The Current State of Indoor Location & Marketing — Webinar Today with Aisle411


Since joining the LSA I haven’t been spending as much time on indoor location and marketing as I had been for the past couple of years. But there’s a great deal going on and it’s a very important issue to both the future of retail and offline attribution (for all types of digital marketing).

Among other things, Google recently introduced a new flexible beacon standard called Eddystone. It’s capable of working across Android, iOS or any platform that supports Bluetooth Low Energy beacons. Target also just announced a 50-store beacon rollout.

One of the things that you’ll be able to do with the location-aware Target app is request help and get someone to come to you in the aisle. This starts to point to how mobile apps can be used to improve the in-store experience and boost loyalty (as well as basket size).

Facebook is also getting more aggressive about delivering beacons to local businesses. This type of deployment holds implications for anyone servicing local business advertisers in terms of ROI, attribution and other types of analytics.

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But beacons are just one technology and one piece of a larger indoor location and marketing puzzle. Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn told me yesterday that beacons are being integrated into location-aware LED lighting (to help solve the beacon battery issue). He’s going to discuss this and a range of other interesting developments today on a free LSA webinar on indoor location and product search.

Aisle411 was one of the earliest companies in this space and has seen it evolve considerably over the past seven years. The company now has 2.3 million UPCs, 13,000 indoor maps (in partner apps) and real-time local product inventory for 200,000 local stores.

Pettyjohn also told me that people using indoor location apps and product maps have on average a 35% higher ticket value than those who do not. (People who can’t find products can’t buy them.) These are just a few things that he’ll talk about on today’s webinar.

To learn more about the state of indoor location, in-store product search and other developments in this rapidly evolving segment (today at 2 Eastern) register here. If you can’t watch in real time you can catch a replay early next week.


Seizing a Piece of the $9B Local Video Opportunity (Webinar: August 4)


A few years ago video was very hot in the local segment. It was a high-margin advertising product being sold by directory publishers and others — remember SpotRunner?

That all died down as video producers went out of business or evolved (e.g., TurnHere) and local media sellers saw demand decline amid uncertain ROI. At that time video was largely a branding/vanity play for SMBs.

Now video is back in a huge way.

At the enterprise level, brands and agencies are shifting budgets from TV to digital video. Mobile device adoption, changing consumer behavior and the rise of “over-the-top” content providers (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu) has powered this shift. In turn, precision online targeting and retargeting has made “addressable TV” effectively a reality for digital video.

There’s no question about the digital video opportunity for brands. Various forecasts argue that digital video will drive billions in ad revenues over the next few years (often at the expense of traditional TV). But what about local? Will that follow the same trajectory?

The answer to both questions is “yes.” As I wrote on the LSA blog in May, video is “A Big Marketing Opportunity Most SMBs and Their Vendors Miss.” YouTube and Facebook in particular offer myriad local video opportunities for SMBs and their vendors.

In May Google talked about the explosive growth of “how-to” searches on YouTube. The company said that these searches have grown 70% year over year. Many of these queries are being generated on mobile devices by people with an immediate need: “91% of smartphone users turn to their smartphone for ideas while doing a given task.”

SMBs get multiple benefits from posting video that answers common questions or demonstrates how-to accomplish a specific task. First you’re getting people who have a clear need and may turn into customers. Furthermore, the content is by definition within the realm of an SMB’s own expertise. With YouTube comes an SEO benefit. Finally the video content can be shared or posted across multiple social channels.

Borrell video forecast

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said on the company’s recent earnings call that more than 1 million videos had been uploaded by SMBs to Facebook. This type of video content is very different than the “vanity” ads created for SMBs in the digital video 1.0 era of a few years ago.

Borrell Associates has forecast that local online video will be worth more than $9 billion by 2018.

Which local-SMB categories will be most likely to spend? How much of this money will flow through programmatic buying channels? Which local media channels are in the best position to capitalize? What makes video different from other ad units?

Join LSA tomorrow at 2pm Eastern/11 Pacific for a thought-provoking and wide-ranging webinar look at the new local-video opportunity. You’ll hear about the latest forecast, market data and local case studies from:

  • Corey Elliott, Director of Research, Borrell Associates
  • Michael Taylor, Director Business Development, Thrive Analytics
  • Mike Osborne, President and COO, bieMEDIA
  • Greg Sterling, VP Strategy & Insights, LSA

Register here. Learn more here.


Survey: Consumers Prefer to Shop Local but Expect Digital Sophistication

Small Business Alignable

Most consumers would generally prefer to shop and buy from local/small businesses but they also want those businesses to be digitally savvy. That’s according to a survey by Yodle of 6,000 US adults released in late June.

