Location is the most important signal to emerge in our economy since search. Does your business have a search strategy? Then it's time to start thinking about your location strategy as well.
If you keep up with trends in the Internet space, then you no doubt have heard about "Location Based Services" such as Foursquare or Gowalla.
They're often discussed as fun consumer tools - find your friends or recommend a restaurant. But if you're running a business, you need to look at them differently.
"Location" is a fancy way of describing how a business delivers value to customers based on knowing where they are at a given time. This knowledge is gleaned from the rise of the mobile Internet, as well as other infrastructure developments like CRM and real-time marketing platforms.
There are scores of startups in this space, and most of them face consumers, asking them to "check in" to a location, or, in a more recent trend, into a behavior (I'm watching this TV show!) or an event (I'm at the Web 2 Summit conference!). Given the public face of location services as seemingly lightweight consumer apps, it's easy to dismiss their usefulness to businesses.
What's Your Location Strategy?
Don't make that mistake.
As I've said many times, location is the most important signal to emerge in our economy since search. Does your business have a search strategy? Then it's time to start thinking about your location strategy as well.
Here's why. We're all in business to sell things, whether direct to consumers, or to other companies. If you're in the direct-to-customer business, then the importance of location is extremely clear. The future of brands is to have conversations with customers at scale, leveraging digital technology to enable those conversations.
I won't opine (too much) on why I believe this to be true - let's just say that consumers expect companies to respond to their queries. Think about search: If you are, say, a clothing retailer, and a consumer types "best Fall dresses" into Google, I'm guessing there are people in your organization who worry about whether your brand and its products appear at the top of those results.
Taking Queries on the Road
As a recent Pew study proves, consumers are now taking their "queries" on the road, so to speak. Their mere physical presence in a commercial context constitutes a "search", and your business should be ready to respond to that "location based" query. For more on this concept, read The Gap Scenario.
But retail wars are only part of the direct-to-consumer location shift. Location is about more than offering a deal when a customer is near a retail outlet. It's about understanding the tapestry of data over time that customers create as they move through space, ask questions of their environment, and engage in any number of ways with your company, your channel and your competitors. Thanks to those smart phones in their pockets, your customers are telling you, explicitly and implicitly, what they want and expect from you. Fail to listen (and respond) at your own peril.
Fine, you might argue, consumer brands have to pay attention to location, but not business-to-business companies.
First, if you haven't heard of "consumerization”, you should get smart on the concept: your employees are your most valuable asset, and they expect your enterprise to work the way the rest of the world works. That means they expect your company to be smart about how it responds to them as employees in many contexts, including location.
Knowing where your employees are, what they're up to, and how you can help them be more productive should be a full time job for someone. They're willing to tell you. In fact, they probably are required to. But rather than seem like Big Brother, your company could become more like a Coach - provide tips for traveling employees, connections to key contacts for your sales force as they move through their territories, and useful orientation for workers who find themselves in new offices and/or new contexts.
Relating to Your Customers
Not to mention, for business-to-business companies, perhaps the most important driver of success is also your brand - in the minds of your best customers. Understanding who they are as business people (and as human beings) and proving you understand what they might need based on the signal of location will become a significant differentiator in coming years. It may seem far-fetched now, but mark my words: customers buy from companies they trust. And trust is built on understanding, which in turn is built on relationships. The new signal of location is a key element of relating to your customers - be they consumers or business partners.
This post, written by John Battelle, was originally published on HP’s TechBiz, a community for midmarket IT leaders. John Battelle is an accomplished journalist and serial entrepreneur. Founder and CEO of Federated Media Publishing, Battelle is also the Executive Producer of the Web 2.0 Summit and band manager of the weblog Boing Boing. In 2005 Battelle authored The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, a best seller published in more than 25 languages. Previously, he occupied the Bloomberg chair in Business Journalism for the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He was CEO of Standard Media International (SMI), publisher of The Industry Standard. Prior to that, he was a co-founding editor of Wired magazine.