Will LevelUp Level Up?

Seth Priebatsch

Image from: John D. Sutter / CNN

If you see a man walking around Boston with bright orange sunglasses and an orange shirt, it’s either an aberrant competitive cyclist or Seth Priebatsch, Princeton dropout, unabashed genius, and founder of SCVNGR and LevelUp. (Other tech superstars were also known for their styling, or rather their nearly aggressive indifference to style;  Steve Jobs was beyond loyal to that black mock turtleneck, and Mark Zuckerberg cannot get enough of those hoodies—but that is its own conversation all together.)

LevelUp Cards Front

LevelUp is a company I’ve been watching for some time and recently I was happy to see some of their flyers in the café across from my office. The flyers are bright, aggressive and direct. They’re even a little needy, but it works; I picked them up, I flipped them over, I read the back. For those that don’t know, LevelUp is a smartphone app that links a consumer’s credit or debit card to a unique QR code displayed on their phone. Using this code, a user can quickly pay for things at vendors participating in the system. And the best part? The whole system is incentivized with neat loyalty rewards so that paying for stuff begins to feel like a game.

Unique visitors vs. Average Stay at TheLevelUp.com

Naturally I wanted to use Compete PRO data to see how LevelUp fares online, so here is the traffic for LevelUp’s online hub, www.thelevelup.com.  I’ve contrasted it to their average stay on their site, because I want to bring up an important point.  A steep increase in visitation is not always correlated with a consumer’s interest, or even their consideration, and in this case the spike on November 2011 is a bit too contrary to be trusted. A quick search of the term ‘levelup’ and ‘November’ was revealing: evidently, on November 23 of 2011, the cable television network Cartoon Network premiered a pilot movie for a series by the name of Level Up. On the same month thelevelup.com’s average stay metric was its lowest ever (1 minute, 3 seconds). Page views, pages per visit and visits per person all show the same inversion of the UVs trend, which to me reveals a lot of confused Cartoon Network fans finding the site on accident and skipping off of it with not much interest at all.

Daily Keyword Destinations for 'levelup'LevelUp’s SEO troubles aren’t over, though.  If I’m a consumer (which I am) and I’m interested in learning about what LevelUp does, the first place I’m going to look is a search engine, and according to Compete PRO the top ten destinations for the searched keyword ‘levelup’ are above. Luckily LevelUp has the second highest percentage of the keyword’s volume, but that darn Cartoon Network surpasses it which an immense 41.96% of total volume. That’s a lot of traffic for Cartoon Network, and it’s a lot of unanswered questions accumulating on LevelUp’s doorstep.

LevelUp Cards BackSo maybe these pamphlets are the way to go? It’s a proactive campaign that lets people know what LevelUp is in a place where it already exists, and it’s enjoyably punchy. The only issue is that nowhere on either card is the URL listed in earnest, and when your URL is thelevelup.com and your product is LevelUp (notice the evanescent ‘the’), you’ve got a branding disjunction. You run the risk of derailing interest in your product.

I like LevelUp. I like Seth Priebatsch’s funny glasses and I liked their office when I visited. They even have this endearingly haphazard Call Me Maybe music video up on YouTube. But, aside from all this, I have to admit I’ve only used their app once, and when I got a new debit card I didn’t bother to hook it up to my code. Maybe I’m immune to brand loyalty games, or maybe I don’t mind the extra second it takes to hand my card over to the cashier, but I lost interest. Seeing these brightly colored papers at that café definitely re-ignited my curiosity and I suspect it will do the same for others. My only hope is that the pamphlets are enough to educate consumers on the product and make the sale on their own, or else this startup won’t be leveling up as quickly as it could.

About Ryan LaSala:
Ryan La Sala joins Compete as the Digital Marketing Co-op for Compete.com, sovereign of all things social media. Ryan is a current attendant of Northeastern University, dual-majoring in Cultural Anthropology and International Affairs (with minors in Biology and Psychology), with career interests in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Consumer Anthropology. Aside from acquiring aspirations with big words, Ryan’s other interests include reading cheesy fiction, writing in any capacity, singing and cooking. Find Ryan on twitter @Ryality or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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  1. jon carder

    If you like the concept of LevelUp you should check out MOGL.com. It all works from any credit/debit card so no need to take out your phone and scan it, just pay your bill like you normally do, plus the rewards are pretty awesome and we donate a meal to Feeding America every time you spend at least $20. Disclaimer – I work at MOGL 🙂


    • Ryan LaSala

      The added charity is an interesting angle, and so is cutting out the step of using coupons or QR codes in a gamification program, but isn’t the crux of the gamification trend that progress is made visible? I know this is prominent on the LevelUp phone app, but I’m not sure how MOGL displays it. Either way, mobile phones are still gaining a certain magnetism in the pursuit to create cool new ways to pay for things.


  2. Seth Priebatsch

    Heya Ryan,

    This is a fantastic article. Insightful, well thought out and using data that I myself track and have tracked. Also, I’m a huge compete fan. Use it all the time… but not for LevelUp anymore.

    And that’s why I wanted to comment here. I don’t usually comment on articles but this was interesting enough to me that I wanted to.

    Over the time period from July 2011 to July 2012, our userbase grew from 10,000 users to over 225,000. Our monthly active users stayed pretty consistent at around 60% of the total user base. For a mobile payment network not (yet) accepted everywhere, I’m pretty happy with that.

    As you’ll notice, over that same time period, our web traffic barely moved. We noticed this trend right at the beginning and freaked out but then realized that it made sense. We’re a mobile app. Our website is a marketing page at best and a far second best to the mobile app stores for marketing and discovery. All our traffic happens in-app or on social sites like FB and Twitter. Four months ago, we in fact redesigned the site to have *less* actionable content and thus drive people back to the app. Try logging in online, there’s not much to do!

    I myself haven’t logged into the consumer website in months. (I use the merchant side all the time and the admin stuff of course.)

    We redesigned our emails, our marketing, our everything to specifically not drive people to the website because the conversions were less good. Mobile first for everything. Of course having a great website is important still, but not for our consumer experience. 90% of signups happen on mobile. 99.6% of all consumer time.

    Anyways, just thought I’d throw that out there and then ask my big question: When’s compete for mobile apps coming out? I’d love to use it.

    – Seth


    • Ryan LaSala

      Hi Seth!

      First of all: Thanks for stopping by and leaving some insight!

      I see what you mean about the design readjustment; the website is essentially a really elegant billboard for the mobile app. I admit I fancy the Places finder online over the app, but that has more to do with my phone’s merciless lethargy than convenience.

      Was your website serving as a deficit to your mobile conversions? Or was it simply not the forte and therefore detracting focus? I can understand phasing it out of marketing simply because conversions were less, but I like that it’s been redesigned to siphon and not simply deflect.

      As for the big question: It’s in the works! That’s all I can say for right now, but rest assured I’ll be standing by to paint the internet over when I’ve got more to announce.

      – Ryan

      p.s. With a name like LevelUp—and considering how well y’all have been doing— do you guys endure a lot of RPG jokes? I’ve always wondered.