a long time was unable to use their phone number because Foursquare said they couldn’t verify it belonged to them. Since they had the number for quite some time, I’m unclear why this happens. Nevertheless, it isn’t the end of the road. Foursquare will give you the opportunity to have them contact you by snail mail, in which case you’ll receive the code you need as well as a cling to put in your window to advertise your presence on the site.

Once you have claimed your venue you will have access to their “Manager Tools”. These include venue statistics, which will show you number of check-ins, social reach (whether or not the info was sent to Twitter or Facebook), time, gender, and age breakdowns (as available), and the profiles of your visitors. This information can be presented in numerous time slices, e.g. today, last week, last 30, 60, & 90 days, or all. All of this information is useful for understanding the penetration and coverage you’re getting with people who use Foursquare.

However, in my opinion the most useful tool of all (and the one that will really make the stats worthwhile) is the ability to create campaigns and specials. To start a campaign you simply add a special, of which there are five designed to attract new customers and two designed to reward the loyalty of existing customers. These specials (with my suggested ways they might be used) are as follows:

  • Attract new customers
    • Swarm Special (If 10 people check in at the same time you all get 20% off your meal, etc.)
    • Friends Special (Check in with 3 friends and dessert is free for the group)
    • Flash Special (The first 10 check-ins after 8pm get a free beverage)
    • Newbie Special (Get a free appetizer on your first check-in)
    • Check-in Special (Get a half-price beverage every time you check in)
  • Reward existing customers
    • Loyalty Special (Get a free appetizer every fourth time you check in)
    • Mayor Special (The Mayor gets 25% off their entire bill)

Foursquare also provides some nice, printable flyers to hand out to your customers and your employees, so everyone knows how it works and what an “opened” special looks like. Hint – if it’s in black and white, it hasn’t been unlocked. There’s also a lock icon that appears as unlocked when it is.

Ms. Jenning pointed out four good examples of how to (and not to) use Foursquare specials to get the results you’re looking for. I’d like to do the same for four locations in my neighborhood.

Aeropostale

They offer a standard check-in special. Each check-in gets you $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. With a purchase of exactly $50 that works out to a 20% discount; large enough to entice new customers. Frankly, I would have used a straight 20% discount, perhaps with a min (maybe even a max), rather than a minimum purchase. As it stands, if you spend $100 (and who spends only $50 on clothing nowadays?) you’re only getting a 10% discount. Maybe not enough to bring in new business.

Cherry on Top

They also offer a check-in special of 10% off with every check-in. This isn’t a bad deal. Most people are going to go for ice cream or frozen yogurt after a meal, or as a summer-time treat, when they feel like it and, all things being equal, I would go to the place that offers a discount. Most don’t, so I suspect this is at least marginally helping them compete with the other venues in town.

Limon Latin Grill

This one is somewhat similar to the example given by Ms. Jennings of Bangkok Joe’s. It’s a bit puzzling to me why they think this would entice anyone. They actually offer three check-in specials presented as one. Your first check-in is worth $2.00 on a drink, the second is $5.00 off any entree after five check-ins, the third is a free drink after 10 check-ins. This is not an inexpensive restaurant and I believe a normal meal, especially if it includes a drink, will cost at least $20. This makes the second of the specials worth about 5%; not exactly something to write home about. The same goes for the other ones. None of them seem very enticing. I’d be curious to know if they’re getting much action at all. I actually used the first one, but only because I went there to see a friend’s band playing. The waitress was unfamiliar with the entire concept, which leads me to believe they aren’t getting much traction out of the campaign. I’m not surprised.

California Pizza Kitchen

This venue is using a Friends Special, stated so: “Show you phone to a manager and get 20% off when you and 3 friends check-in to the same CPK! Excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity, gift cards. Not valid w/other offers. Valid at participating locations.” What I get from this is the place is probably micromanaged, as I find it a bit mystifying they don’t trust their wait staff to validate the check-ins. It’s also a bit comical to me they feel the need to qualify the offer so carefully. Lighten up! Nevertheless, 20% off isn’t a bad deal for a mid-priced meal with 3 of your BFFs.

There are numerous other examples of specials being offered, many by venues you probably wouldn’t expect to find using them. I want to think about them a little more and maybe drop in to a couple to find out how they’re doing with them. The lesson here – if you’re running a restaurant, bar, nightclub, or a retail store with the potential for lots of foot traffic, your venue has probably already been entered into Foursquare’s database. Now you need to get out there, claim it, and start providing some specials to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, IT’S FREE, but that probably won’t last forever. Why not take advantage of it while you can? You’re welcome.


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