NEW YORK: Brand owners such as Starbucks, Macy's and PepsiCo are seeking to use a wide range of mobile services to directly connect with their target audience.

Loopt, which has established a suite of geo-location tools tailored for social media and mobile phones, is currently rolling out an app, Loopt Star, which acts as a "virtual loyalty card".

As part of this process, it is working with Gap, the fashion retailer, on a scheme that will give any of the 3.4 million members of Loopt a 25% discount if they "check in" to its stores twice within a set timeframe.

Burger King is also employing this application to award a free drink to any of its customers in New York City who make three separate purchases.

Mobile phone owners can sign up to Loopt Star via Facebook Connect, meaning they can share information on the social network, further differentiating the platform from paid-for search.

"Local is different from search in that you're not looking for new things," said Sam Altman, chief executive of Loopt.

"It's more about going to the local place you've been to before, like Starbucks or Burger King. It's more about turning existing customers into better customers, rather than gaining new customers as in search." 

Starbucks will leverage the "gaming" element of Loopt Star to give its most regular patrons a special status as "honorary baristas", entitling them to exclusive deals.

The coffee house chain has forged another such tie-up with Foursquare, which has 1.4 million users and works on a similar model to that operated by Loopt.

Individuals who are registered with Foursquare and visit Starbucks with the greatest frequency can achieve the position of "mayor" and earn specific rewards.

Elsewhere, Starbucks has built its own loyalty card app for the iPhone through a partnership with mFoundry, and is deriving a number of benefits as a result.

Brady Brewer, vp, marketing at Starbucks, said that the information generated by this device will allow it to personalise offers to the tastes of its clientele.

"We've tried to build a programme around recognition – knowing who you are and what you like – and in some ways, that relevance comes from knowing about purchases from data," he said.

Macy's, the department store chain, is utilising this kind of system, which was developed by Shopkick, in pursuit of the same objective.

The company will be able to send participating consumers unique promotions as soon as they enter its stores based on their previous buying behaviour, and will trial the initiative in a number of major cities.

"Shopkick will help us understand who the customer is when she walks in, to learn more about her and delivery extremely relevant offers to her," said Martine Reardon, evp of marketing and advertising at Macy's.

PepsiCo, the soft drinks giant, has also worked with Foursquare to direct shoppers to local retailers and restaurants that are selling its trademark brand, alongside providing discounts to this audience.

"Being able to drive foot traffic into our restaurant partners and our retail partners is a huge opportunity, because that's where our product is sold," Bonin Bough, director of social and emerging media for PepsiCo, said.

"We believe it's a real, new opportunity to transform loyalty programmes in a way that we haven't done before."

"We might see dayparts that are more likely for you to check out of some place and go to the store, and we might do advertising during that specific daypart in that specific place."

Data sourced from New York Times, Forbes, Internet Retailer; additional content by Warc staff