Monday, May 24, 2010

Trusting those who weren't paid to tell you something

On Wednesday to Friday last week I attended Dave Duarte's Nomadic Marketing course at UCT, and on this course I discovered what is supposed to be this year's Next Big Thing, Foursquare.

Foursquare is a social networking platform for mobile that centres around reviewing and sharing knowledge about a city. How it works is that people 'check in' to various spots around their city and leave comments, suggestions, ideas and feedback about the place that they're at. These comments also notify their friends.

So if I want to try a new restaurant out, for example, I would log in to foursquare on my phone and it will tell me where the nearest restaurants are to me right now (via GPS and googlemaps). I don't need to know this beforehand, and so essentially I don't need to have ever heard of the restaurant. As a marketer, it makes me think: is there therefore any value in 'brand awareness'? I don't need to have been bombarded with messages about which restaurants are the best in Cape Town, and I don't need to try and remember information that arrived when it wasn't relevant to me? (ie. when I wasn't looking for a restaurant at that exact moment).

We all know that 92.3% of stats are bullshit, but even so: a vast majority of people (between 70 and 90%) would trust their friends or even strangers over advertising. People have been barking on about the power of word of mouth for years. But now this word-of-mouth functionality is easy, instant and mobile. Assuming foursquare takes off, you will be able to see exactly what everyone (and especially all of your friends) thought of this restaurant just down the road from you.

Obviously, it means that marketing communications can't lie. No more fluff, no more exaggeration. But will there even be a point to advertising? If awareness is of limited value, and reputation is built by delivering something that people value rather than saying anything in particular, then why say anything? Your consumers will do the talking for you.

And what will the role and value of a brand be in the future? Brands are supposed to be shortcuts to make consumer decision-making easier (you don't have to think about the functional benefits or social ingredients of every soap in a store because the brand already stands for something in your mind) - but the route to mass peer reviews is becoming almost as short as the shortcut in your mind.

Granted this only works for location-based businesses at the moment, but I'm sure similar things will emerge for products and services soon. I've loved the platitude that "people are the new media" for ages, but only now can I appreciate what a massive shift this is going to be.


  1. Don't you think that this kind of thing has already happened though? If social media continues down a twitter route where you chat to all kinds of people, as opposed to a facebook route where you know all your friends (I'd imagine foursquare sits here?), then hasn't the market has been tapped by TripAdvisor and Food24 Resturant reviews and that kind of thing?

    I dunno - I can't back that up at all. I have no stats or anything. It's just what I think. I just think that being spoken to about things by strangers has been done. And being spoken to by your friends about places should be done naturally.

    It'll be interesting to see how it pans out. CT is probably the best testing ground for something like this. Restaurant reviews and whatnot seem to have more interest here - certainly more than Joburg.

  2. Sorry correction - "I just think that being spoken to about things by strangers has been done." should read "I just think that being spoken to about things by strangers is being done.

  3. It's a bit of both. You see your friend's comments when they check in at places, but you can also see everyone's comments at a place you're interested in - and can link to the commentor's facebook or twitter to see if they're the kind of person whose opinion you value.

    I suppose it is being done elsewhere, but this is so easy and convenient. It tells you what's near you (You have to search on TripAdvisor and Food24, don't you?), and it's designed for phone. One click and you're in. But I get you, maybe it'll just capture the impulse diners

  4. Al, I agree with your argument that Foursquare and the ongoing interconnectedness of our society will definitely have repercussions for branding, but I still think there is a very big role for branding to play. Consider the wide range of preferences and tastes of consumers. Thousands of strangers may like Tiger-Tiger, but I sure as hell wouldn't (obviously this is where the opinion of your friends on such a site would be useful, but if the idea is based on spontaneity, then having a friend who has experienced and rated the particular experience may pose problematic). I would think that Foursquare and similar products are just going to cause branding to move into a more succinct and concentrated direction, that would have to be more accurately aimed at one's target-market.

    Also, Foursquare and similar products may hold possible advantages to brands, if they use them in inventive ways. Restaurants could advertise their specials on such a product or something similar.

    My point is not to discredit your argument, on the contrary I think it has merit. My point is simply that products like this are forcing branding to evolve and adapt, rather that rendering branding obsolete.