Excellent article on Location Based Service (LBS) strategies by John Battelle.
Location, Location, Enterprise?
by JohnBattelle on 09-09-2011 01:12 PM
If you keep up with trends in the Internet space (and you must: After all, you’re reading Input/Output, right?), then you no doubt have heard about “Location Based Services,” or LBS. In short, location services is a fancy way of describing how businesses deliver value to a customer based on where the customer is at a given time. The location knowledge is gleaned from data acquired through the rise of the mobile Internet, as well as other infrastructure developments like CRM and real-time marketing platforms. But more on those in another post.
There are scores of startups in this space, and most of them face consumers, asking them to “check in” to a location; in a more recent trend, the consumer might “check in” to a behavior (I’m watching this TV show!) or an event (I’m at the Web 2 Summit conference!). Given the public face of location services as seemingly lightweight consumer applications, it’s easy to dismiss their usefulness to business, in particular large enterprises.
Don’t make that mistake.
Mapping Your Success
As I’ve said many times, location is the most important signal to emerge in our economy since search. Does your enterprise have a search strategy? Then it’s time to start thinking about your location strategy as well.
Here’s why. We’re all in business to sell things, whether direct to consumers, or to other companies.
If you’re in the direct to customer business – anyone with a major brand, let’s say – then the important of location is extremely clear. The future of brands is to have conversations with their customers at scale, leveraging digital technology as a platform to enable those conversations.
I won’t opine (too much) on why I believe this to be true. Let’s just say that consumers expect brands to respond to their queries. Think about search: If you are, say, a major clothing retailer, and a consumer types “best Fall dresses” into Google, I’m guessing there’s a pretty large team in your organization (and your agency) who worry about whether your brand and its products are at or near the top of those results.
As a recent Pew study proves, consumers are now taking their “queries” on the road, so to speak. Their mere physical presence in a commercial context constitutes a “search,” and your business had better be ready to respond to that “location based” query. For more on this concept, read The Gap Scenario.
But retail wars are only part of the direct-to-consumer location shift. Location isn’t just about offering a deal when a customer is near a retail outlet. It’s about understanding the tapestry of data that customers create over time, as they move through space, ask questions of their environment, and engage in any number of ways with your stores, your channel, and your competitors. Thanks to those smartphones in their pockets, your customers are telling you what they want – explicitly and implicitly – and what they expect from you as a brand. Fail to listen (and respond) at your own peril.
Fine, you might argue, consumer brands have to pay attention to location. But not business-to-business enterprises.
Wrong. First, if you haven’t heard of “consumerization,” you should read up on the concept: Your employees are your most valuable asset. They expect your enterprise to work the way the rest of the world works. That means they expect your company to be smart about how it responds to them as employees, in many contexts, not the least of which is location.
If you are a large, far flung enterprise, knowing where your employees are, what they’re up to, and how you can help them be more productive should be someone’s full time job. The employees are willing to tell you this information; in fact, they probably are required to.
But rather than act like Big Brother, your company could become more like a Coach: providing tips for traveling employees, supplying connections to key contacts for your sales force as it moves through its territories, and giving a useful orientation for workers in new offices or new contexts.
Not to mention, for business to business enterprise, perhaps the most important driver of success is also your brand: in the minds of your best customers. Understanding who your customers are as businesspeople (and, as the best sales people will tell you, as human beings) and proving you understand what they might need based on the signal of location will become a significant differentiator in coming years.
It may seem far fetched now, but mark my words: Customers buy from companies they trust. And trust is built on understanding – which, in turn, is built on relationships. The new signal of location is a key element of relating to your customers, be they consumers or business partners.