BrightKite Shows Next Phase of Check-in Apps

The novelty of mobile check-ins has largely worn off for the early adopters, hence the arrival of the phrase “check-in fatigue.” Fairly quickly it became clear however that Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Yelp and others using check-ins would become couponing or mobile loyalty plays. In some cases there’s also branding angle too. BrightKite was one of the first of the check-in services, if not the first one. But the company has been overshadowed by newer rivals. It created the novel to address check-in fatigue and LBS fragmentation. Geotoko tries to do a similar thing (aggregation) on the advertiser side and specifically for SMBs — write once and promote your offer on many apps simultaneously. BrightKite has been doing some interesting promotions with brands (e.g., Starbucks), as have others. Now there’s another one with Visa and McDonalds. People are promoted to go to a McDonalds to subsequently get a $5 Visa card. It’s pitched as $5 off on a McDonalds meal, which is a bit of a bait and switch. But the deal will be appealing to many BrightKite users. To get the deal, of course, you have to physically visit a McDonalds and check in: Presentation1                         The power of this is that the ad unit leads you to a nearby McDonalds and the check-in closes the loop on the promotion for the merchant. The problem and challenge for brands and merchants is the relatively small audience of users overall for LBS-check-in apps and the even smaller one for any particular publisher, in this case BrightKite. While the overall audience is around 10 – 12 million in the US (based on the apps’ self-reported numbers) this is still a pretty small audience. Yet it’s wise for brands and marketers to be testing programs like this to see how they perform and how consumers react. This is one model for the future of mobile advertising: incentives to visit a store or retail location. Google and others are doing similar things with maps and local search on mobile devices. And this is what’s new and really compelling about mobile (beyond general ad performance): the ability to deliver someone to a store or physical place at a time of interest or need. These sorts of deals and promotions have the capacity to help push check-ins beyond the early adopters into the mainstream. Though deals by themselves may not be sufficient. Facebook because of its size and installed base also can help mainstream check-ins with Places. However that remains to be seen. But I believe the game dynamics and competition around badges and status is by themselves are unlikely to push LBS further into the mainstream.