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SoLoMo: Location-Based Mobile Marketing For Non-Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

Posted on 11.04.2012

How do you ask your customers to “check-in” or use a geo-social app when they can’t walk into your building?

It can be a challenge for any business or brand without a store or physical location to create location-based campaigns, but the ideas and creative examples below can get you started, including:

Marketing businesses with no brick-and-mortar location

Expanding the definition of a location

Choosing the appropriate medium

Optimizing location-based marketing with creativity, motivation and value

Introducing SoLoMo 

Does anyone even remember the first smartphones now? It’s been about a decade since they started coming out – with those touch screens and stylus pens and the first Blackberries for email in 2002. 

Our mobile devices have come a long way in 10 years, and a lot more of us are using them. The latest Pew research report shows that 67 percent of U.S. adults aged 18-24 have a phone with an advanced operating system. Even including every age group, the number is still 46 percent. Also notable, is a Pew study stating that 83 percent of Americans have a cell phone. That’s more than 250 million Americans with a mobile device of some kind, smart or otherwise.

Mobile is obviously a huge, and still growing, market; more people have access to a mobile device than to the Internet and those people are doing a lot more on their mobile devices than they used to. For instance, Marin Software reported that sales from mobile devices during the 2011 holiday season doubled to 11 percent versus December 2010. 

With mobile usage likely to pass desktop use by 2013, how can marketers take advantage of everyone carrying their online world in their pockets? What can you do with all of these consumers carrying around cellphones and smartphones, doing their emailing, talking, texting, browsing, playing, shopping and more?

You can connect with consumers wherever they are. Mobile devices are key to connecting a campaign to a consumer’s physical location. That’s why we have buzzwords like SoLoMo or LoSoMo – successful marketing now makes things Social, Local, and Mobile. While location-based mobile marketing isn’t ubiquitous for mobile users, it’s a growing trend you can – and should – be utilizing. Location-based mobile marketing connects the consumer to your campaign because it’s real-time, personal and engaging. It’s your brand wherever they are.

Businesses with No Brick-and-Mortar Location

You don’t walk into Coca-Cola’s lobby to buy a Coke. Does that mean brands like Coca-Cola have to miss out on location-based mobile marketing? How do you take advantage of location-based mobile marketing when your brand doesn’t have a physical location? There are a few key ideas to keep in mind when creating a location-based mobile campaign for a brand without a physical location. This article will share some examples of how it’s already being done and ideas to continue innovating location-based mobile marketing.

Before we get into some examples, I want you to rethink your definition of “location-based” marketing. It’s easy to get stuck on the idea that location equals Foursquare, when in reality there are a lot of ways to approach location-based mobile. There are platforms that allow you to set up a series of location-based challenges or a scavenger hunt for your consumer, there are campaigns using SMS to deliver relevant location information, and there are QR codes that are most relevant when you are physically standing in front of that code. With a mobile campaign, you can also think of your consumer as the location. Your mobile marketing campaign can designate the “location” as wherever the consumer is using the product, engaging with the campaign, and using their mobile device.


--Take Heineken’s campaign with the StarPlayer mobile game. The app let fans interact in real-time during the Champions League soccer games by asking questions and predicting outcomes throughout the actual game. In this scenario, the games had a location, but not every viewer could be there. Instead, Heineken made the location wherever the consumer was watching the game. Using mobile, they brought a location-based experience to every consumer.

--The Red Cross operates blood drives at all kinds of locations, many of them mobile and temporary. Working with Foursquare, the Red Cross introduced the “Blood Donor Badge” which can be unlocked from any blood drive, at any location. The user simply needs to check in at their location, and then give a shout-out using the words “Red Cross” “blood” and “donate.”

Like in these examples, it’s important to create continuity between a consumer’s physical location and the mobile experience with your brand.

Expanding the Definition of Location

There’s a lot of room to be creative when you don’t have a door people can walk through. Let’s look at three ways you can create your own location.

Attend events and conferences. Obviously a booth at a conference has a limited lifespan, but use that to your advantage. It becomes an exclusive opportunity, and you can make your booth more engaging by using it as the location-hub of your campaign. Animal Planet promoted their “Finding Bigfoot” special with a booth at New York Comic Con 2011. When visitors found Bigfoot at the booth, they were encouraged to tweet a photo of themselves with it to be entered in a contest. It didn’t use geolocation technology, but users had to visit the booth to tweet the photo. Similarly, 2010 Comic Con attendees who checked in on Foursquare unlocked a special Green Lantern badge and were given a tip to visit a particular booth, where they received a Green Lantern replica ring – an exclusive product for checking in on mobile and visiting a particular booth.

Another way to create a location for your brand is to associate yourself with other places, products or ideas. Consumers can’t actually walk into the History Channel. I mean, you could just walk into their headquarters, but security probably wouldn’t let you get far. However, History Channel’s consumers can “check-in to history” by checking-in at various historical locations around the US and the UK. The History Channel is associating their brand with relevant locations and giving their consumers additional value – limited edition Foursquare badges and history facts about the places they’re visiting in the Foursquare tips.

Another company that approached this challenge creatively is Beck’s beer. They created a mobile game app to help gauge whether you’re sober enough to drive. If you fail the game, the app uses GPS to send a taxi right to you. Beck’s doesn’t have one location. They’re using the consumer’s location and associating their brand with responsible drinking.

Brands can also get creative and partner with other venues. Say your product is served at a particular restaurant chain. Send out an SMS coupon and pick three restaurant locations every week where people can redeem it. Partner with the restaurants so consumers checking-in there receive a coupon for your product. Rovio and Barnes & Noble created a partnership like this where both brands benefitted. Angry Birds doesn’t have a physical venue, but if you played it in a Barnes & Noble store during the campaign you could access special features. 

