Check-In Counter

How hot is the location services market right now? Ask Foursquare’s founders, Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, who are splashed in magazine ads and billboards as part of a Gap holiday ad campaign. Plus, the service, which passed 5 million members recently, is poised to go toe-to-toe with Facebook for control of that market. But beneath the simmering fight to own the check-in, several startups with smaller user bases are carving out their own niches. They’re all trying to put a twist on what location means, whether it’s emphasizing the fun of gaming or the allure of shopping discounts. Brands have noticed the world beyond Foursquare and Facebook and are trying out the other services to find what works for them. Says Jeff Holden, CEO of Pegasus, parent company of Whrrl: “It’s not a one- or two-winner situation.”

Scavenger hunt

Brands: Coca-Cola, Smithsonian, GameStop

Example: Visitors to 10 malls this holiday season are challenged to earn points toward rewards by accomplishing tasks like taking a photo of a Coke at the mall. Rewards range from Coke bottle openers to gift cards that are redeemable on location.

Passport theme

Brands: Coca-Cola, Smithsonian, GameStop

Example: Visitors to 10 malls this holiday season are challenged to earn points toward rewards by accomplishing tasks like taking a photo of a Coke at the mall. Rewards range from Coke bottle openers to gift cards that are redeemable on location.

Scans products

Brands: Altoids, Pepsi, Ben & Jerry’s

Example: People that pick up an Altoids and scan its bar code with Stickybits get a $10 iTunes gift card.

Grouped user behavior

Brands: Murphy USA, USA Weekend, Palms

Example: Service station chain Murphy USA used Whrrl in a loyalty program that kicked off in July. Buyers checking in at Murphy could earn prizes, including $50 of free gas.

On-site sensors

Brands: Target, Best Buy, American Eagle

Example: Visitors to 242 Target stores earn points toward gift cards and a coupon when entering those locations.