How SMBs Can Take Advantage of Apple’s Passbook

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It’s no secret that mobile is already playing an important role in retail sales this holiday season. As consumers brave lines and crowds, their mobile phones go with them. Last week IBM reported a 63% growth in mobile sales for Black Friday 2012 year versus a year ago.

Those toting around iPhones running iOS6 can now enjoy a sweet new addition to their local shopping arsenal. Apple’s most recent app innovation, Passbook, lets users aggregate coupons, gift card information, special offers, and purchased deals in one convenient location. These digitized versions of store loyalty cards, coupons, and even boarding passes work exactly the same as the print versions schlepped around in overstuffed wallets. Passbook allows mobile users to start to eliminate the wallet-cloggers and instead keep such items inside their mobile device for easy recall. The app’s promise to drive retail business is so strong that more than 40 major brands and retailers, including Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, LivingSocial, Fandango, and Starbucks, have launched or integrated their app with Passbook.  It’s obvious Apple has struck a chord with national retailers, but how can local businesses use this new marketing tool?

Most local businesses don’t have the resources (or frankly the need) to create a mobile application, let alone one that can be integrated with Passbook. To reach local audiences already engaging with Apple’s latest invention, SMBs can, however, take advantage of a viable mobile alternative, through the use of linked Passbook “passes” (coupons or vouchers) on their site. A number of businesses like PassKit or PassSource are offering a variety of tools granting marketers and small business owners a way to design and launch individual passes for Passbook for any promotion.

PassSource, though still in beta, has both personal and professional accounts available for $89 or $899 a year, respectively. The basic personal account lets users create passes from templates with custom colors and images; these are then tracked and easily updated when necessary through push notifications. The professional account upgrade enables businesses to white-label Pass Source passes, as well as create links to passes for inclusion in marketing distributions. The creation process is simple and easy, and a basic coupon pass would look something like the one on the right.

PassKit lets users create and manage as many as 10 active passes at a given time; it offers a number of upgrade plans for personal accounts, SMBs, developers and larger businesses that range in price from $9.99 to $99.99 a month — as well as a customized enterprise relationship. While is providing its services free for 30 days, the clunky and unclear pass creator tool could deter even savvy local business owners in one visit.

Though the technology surrounding Passbook needs to develop alongside its user base, there is obvious potential here. Whether the goal is offering a deal for a romantic dinner or a baker’s dozen, small businesses can leverage these and other pass creators so they can integrate Passbook passes with their marketing mix via email communications, tweets, and mobile websites. This can help local businesses remain top of mind this season with their increasingly mobile local clientele.

For local businesses still comfortable with more traditional marketing methods, the emergence of Passbook has inspired one of the oldest forms of marketing to become integrated with mobile. Direct-mail coupon veteran Valpak now offers Passbook-compatible coupons via its mobile application. One simply lets the application pinpoint one’s location or enters it manually to reveal all available local offers. The user taps the “share” icon at the bottom left corner of each mobile coupon and then chooses “Add to Passbook.” Each pass is stored within the application and can be redeemed on site. Small business support can’t get more locally optimized than that!

As mobile participation becomes an increasingly essential ingredient for the continued success of local boutiques, restaurants, plumbers, pest control firms, and the like, Passbook offers SMBs a way to get the whole town involved and engaged. Though mobile user activity with Passbook has been slow to start, by next year we may very well see Black Friday ads in the form of apps and “passes” as part of an ever changing lineup of marketing that drives local holiday shopping.

Annisa Farese is the marketing and communications manager for xAd Inc., which leverages local search data to drive performance in search and display campaigns for clients that range from local SMBs to global brands. To learn more about xAd, visit or follow it on Twitter at @xAdInc.