December 13, 2011
How To

Location-Based Email Marketing: 6 tactics to leverage social check-in to grow email lists and improve engagement

SUMMARY: Social media check-ins provide marketers an unprecedented view into the lives of their customers and prospects. Knowing location, and understanding actual behaviors, creates opportunities to captivate an audience with greater relevance during moments when they are most receptive.

See six tactics that exploit the synergies between check-in and email programs, and allow you to increase opt-ins and better understand your audience, reaching them with relevant offers as they engage with your brand.
by Jeri Dube, Freelance Reporter, MarketingSherpa

Through check-ins on mobile devices, the online and offline worlds have collided. This collision is a boon for marketers, allowing them to see customer behaviors and activities that previously existed beyond their sight lines.

Check-ins not only make visible what customers or prospects do when they’re not online, but also when they’re not engaging with your brand. When people opt-in for your location-based service program, they are extending an invitation into their lives.

Adam Steinberg, Segment Marketing Director – Social Media, Silverpop, said, "It is like saying ‘Please deliver me offers based on where I have checked in.’" Even if customers are not at your venue, the opt-in signals that they will welcome offers if they’re anywhere near the location.

Given that people typically use smartphones for check-ins, SMS may appear to be the logical delivery channel for these offers. Email, however, has several advantages.

"Most consumers are still a little uncomfortable being marketed too frequently via SMS," said Loren McDonald, VP Industry Relations, Silverpop. "Consumers feel proprietary about that little icon that lights up when you are expecting your teenage daughter to text you when she’s coming home."

SMS also limits the number of characters and doesn’t allow for graphics. McDonald felt "it’s not the greatest environment" for high-quality, compelling promotions. Email is typically a fundamental part of the marketing infrastructure. Therefore, marketers have the necessary email resources to more readily push out check-in triggered messages and offers.

Foursquare, the most prominent of the myriad location-based services, makes a game of checking in and sharing location. Users compete against "friends" to see who earns the most points in a week. The application also awards ‘mayorships’ for the most days checked into a particular venue.

In June 2011, the company website celebrated reaching 10 million users. Search Engine Watch reporter Rob D. Young wrote the article, "Yeah, that’s 1,000% annual growth." Two months later, Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley announced on Bloomberg TV that users were checking in three million times per day – up from two million six months earlier.

When you take advantage of location-based services, your email program is not only a delivery vehicle for offers, it’s also a beneficiary of the visibility gained through check-ins. The six tactics below show you how to make the most of this growing trend -- from driving more opt-ins to your email programs, to increasing email relevance, to driving physical traffic to your locations.

Tactic #1. Deliver check-in rewards and offers via email

Marketers use lures such as loyalty reward points, contests and sweepstakes to incentivize customers to opt into check-in programs, via the likes of Facebook or Foursquare. Sending rewards, offers or win notifications via email entitles marketers to collect addresses as part of the sign-up process.

Of course, people don’t easily divulge their email addresses. "So the rewards and the offers have to be compelling enough that people are engaged, or intrigued, or greedy enough to relinquish their email address," said Shaila Ittycheria, former Director Local, LocalResponse.

Retailer Tanger Outlets launched a check-in campaign in the beginning of October to differentiate itself, and drive business to its stores for the holiday season. Customers opted in through either Facebook or Foursquare.

After their third check-in, they were entered into a sweepstakes for a $500 shopping spree and they received a voucher for a $10 gift card via email. With two more check-ins, customers were enrolled in a drawing for a trip to Paris and they were emailed a second $10 gift card voucher.

Since the program included a reward sent via email, people supplied their email addresses during sign-up. After six weeks, approximately 5,000 had opted in.

Location-based services are also useful for building B2B email lists. Companies can create check-in programs for seminars and trade shows. Every person who checks in is entered into a drawing for a prize, such as an iPad, and email notifications are sent to the winners.

Tactic #2. Use check-ins as triggers

With "right time, right message" as a basic tenet of email marketing, it’s hard to imagine a more fertile opportunity to send people an offer or coupon than when they have just checked into your business.

"The intent and the timing are clearly signaled by the check in," said McDonald.

Check-ins also create opportunities to communicate with customers when they’re not in your store, but nearby, which is a great time to send a special offer. Depending on specifics, Steinberg has seen redemption rates anywhere from five to 20% on offers sent out in these situations.

To put this in perspective, NCH Marketing Services Inc. reported H1 2011 redemption rates for grocery coupons acquired through in-store handouts at 3.1%, and through "away from store" handouts at 2.5%.

More aggressive marketers can also deliver offers and deals when they see customers check in at a competitor’s location.

In the hotel or hospitality industry, check-ins allow businesses to offer additional services. Steinberg suggested, "Imagine if your hotel, when you land and check in at the airport, sends a message like, ‘Welcome to Atlanta. Would you like dinner reservations tonight?’ or ‘I know you like to exercise, would you like me to book a yoga class for you?’"

Triggered check-in-emails change the tone and texture of email programs. Messages are transformed from general blasts to more personal, one-to-one experiences.

