Social Loco Conference Highlights LBS Brand Marketing

July 14, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

The Social Loco conference in San Francisco highlighted brands leveraging social location. However, it seems as if the conference focused more on the social than the location element. As one attendee said, “Location as a topic is almost like electricity as a topic, it’s just there.” In other industry news, veteran location executive Kanwar Chadha is moving on…


SAN FRANCISCO — Most companies and attendees at the recent Social Loco conference here realize that while social is big, and such companies as Home Depot and Kraft are looking hard at it, the location part of it still has detractors who don’t know what to do with it.

The problem with social location advertising is that ad execs and large companies don’t understand it — or know how to spend money against it, said Marc Prioleau, managing director of Prioleau Advisors.

Prioleau said location industry executives would talk to each other on who is going to rule the world, with little effect. “[The problem is] that no one came from brand backgrounds and were hacking around an application, rather than focusing on a brand’s objective. Some of the ideas that were hot two years ago…aren’t so hot now,” he said.

The big impact of location-based services, or social loco marketing, is getting consumers to take specific actions to get into a store, said speakers on a mobile panel. Location is relevant when a company can use it as a signal of intent to bring in a five- to 10-percent conversion [sale] rate. “There still has to be relevant and interesting ads, which will open the floodgates for innovation to come in,” said one panelist.

Proximity marketing may be the key ingredient to making LBS a big part of a brand’s advertising strategy. Panelists believe that a large part of consumer purchasing comes in the proximity of someone’s home. Around 40 percent of mobile searches are local.

The fact that a lot of searches are local is not enough, said Di-Ann Eisnor of Waze. “[Users] say that, ‘I am doing this thing already, what else could I be doing [around this area]?” she said. “Intent becomes very powerful — people sharing that intent.”

A venture capital speaker said that brand managers at Pepsi, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, and others are holding back money to find new ways to have consumers “buy that one more can of Pepsi.” He said that brands are looking at social location as ways to try something they haven’t before. “They will get some air time with some senior leaders because of that,” he said.

Still, hard to convice die-hard VCs that location is the way to go. “Social loco [constitutes] two important elements [of advertising]. But I don’t wake up and say, ‘Let’s do a social loco deal today’ — what is this business going to build over time?” asked John Malloy of BlueRun Ventures.

One VC said that LBS is a technology, not necessarily a business mobile. “Investing in mobile, yes, but that’s like saying we invest in people who walk around on two legs. The challenge with location is that it tells me where I am, but not necessarily tells me what to do,” he said. “We need to see a connection to revenue. That’s a challenge with companies such as foursquare — to get a distribution to a network of merchants. Until you are getting paid, it’s just theoretical.”

Travel May Be LBS Niche Market

Using social location applications helps travel companies, airlines, hotels, and others in that industry find customers, said panel members. “Consumers are starting to look at social commerce and social proofing as a way to intelligently tap into friends. They are looking at five hotels my friends have been to,” said Kevin Fliess, Room 77 general manager and vice president of products. “Location and price is a huge consideration — and reading reviews from friends has more value than reading anonymous reviews.”

“One of the challenges we face — location is sensitive — how they can share their trips [is important]. Clearly, the more options you deliver is confusing to consumers,” Nancy Ramamurthi, TripIt vice president, product management and marketing.

One of the off-shoots of travel may be photography. David Staas, CEO of jiwire, said that the company surveyed 800 mobile consumers who used smartphones as the primary device to take a photo. “There is a location component to it; 31 percent want to remember where they took the picture,” he said. “Men and women we surveyed had different behaviors. Women want to use location to communicate with a broader network; 91 percent take pictures on the go; 20 percent of them are more likely to location tag.”

Big Names and Big Companies Rarely Say Anything

At such conferences as Social Loco, big-name entities such as Facebook and Google speak, which draw attendees. Sad thing is that none them say anything, most knowledgeable industry vets agree.

Emily White, Facebook’s director of mobile partnerships, was a keynote speaker at Social Loco and fits in this big-company, no-substance conference speak genre. Yet the big media outlets, because it was Facebook speaking, quoted her with the earth-shaking news that mobile is important, and, hold on to your seat, “the web is being rebuilt around people.” Note to these big companies: Cut the PR stuff and ‘I’m so hip and my company owns the world’ talk, particularly when you are talking to a crowd of savvy marketing executives.

Privacy Is Dead: That’s News to Me

Actually, really isn’t news to me. Anytime a conference has a privacy panel, you know that fireworks will ensue and nothing ever gets resolved by the time the panel ends.

Social Loco’s privacy panel was no different. One panel member said privacy is boring. “It’s boring to legislate, like seatbelts and helmets,” he said.

A Qualcomm speaker said the company has a lawyer who does nothing but work privacy issues. Another speaker, in a rather politically incorrect manner, said more people are harmed from the Catholic Church than by Facebook’s location privacy policy.

Chadha Leaving CSR/SiRF after 17 Years

After more than 17 years with SiRF, including three as chief marketing officer following a merger with CSR, Kanwar Chadha is moving on. In a note to colleagues, he said he has “decided to move on and explore new destinations in my journey of adventure and discovery.”

When Chadha co-founded SiRF in 1995, the company wanted to sell GPS for consumers, which was revolutionary as most in the industry were still trying to sell survey equipment.

“Many thought we were pipe dreamers, some felt we were foolish to enter a market dominated by big companies with a technology controlled by the Department of Defense, and others looked at us as another flash-in-the-pan start-up,” he said. “We were technologists and evangelists at the same time. We developed innovative technologies and products to make GPS work in environments that system was never designed for, but are important for consumer usage such as urban canyons and dense foliage; all keeping in mind price points that mainstream consumers could afford.”

Chadha was proud of an idea book he called “Navigations,” which outlined “futuristic, but artistic concept devices and scenarios highlighting potential use cases of GPS in our daily lives,” he said. “Things we may take for granted today but seemed quite far-fetched in 1995. It was expensive collateral, but probably the best I have done in my life, and it became quite popular,” he said.

During his tenure at SiRF, the company acquired the GPS businesses of Motorola and Conexant as well some smaller companies such as Centrality, Enuvis, Impulsesoft, Kisel, and TrueSpan. He was at the company during the 2004 initial public offering and its merger with CSR in 2009.

“Many of the original SiRFers have moved on, and I have focused my last three years on helping transform CSR into a ‘platform-focused company’ from being just a component supplier. There are many interesting challenges ahead, such as making indoor location reliable and meeting consumer expectations with location across a broad range of applications,” Chadha said.


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