Berlin-based Friendticker, which helps brands create location-based loyalty programs, just went into public beta with its iPhone application (currently only available in France, Spain, Germany, Austria and Switzerland). The app lets businesses reward users with virtual “items” when they check-in at a particular location (a restaurant or retail location, for example). And users can then trade in these rewards for real goods or services.

A restaurant chain could, for example, give a customer a “free drinks” item every 5 times they check-in at a restaurant. The item shown in the image to the right is from a company that organizes social media events in Germany; it offers a free T-shirt “item” in exchange for 10 check-ins at its events.

Existing check-in based services like Foursquare and Gowalla mainly allow users to earn badges. Badges are like points earned in a game; they have social rather than tangible value. However, Foursquare recently launched an analytics dashboard for local businesses that lets them track Foursquare users and offer promotions accordingly.

Friendticker is specifically focused on loyalty rewards. Brands decide exactly which reward items to offer as well as where and when they are available. The brand may not even be tied to a permanent set of locations. For example, a band that wants to reward fans for coming to multiple concerts on its tour could offer reward items like skipping the queue at the venue or meeting a member of the band. Brands can advertise the rewards via an integration with Facebook.

A reporting and analytics tool is available for larger brands with multiple locations. However, in contrast with Foursquare’s tool, the data is anonymous. A user’s information is only passed to the brand when that user wants to claim an item. Since items have real-world value, Friendticker also allows a brand put a maximum limit on how many are issued. Item codes can be synchronized with coupon codes or other IDs in the brand’s existing CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to ensure these maximums are not exceeded.

One potential problem is that a user might “fake” multiple check-ins just by walking past a location. Friendticker says that even in this case the user is engaging with the brand, which is one of the objectives of the application. It is also easy to spot users who are claiming a large number of items or checking in many times in a short period. Ultimately though, it is up to the item owners to make a judgment on how and when to exclude “fakers”.

Founder Florian Resatsch says that Friendticker will target local businesses and smaller franchises, such as breweries with several pubs. Many of these businesses may not be particularly tech-savvy or have even heard of the check-in concept. Friendticker merely provides them with a new channel for loyalty. Non-tech brands could certainly be a fertile market for this type of loyalty program, but it will be interesting to see if these brands have enough smartphone-toting customers to make the application useful.

Friendticker will initially concentrate on European countries. Florian says the application will be available in the local language in each country. Freindticker should be available for other smartphones by mid-2010. It’s free for users, while participating businesses pay an up-front fee and a fee per lead generated by the application.

The company was founded in 2007 in Berlin, employs 15 people, and is funded via an angel investment.