When I was a kid, my best friend had a very hyper dog-named Herald (my friend was pretty hyper too). We used to get a kick out of the fact that Herald peed on everything, everywhere. Actually, as 10-year-old boys, we were impressed he could actually pee that much! The dog was actually marking: his territory, new things, or even old things. Herald actually gave me my first lesson in location-based marketing.
Fast forward to Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. I love using Foursquare and I’ve read over and over again how brands will use these tools to reward customers. In the mean time, most of the reward comes in the form of becoming “mayor” of different locations.
But if rewards are key to location based marketing, why do people still do it if they have no chance of attaining those rewards? Even though I’ve lost mayorships of some places, I still check in when I go there, as do most of the people I know. The only place I’ve actually used a reward from was the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop on Church Street in Burlington.
I think there's more to it than that: I think services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places bring out a reptilian need in us to leave our mark. We mark our territory (“I’m the Mayor!”) or we mark as messages (“Hey everyone, that’s me you smell”) or we mark when we find something new (“Check out this great restaurant”).
In short, we use location based services in the same way dogs use their urine.
Web MD has this description on its Web page:
Exciting social situations can trigger urine marking. Some male dogs only urine mark when in the presence of female dogs (especially if they’re in heat), and some urine mark only when interacting with other male dogs. Some dogs only urine mark when visiting homes where other dogs have urine marked before. Other dogs only urine mark when they become highly aroused and over stimulated in social situations. These dogs often mark nearby objects, people or other dogs.”
Now just replace dogs with the word people and urine mark with check in.
It makes sense doesn’t it? And just so you don't think I'm getting sexist on you here, it turns out that female dogs have the same marking instincts as male dogs.
Art by Dug Nap, click here for more of Dug's work.