The following are the top 10 reasons to use or stop using a local business according to the survey data. While local businesses are at a disadvantage in terms of pricing consumers believe there’s a better overall experience to be had by shopping at independent stores. A majority of survey respondents consider local businesses to be more trustworthy and deliver better quality than big boxes.

Yodle consumer survey

Yodle consumer findings

The survey found that consumers were typically willing to pay somewhat higher prices to local businesses in order to accomplish or receive:

  • Better quality work — 72%
  • To support the community — 48%
  • Personalized service — 44%

Although they’re willing to forgo lower pricing for better service and quality, consumers still want local businesses to price products and services more aggressively and/or offer deals. Interestingly, consumers also want local businesses to improve their websites.

Yodle consumer survey

The desire for improved websites aligns with small business digital priorities. Consistently “a better website” is a top SMB digital marketing objective.

One of the most interesting sets of findings concerns consumer expectations and differentiation. The chart below shows digital features/capabilities that could impact perception of a small business (and therefore the bottom line). They’re ranked as “not important,” “expected” or “sets business apart.”

Yodle consumer data

Consumers want loyalty programs first and foremost from SMBs. They expect reviews and a surprising number now want to be able to book or pay for a product or service “online” (think mobile app or via website). These findings should be most eye-opening for SMBs who mostly haven’t place emphasis or priority on booking or payments capabilities.

A substantial number of consumers want to see booking and payments added within 12 months. Those businesses that do so will see a competitive advantage and those that do not. Think: Uber and Lyft vs. conventional taxis.

Yodle consumer data

In terms of communicating with customers, most consumers appear to be receptive to email communications. This suggests that SMBs should be doing more email communication, not less.

Yodle consumer data

The final point I want to pull from the survey is about reviews. Most people “in the industry” tend to believe that consumers write reviews when they’ve had a negative experience. For years Yelp has said the opposite and this survey confirms Yelp’s position: positive experiences are much more frequently the motivation for consumer reviews.

Yodle consumer data

Finally the chart above on the right shows that 89% of survey respondents “would leave a review if asked.” This suggests that simply by asking satisfied customers to write reviews on specific sites (e.g., Yelp or Facebook) business owners can significantly boost positive review counts.

The full survey report can be downloaded here (reg. required).


Google Walks Back Local-Mobile Search Number, Now Says 30%

Google Maps

Sometimes Google will quote third party survey data in public situations (e.g., conference presentations) without necessarily clarifying where the data come from and people will assume this is Google’s own internal user behavior data.

In the past Google said that 40% and even 50% of mobile search activity was related to location or offline information. I always assumed these were Google’s own numbers because of the way they were communicated to me.

Beyond this, the 50% number was echoed by Bing a few years ago as well. However today on Google’s second quarter earnings call Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani said that “30% of Google mobile queries are related to location.”

The number walks back the earlier, larger figures. It’s not clear whether Kordestani was citing internal Google data or dropping a number he got from third party research.

Separately, not long ago, Google said that queries with a local modifier or that contain the terms “near me” or “nearby” “have doubled in the past year” (Google Trends data). The company added that 80% of those queries are generated via mobile devices.

Google has also said that mobile query volumes now exceed PC volumes — by how much is uncertain and Google won’t yet disclose that — in 10 countries including the US. What that means is that we’ve likely got at least 12 billion monthly mobile queries in the US.

Using Kordestani’s smaller 30% figure, it’s safe to say that there are at least 3.6 billion local-mobile monthly queries in the US market. But it may be closer to 6 billion in actuality.

I’m confused and I’m tempted to pursue this to get a more definitive number as well as clarity around the sources of these figures. What are your thoughts about the 30% figure?

  • This is probably a third party number
  • Google is just being conservative
  • The number of local searches on mobile devices may have declined (unlikely given the data above)
  • Kordestani was being casual/sloppy in his remarks (unlikely)
  • Other


Local Search in Europe: Google Maps vs. Yelp vs. TripAdvisor (Nobody Wins)


I’m just getting back from a family vacation in Italy and Amsterdam. I’m struggling a bit to get back into “work mode.”

Nonetheless, I wanted to share some local search related thoughts and observations from my travel experiences, especially around TripAdvisor, Google Maps and Yelp, all of which I used very extensively — to my wife’s great annoyance and dismay.

As an aside, the internet infrastructure we encountered in the hotels we stayed at was pretty weak (until Amsterdam). Speeds were slow and connections were unreliable. However there were lots of WiFi hotspots around. I don’t know how representative this is of Southern Europe as a whole or Europe more broadly. But it’s a problem if either is true.