Tactic #3. Refine segmentation with behavioral data

Check-ins are a window into your customers’ lives, enabling a deeper understanding of where they go and what they do. By analyzing check-in data you can determine which customers frequent high-end restaurants, who is loyal to locally owned stores, and who shops at the mall on a weekly basis.

This kind of information helps marketers determine the most suitable promotions and items to feature. For example, a car manufacturer might market a specific car model to people who frequent child-oriented activities, whereas frequent nightclub patrons might receive a different offer. Marketers can also determine which customers are most loyal to their brands. Of this group, savvy marketers will delve deeper, identifying people who share more often. This opens up possibilities to engage differently with the loyal segment, and to send more viral content to valued sharers.

Alternatively, Tanger Outlets’ loyalty sweepstakes enabled the retailer to analyze check-in data to see who opted in, but never checked in at their stores. They are planning an email campaign to retarget people who showed enough interest to sign up for the program, but didn’t visit a store.

On the B2B side, if you use check-ins to track who attended your events and seminars, you can apply the data to scoring prospects, and align email messaging accordingly.

Tactic #4: Extend the definition of check-in

Traditionally (if we can even use that word for a concept that’s only evolved in the past few years), check-ins are an explicit act of using a location-based application to identify where you are. The term "soft check-in," which is an "implied" check-in from social media such as Twitter and Facebook, is now emerging.

For example, if someone tweets they just finished eating a "Bloomin’ Onion", it’s a pretty good assumption they are dining at Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain. And, of course, there are the more obvious Facebook or Twitter posts such as "Standing in line to see Breaking Dawn", the next movie in the Twilight series of films.

Using a natural language filtering algorithm that extracts presence extends the number of check-ins marketers can exploit to engage with people and acquire customer information.

Ittycheria said, "We process over a billion check-ins a month. And roughly 70% of that is the soft/natural language check-ins."

It has become second nature for social media users to constantly share their thoughts, activities and habits.

"In this space, there is so much data," said Ittycheria. "We could call it a generation of narcissists. People put out where they are, what they’re doing all of the time."

This sharing generates a treasure trove of data, which can be used to market to people in a way that makes them feel heard, instead of feeling as if their privacy has been violated.

The language filter can be tweaked for a specific goal. For example, a major cell phone carrier wanted to identify people who were complaining about one of its competitors. Anyone who met the criteria for this soft check-in received a response via Twitter offering to cover any cancellation fees imposed by their current carrier, along with a $100 credit.

Although the initial communication channel was Twitter, there was customer engagement that the cell phone carrier may never have encountered through other channels.

You don’t necessarily have to acquire an email address as part of the opt-in process for the check-in, or initially use email to engage with a check-in. If responses to the check-in are compelling and personal enough, Ittycheria believes prospects will willingly sign up for emails because people react favorably to being heard and having their feelings acknowledged.

People are usually hesitant to give up an asset as precious as their email address. "But the moment they reach me with a very contextually relevant offer that I'm excited about, that whole mindset walks out the door," Ittycheria said.

Tactic #5. Minimize opt outs

With check-in programs, where customers essentially invite a business or a brand into their lives, it’s important not to abuse the privilege. And it’s perhaps even more important to be careful with soft check-ins, because the target audience has not yet opted into a program.

Below are several ways to avoid fatiguing customers:

Limit how often you respond to a check-in

Even if someone is checking in every day, that doesn’t mean they want to hear from the company every single time. You may want to set a limit on how many emails you want to send within a given time period and how long between emails.

For example, you may want to limit the number of emails to three per week, but you want at least 24 hours to elapse between each one.

Tanger Outlets only sends an email after the third and fifth check-ins. Since the email contained a voucher, it has been well-received.

If a third party is sending offers on behalf of the brand, it’s good practice to ensure this party also limits the number of offers it sends.

Make it easy to opt out

If a third party is sending the offer on the brand’s behalf, give people the option to opt out of any offers from that third-party provider as well as the brand.

For soft check-ins, keep these points in mind as well.

Make the check-in response clear

Make sure recipients understand why a brand or a business is communicating with them. This is easy to do by referencing the original post or tweet that implied a check-in and prompted the response in the first place.

The business or brand needs to be the responder

Even if a third party is handling the process, the response needs to appear to come from the business or brand itself.

Maintain a high contextual overlap

If it’s not absolutely obvious that the soft check-in is a relevant fit, err on the conservative side and don’t respond to it.

Tactic #6. Promote your check-in program to your existing email audience

With all the benefits that come with a well-designed check-in campaign, it makes sense to leverage all available channels to promote it. Since email is the universal messaging channel and probably the most powerful way to reach your customers, it only makes sense to develop this new channel using it.

Tanger Outlets leveraged its Tanger Club email list to announce its check-in campaign to its most loyal customers. Of the people who opened the email, eight percent clicked through and 49% of those converted.

Loren McDonald will be a speaker on the Innovation Panel at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2012, February 7-10, at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples:
1. Tanger Outlets’ check-in opt-in webpage
2. Tanger Outlets’ check-in-based loyalty sweepstakes launch email

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Tanger Outlets – Launched holiday season check-in campaign

Silverpop – Check-in campaign solution provider for Tanger Outlets

LocalResponse – Check-in campaign solution provider with natural language filtering algorithm

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