The third way to create a location is using temporary or advertising space as your location. Tesco’s Home Plus grocery store chain is a great example. In South Korea, Tesco was number two in the market and needed to expand without adding stores. The solution was creating virtual stores in real places their consumers were already spending time – subway stations. These graphics look like real supermarket aisles with whole walls, shelves and products. While waiting for trains, consumers could use their mobile phones to scan the QR codes next to each product. Those products were added to their “shopping cart,” packed up, and then delivered to their homes. After more than 55,000 successful transactions in South Korea, Tesco launched a similar model in the departure lounge of Gatwick Airport in the UK, hoping to achieve similar success among people waiting for a flight, who can order a grocery delivery for their return from travel.

Another great example of a temporary space is Unilever Turkey and Cornetto’s takeover of the outside of a building with a simple projector system. Using SMS, anyone could move images around the wall to participate in the larger-than-life game, and win free ice cream.

Not every campaign requires geo-location technology, and these campaigns demonstrate the creativity and continuity it’s possible to create between a consumer’s mobile device and a physical location.

Choosing the Appropriate Medium

When creating a campaign, it’s easy to get caught up in the creative aspect and forget some of the basic rules. I think it’s worth mentioning to ensure you don’t create a great campaign that falls flat because the technology isn’t reaching your audience. Let’s look at a few ways that applies to mobile marketing.

Text-marketing company Mobile Commons helped the California Department of Public Health organize a database of flu vaccination clinics. People could text in their location to receive a text back locating the nearest clinic. During the H1N1 crisis, thousands of people used the service. 

Obviously the goal here was to give as many people as possible location-specific information. A mobile app would only have reached consumers with smartphones. SMS was the best option because it was accessible to anyone with a mobile device. It’s also a better choice for an industry like public health, because once you have a customer’s mobile number you can establish a relationship. The California Department of Health can text that same person again next year with a flu shot reminder.

On the other hand, when marketing a new version of Angry Birds, the audience is more specific. UK agency Stupid created illustrated and functional QR code for airports and subway cars – both locations where you know consumers have time to kill. Take advantage of your consumer’s location and create a mobile opportunity – this code takes them directly to the download for a new game they can start playing while they wait for their flight or train. 

Optimizing Location-Based Marketing

Location-based mobile does present challenges, and there are many campaigns out there failing to really engage the consumer in a location-based experience. Let’s look at a few things to keep in mind when optimizing a location-based mobile marketing campaign.


Just putting a QR code on your product or billboard does not create a location-based mobile experience, and a QR code that only leads to your homepage does not create a location-based mobile experience. 

Creating a scavenger hunt where your consumers need to find and scan the QR codes on billboards around the city is an experience. Using geolocation to create a virtual pop-up store so users can only purchase a limited-edition product when they are standing in front of your advertisement is an experience. Offering an augmented reality app that allows users to view works of art from certain spots around their city is an experience. 


One of the hardest things to do is get people to take action—to pull their mobile device out of their pocket and engage with your campaign. This can be even harder when you don’t have the resources to offer 20 percent off for just walking through your doors and checking-in to your store. The most successful campaigns I’ve mentioned motivated their consumers by being easy, timely and solving an immediate need. As an example previously used, Tesco created a virtual grocery store in subway stations because South Koreans didn’t have a lot of time to do their grocery shopping – but they did spend a lot of time waiting for subway trains. Another great example is German brand pet food GranataPet’s billboard that dispensed dog food from the billboard upon Foursquare check-in. It’s hard to nail down a location for a product that is sold at many different grocery stores and small shops, so they made their location a billboard in a high traffic area and then provided customers with motivation to check-in – free dog food. It’s simple, innovative, requires minimal effort by the customer, and provides tangible benefits – ideal conditions for a marketer. 


Foursquare badges and mayorhoods are successful because they’re exclusive; you can’t get a badge just by visiting a website, and only one person can be mayor at a time. The History Channel’s tips and badges provide consumers with extra value and status. If you’re going to ask your consumer take an action, you need to motivate them with something valuable. For example, if you set up a campaign where five billboards around the city each have a different text code, you could reward consumers with an SMS coupon tailored for something in the immediate vicinity of each billboard. If consumers can pull the same coupons off of your website, they’re no longer receiving something unique and valuable from your location-based mobile campaign.

SoLoMo Moving Forward

We’ve really only seen the tip of the iceberg for location-based mobile marketing for non-brick-and-mortar businesses. Even without a permanent location, there are lots of ways to create an alternative location – at an event, becoming associated with another place, using your ad space as a location, and by using your consumer as the location. At the very least, you should ensure your website is mobile friendly and monitor the amount of mobile traffic your business is getting. 

Expect to see more location-aware technologies developed, but no matter which technologies are available, you need to use the one best suited to your audience and the goal of your campaign. Four out of five teenagers have a cell phone, but only 33 percent have a smartphone. However, according to Pew, only 18 percent of teen smartphone owners even use their phones for geolocation services — that’s something to take into consideration if the audience for your campaign is under 18.

Some of the main challenges for these campaigns heading forward are creativity, motivating consumers to engage with your campaign, and providing them with value. Don’t waste time and money creating some great scavenger hunt across New York City and having it flop because it’s too hard for users to engage, or because the consumers don’t think the reward you offer is worth their participation.

Ultimately, you don’t have to be a brick-and-mortar business to operate a great location-based mobile campaign. Location-based campaigns allow you to make more than just a static ad. This is your opportunity to create a truly engaging experience. 

About the Author: Kaitlin Carpenter is a marketing associate at Carousel30, which is a full-service digital agency that builds brands through engaging audiences and delivering experiences to connect them with brands, causes and products.




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