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Location Based Apps Are Cool, But What Are They Good For?

As location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla gain more and more users, and the coverage of retailer’s using these services grows apace (the PR guys and tech media are really showing nice symbiosis here), the long-term challenge for retailers remains sustained differentiation. These services may be creating buzz and driving short-term results, but when everyone has the same access to the same tools, it’’s unclear how meaningful the technology really is in producing results.

If the goal of the marketer is to achieve short-term objectives, all is well and good. A friend of the company once reminded us that discounting can drive behavior, but doesn’t produce long-term brand relationships; that’’s where the hard work is, and it’’s work that can’’t be compressed into a weekend promotion. While it’’s fun and interesting to have short-term projects around some of these new technologies, whether the important long-term results can be achieved is an open question.

It’’s surely worth pursuing the experiments and running the campaigns to see how LBS (location based services) can work, and we’’re all watching them with great interest. But if they’’re offering the same thing to everyone, and unable to fit coherently into a broader strategy aimed at sustainable brand engagement, they risk being marginalized over time as an interesting but ultimately unproductive distraction.

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