Pushing through the badge fatigue: What’s next for location-based apps?


Definition: Badge fatigue noun. c. May 2010

  • a reduction in the effectiveness of mobile loyalty programs that use status or icons as incentives
  • being so over the idea that you’ll be rewarded with some intangible thingy for identifying yourself as a fan

About a year ago, the discussion around badge fatigue began. Fans and followers were starting have trouble seeing through the clutter of countless gaming programs that offered incentives. So, plans were hatched to reinvigorate the model before it became another fad.

In the initial format, a user was given the incentive to go to an establishment because he or she would be rewarded with an intangible prize: a title (e.g. mayor Foursquare or royalty titles on Yelp!) or an icon (e.g. badges on Foursquare or pins on Gowalla). Users competed with their friends and unknown competitors to get the best status and personal gratification. As users achieved higher status and left check-in competitors in the dust, they got an even greater incentive: a discount or something for free.  This discount wasn’t targeted to the individual’s tastes specifically, but more so, whoever got the reward first.

The model grew and companies began to experiment; people gained VIP access to parties (Internet Week 2010) and points for existing rewards programs (Top Guest). And this is where we stand today  with a lot of great experiments, but also a lot of clutter.

So, what will happen next?

There seem to be three (somewhat nebulous) schools of thought:

  1. We continue along the same lines with this gamification model that has a broad reach, because, in all honesty, it has worked. These indicators of status in the game continue to get people in to the cash register even without targeted (and often intangible) incentive. (Note: Some are questioning the impact on business)
  2. We move on. Since the market is becoming saturated with these types of programs, it is worth the effort to focus efforts elsewhere.  Call me crazy, but I say that Foursquare badges go the way of POGS, Tamagotchis, and Farmville interesting ideas that captivated our attention for a time, but ultimately lost out, hypothesizes Colin Slasheimer.
  3. We repurpose and rebuild these programs a highly relevant, laser-focused marketing tool. Two examples of how this can happen include finding a way to hyper-locate down to the layout of a store or revaluating how the data is used (see pilot launched by Foursquare).

I fall in the third group. I want to be found where I already need to go and told about specifically what I want with hyper-relevant offers. I want to check into the toothpaste aisle of the drug store, and be told what toothpaste brand sale right now.  (Ok, I know this probably isn’t possible right now, but could be pretty cool.)  If I go to the hairdressers, I want to come across an incentive in 3 months when I need my next haircut, instead of right when I check-in.

So, what do you think?  Have we jumped the shark?