by Michael O'Neill
September 4th, 2012

The most effective campaigns, regardless of discipline or focus, are ones that convert actions into deeds. Whether it is turning slogans into votes or brand buzz into buying decisions, campaign conversion happens in the real world.

It is a similar truism to state that the world is increasingly online. Media and online consumptions habits in Asia are changing at rates that even outstrip European and North American markets. Smartphone usage, as anyone who spends time in this region will tell you, is bordering on the obsessive. So how will brands harness the evident online action into actual brand engagement? The answer lies back in the real world, with location.

The importance of location — time and place — is not a new phenomenon. Social media commentators dined out for several years on the Obama ’08 campaign’s use of Facebook. The use of Facebook in itself was not transformative; it was the capacity for similarly-minded and motivated individuals to organise locally that changed the dynamics of the campaign. Since then we have had a proliferation of apps from Four Square, Gowalla, Google Latitude and Facebook check-ins.

Location services have had a mixed record in this time. There has been controversy over the collection of user data, coupled with concerns over the intrusion of companies into people’s personal lives. Some of the new services have disappeared, while the established players — Google and Facebook — have had limited success in converting check-ins into consumer change. Four Square is a notable exception, which has grown steadily, particularly in Southeast Asia, where the online population is drawn to social networks.

The early precedent is there, but where will momentum and real change come from? Some clues towards the future were given by the recent deal between Square and Starbucks, which connects US customers directly with a coffee shop in their immediate locality, while giving a simple method for them to pre-order and pay for their drink. Where these companies lead, we will see other companies innovate and localise according to different trends and habits around the world.

Asian companies will not be an exception. Smart brands will use social media to create sustained engagement. If every company becomes a media organisation in the digital age, then every company asset, from people to places, will become a channel. Location, whether through retail stores or events and exhibitions, will accentuate the links with brands, taking them closer to marketing Holy Grail of tracing cause and effect between action and deed.

John Mandeville is head of reputation, Hong Kong, at Weber Shandwick

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