Why Hyperlocal Marketing Will Best Gamification

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Brandon Hull is a guest author. If you’d like to submit a guest post, click here.

Hyperlocal marketing strategy and gamification both strive to accomplish the same purposes: attract new customers and drive increased customer-visit frequency. And yet one of these won’t be fueling marketing efforts just a couple years from now. In my mind, it’s hyperlocal that wins, while gamification, as defined and promoted today, disappears.

Now, that doesn’t mean gaming elements will disappear from business altogether. We’ll still have rewards programs. And punch cards. And so forth. But I think we’ll see an eventual (maybe sudden?) drop-off in clichéd gamification elements such as badges, social leaderboards, and elaborate point systems. (Editor’s note: Hull is an employee of Buzztime, a “developer and distributor of…games.”)

There are two primary reasons I believe this. But first, I should say that I’m assessing this as an individual consumer, because I think it’s the most practical and grounded.

1. What’s going on in my immediate community (think politics, crime, personal services) has a greater impact on me in the short-term than what’s going on in Washington.
I care about the decisions being made, and needing to be made, in D.C. Obviously. But a registered sex offender moving in a neighborhood away? A car down the street getting broken into last night? A multi-vehicle accident on my path to the office? I need to know these things now. Hyperlocal news has me covered. If I need a lawyer, or an auto mechanic, or a plumber? Hyperlocal search and hyperlocal recommendations can solve my problem. If I’m looking to try a new restaurant that’s not too far away, hyperlocal community sites solve that problem.

As Googles Ben Wood stated earlier this year, “Ultimately we think location is at the heart of consumer search. It has context, it has meaning.” I can’t avoid hyperlocal. I need it — it’s not just a nice-to-have.

On the other hand, gamification just isn’t vital. I can live without honoring my Foursquare mayor. While Pew Internet reports that 28% of American adults use mobile or social location-based services of some kind, only 4% actually check-in. What mattered most to these folks? The hyperlocal aspect of Foursquare or the check-in game element? It’s clear.

2. My desire to explore new places to visit (think restaurants) is greater than my desire to squeeze everything I can out of singular destinations.
No excessively gamified loyalty system from “Restaurant A” is going to quell my desire to check-out the new “Restaurant B” in town, recommended by three of my local friends — friends who had no game-based reason for recommending it to me.

AJ Bombers is an oft-referenced restaurant that has successfully leveraged social media marketing. Its early weapon of choice? Foursquare (there they are again). But if you peruse Joe Sorges presentationon the subject, you’ll quickly discover you’re reading a case study on hyperlocal marketing…not one on the value of Foursquare’s gaming elements. Not hyperlocal marketing in the form of advertising, but certainly hyperlocal marketing in the form of a massive word-of-mouth and carefully crafted PR campaign.

People flocked to AJ Bombers not to win badges so much, but because the hyperlocal buzz was extraordinary. The startup restaurant played into Milwaukee residentsdesire to find a hip, new restaurant. Incidentally, that last link takes you to a hyperlocal site to learn more about the chain.

In this age of constant sharing and friends’ recommendations, it’s unreasonable for Restaurant A to cause me to spend all my eating-out budget with them. If a restaurant has to choose between hyperlocal marketing and gamification to keep people coming through the front door, this one’s a no-brainer.

I don’t know about you, I’m just not always in the mood to play games. They have their place — as actual games. And they can even deliver when used in the right way — as actual games. I’m not always driven to earn the next available badge. I don’t always care about that leaderboard. But I am constantly consumed with what’s going on around me. Again, it’s unavoidable.

Gamification counts on me caring — passionately — about a brand and my standing with it and my peers — at all times. But very few brands command that attention. It’s nice to see game theory taking hold in marketing, but it’s a nice-to-have, not a must.

Finally, it’s simply not reasonable to think that companies can affordably or effectively implement genuine principles of game theory. Need some assistance with hyperlocal marketing? You’ll find someone. But a gaming expert to help guide your business down that path? Good luck. (The result of this fact is the overemphasis on the  –ification, and not the game, as Nathan Adkisson puts it.)

Both one year and ten years from now, the companies that will stand out locally are those that connect in a hyperlocal way. They market hyperlocally. They pinpoint their online advertising to focus hyperlocally. They provide hyperlocally relevant content. They spur hyperlocal recommendations. While it will never be an either/or (hyperlocal v. gamification) proposition, hyperlocal will remain — and possibly expand — as crucial for local success any other marketing strategy.

Brandon Hull is VP of national accounts for NTN Buzztime.