InterContinental Aggregates Hotel Check-ins with PlacePunch

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Capitalizing on the popularity of mobile check-ins on Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter and Facebook Places, InterContinental Hotels Group has launched a pilot program with a platform that lets users win rewards for checking in via any of those of location-based services.

The platform, PlacePunch, launched in September 2010 as a third-party app that lets businesses of all sizes run their own location-based promotions on just about whatever LBS services their customers are used to signing in with. In essence, PlacePunch serves as a dashboard where marketers can aggregate those check-ins and send out rewards based on a customer’s total check-in use. They can also run personalized Twitter messaging programs that thank customers for checking in and let them know about potential rewards.

“We came across PlacePunch because of our ongoing interest in exploring check-in services and location-based marketing,” says Del Ross, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for IHG. “We’re consistent early testers and early adopters of new media, and this is an exciting area.” IHG started out in location-based marketing last May by collaborating directly with check-in service Gowalla to publicize a summer travel promotion. Titled “Hit It Big”, that campaign offered a drawing that could earn winners their choice of up to $500 in gift cards for national retailers or double IHG Priority Club loyalty points or air miles.

But the LBS services space has become crowded with contending platforms, and IHG eventually decided that it could not pick an obvious winner. “We don’t know if any of any or all of them are going to emerge as the dominant players,” Ross says. “We don’t even know if the medium is going to become a sustained channel. We wanted to get the most impact from our efforts, and the most learning, without having to navigate these constantly changing waters. PlacePunch gives us the ability to reach across all these different check-in services at one time.”

Currently IHG is deploying the PlacePunch platform for location-based promotions across all its lodging portfolio, including the InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites brands. Users who check-in via Foursquare, Facebook Places or Twitter get an automatic tweet back welcoming them and inviting them to take part in various campaigns being run by the specific brands or individual properties.

Rewards IHG is offering through PlacePunch can be both game-specific compensation, such as a special badge for multiple check-ins to a brand or location over Foursquare, and more lodging-centric redeemable offers of special amenities or rebates for frequent behavior, such as a $50 gift card for every second weekend stay.

“We’re always running promotions,” Ross says. “After you’ve booked your reservation, we want to make sure we get your next one too. So in all your interactions with us, whether at the hotel, with our call center agents, or with our sales people, we want to secure the likelihood of getting your next stay. Using PlacePunch gives us one more way of being able to do that. So far the rewards that we’ve offered have been directly tied to getting another booking, but in future we can also try to incent other activities.”

The platform also provides some insight into how IHG customers use check-in services—even if that customer data is not perfectly transparent right now.

“What really intrigued us was that [PlacePunch] can give us some data about users of our different brands across these different platforms,” says Ross. “The ability to use [the PlacePunch platform] as both a marketing and an information-gathering tool is what really made it attractive to us.” PlacePunch analytics let IHG know the geographic distribution of customer use of LBS, the day of the week and time of day check-ins are most likely to occur, and the frequency with which individual guests check in.

“Obviously we have other sources to tell us if our most loyal guests are returning to us, but this was pretty interesting,” Ross says. The PlacePunch analytics don’t tell IHG where travelers are coming from—only where they are when they check in.

While IHG doesn’t yet know how to read all the metrics that come from watching check-in activity across its portfolio, Ross expects it will provide insight over time.

“I can’t say we know what it all means, but it’s pretty intriguing,” he says. “We feel there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

One such opportunity might be to induce frequent guests to sign up for IHG’s Priority Club loyalty program. Letting customers check in to properties and win small rewards will never replace that loyalty program, but it can serve as a low-level lead-in to the bigger commitment of signing up for Priority Club rewards.

“There are steps to becoming a loyal customer,” Ross says. “Actively joining a loyalty program is actually pretty far down the pipe. You generally go on several dates before you get married. So if we can come up with some pretty interesting ‘dates’ along the way, we’ve increased the likelihood of a long-term marriage.”

In addition to working with PlacePunch, IHG is also continuing to partner with lodging check-in aggregator Topguest. That platform links check-ins over popular LBS platforms such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt with membership in IHG’s Priority Club, giving members additional reward points for frequent check-ins.


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