From where I sit right now, I can check in to a restaurant, a diner, a Subway, a gym and a bar. I can check in to a hospital, a theater, a hotel and even a duck pond. If I’m getting adventurous, I can check in to Two and a Half Men, My So-Called Life, some Mythbusters, or just Chuck. Really, the platforms are already there for me to check in to any place, any show, almost any brand at any time. (And if you’re lying, you might get a visit by the cops.)
So you can see how this gets hairy for marketing: if you can check in anywhere, to any thing, at any time, how in the world do I know that you’re really at my business? That you’re really watching my show? That you’re really interacting with my brand? A new generation of check-in apps are coming into the market to answer just that - call it the Check-In Guarantee. And let’s face it, the current check-in process is cumbersome, anyway - I have to sort through a broad list of locations, or shows, or brands just to get to YOUR product? No way - marketers should make this one-button, one-click easy.
Enter apps like Shopkick. Released in August of last year, this app goes beyond location to “check you in” inside the store. In fact, the app can track users to specific locations inside the store - aisles, endcaps, even the dressing room. The technology is unique, if somewhat hardware-intensive: audio transmitters are placed at specific locations within the store, pumping out a sound outside human hearing, but something the app can detect through your phone’s microphone. (Kinda sounds like a digital dog whistle for shoppers, but that may just be me.)
Watching TV? There’s a next-gen check-in app for that, too. Just pull out your iPhone loaded with IntoNow, the latest check-in app for what shows you’re into, now (hence the name). To me, the best description is something like Shazam for TV - you tap a button when you’re watching a show, and IntoNow listens to the audio track, mapping what it hears to their SoundPrint database. It’s pretty robust, too: I pulled this out while watching the Grammy’s just a couple of weeks ago, and even though it was a live event the app pegged it on the first try. (Think about that even further - I was listening to Rihanna perform a song that she’s done in tons of concerts - the SoundPrint had to know I was listening to her performance at the Grammys.)
I think you’re going to see more and more of these kinds of experiences - the app/site/tool telling YOU where you are or what you’re listening to, asking you right then if you’d like to check in. But even with a fun new method (and lemme tell you, I always get a weird nerd giggle watching IntoNow match whatever I’m watching), there’s some basic problems these experiences have to overcome:
The app needs to know when I want my privacy. Maybe there will come a day when you put your phone in “incognito” mode? It’s fun and simple to have the app listen to where you are or what you’re doing, but most users won’t want to tell everyone everything they’re doing. What’s the answer? Total transparency. Just like when apps want to automatically use your location, the UI needs to clearly tell the user what’s going on, AND why they WANT this experience to happen.
The app needs to make smart guesses, and learn from mistakes. If I’m at home, I probably don’t need to check in automatically - make that one manual. And if I go down the street to CVS for a few minutes, the app should know I’m just running out to pick up some diapers for my daughter, and don’t really need to post that as a check-in. Much like Gmail has been doing with their Priority Inbox, the app needs to begin by making some guesses, but learn quickly when I tell it it’s wrong.
The app needs to make checking in rewarding. For Shopkick, those rewards are literal - the more you check in, the more “kickbucks” you get to redeem for actual retailer discounts. Sure, it takes about a bazillion to get anything right now, but that promise will be enough to motivate some. IntoNow provides more of a psychological reward - you want to test this thing out to see if you can stump it, and it’s kinda fun watching the level-meter-like graphics track to the sound volume while it’s listening. Good enough for me to try it out, but is it enough for a long-term relationship? The best apps in this space will combine MANY motivation channels into one experience: status, curiosity, real-world rewards, and many other incentives all at once.
So take some of these new apps for a spin - even if you’re burned out on checking in, you may find a new reason, or at least find it more fun!
Image courtesy Wikimedia.