Typically when I travel abroad I use an Android phone and get a local SIM with 5GB of data so I can use maps, etc. I didn’t do that this time and used my iPhone and relied on the free 2G data my carrier offered (Sprint). That was a total joke. I rarely was able to connect and when I did the connections were fleeting, although they came in at 3G and not 2G.

I used Google Maps and TripAdvisor most heavily. But I also found that Yelp (especially the nearby feature and filters) was very useful.

Google Maps are indispensable (I didn’t try to use Apple Maps at all). And Google’s business listings information are often helpful. However because of uneven or insufficient reviews content one can’t rely entirely on Google. Once Google Maps becomes totally available offline it will be even more valuable for travelers.

Outside the US, TripAdvisor has much more local content than the others. Its cityguides can be used entirely offline, which is great. It also has more images of restaurants, which can help in making decisions (is it a sit-down place or a counter?). The problem with TripAdvisor cityguides is that they’re bloated, take forever to download on a slow connection and often quit.

This problem created what I would call “app rage” more than a few times, since I had neglected to download everything ahead of our trip. In addition, TripAdvisor’s maps are almost worthless except for a compass feature that points you toward your destination. Amazingly the company’s profile pages and listings lack basic and practical information like business hours, forcing users to seek that from Google or Yelp or another source.

Yelp has strong content, although not enough of it yet in many European markets. I found myself trusting its reviews more than Google’s or TripAdvisor’s, which are much more voluminous.

TripAdvisor, with all its content, should be the clear winner. But it’s not because of unusable maps and glaring content holes. Based on what I’ve seen in the evolution of the app over time, I don’t believe the company will be able correct these problems. This creates opportunities for both Google and Yelp (and others) as they grow their content.

Google could be the overall winner but its reviews content is limited and very often quite weak. However its maps are clearly superior to the others (Yelp doesn’t have its own maps of course). For its part, Yelp could be a very strong player and ultimately take TripAdvisor’s position other than for hotel-related planning. Yelp’s filters were very helpful in, for example, determining whether a business accepted credit cards (totally missing from Google and TripAdvisor).

The most interesting takeaway for me was that there was no single app that I could entirely rely upon. There was no single winner. I had to seek validation from a second or sometimes third app to compensate for missing information.

More than 15 years in, all this suggests to me that no single company can completely dominate local search. And new vertical apps can continue to disrupt the market, provided they offer the right features and sufficient content depth.

Facebook remains the global “X factor” in local search. I tried using it a couple of times but, despite all its reviews/ratings content, it’s not that useful. Thus I’m still waiting for a Places app.


Hey Incumbents: While You Were Sleeping Your Business Blew Up


As a frequent conference session moderator I hate when people use the phrase (er, cliché) “early days.” Most of the time they might as well be saying, we’re complacent or we’re afraid of experimentation or we’re all just gonna ride this puppy into the sunset.

Many “incumbent” local media organizations (directory publishers, newspapers) watched from the sidelines as the internet and digital marketing world developed momentum over a decade. In fairness, some took risks and experimented. However, because revenues were speculative or small by comparison, most did not and accordingly are now fighting for their lives.

Gannet is just the latest media company to jettison its print assets. Later this month Gannett will become two publicly traded companies, one with the majority of its broadcast and digital assets and the other will include the company’s publishing properties and their affiliated digital sites. I guess broadcast TV is still considered a valuable asset (but for how much longer?).

The challenges of innovating as a public or established private company with a legacy revenue stream are well documented. I don’t mean to minimize them. Changing the culture of organizations is next to impossible.

Facebook beacons

But when you see something happening in front of your eyes you need to act or be ready to say goodbye. This is what struck me about Facebook’s Place Tips and beacons rollout, announced yesterday. David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal have called this a “Trojan Horse.” I won’t say that exactly but it’s representative of a threat to traditional and even digital media businesses that don’t attempt to embrace new technologies and, in this case, connect online to offline.

It’s possible that the Facebook effort won’t go anywhere and local business owners won’t request their free beacons. But Facebook’s plan is a bold one and could result in millions of beacons in local businesses around the US and later around the globe.

Most people opining about beacons are thinking of them entirely in the context of enterprises and large retailers. Facebook is the only company to my knowledge targeting the SMB market in a systematic way. Let’s assume the effort goes well. Facebook will be able to provide data to business owners on how many people visited, for how long and when. (There are other offline/indoor analytics companies; this isn’t the only methodology.)

The point is that Facebook will have data that will be incredibly valuable for ad targeting and analysis and valuable to local business owners. Most local businesses still have considerable trouble determining digital ROI. Google is hoping to get there with Store Visits.

Imagine the conversation in which a local sales rep tries to pitch a business and says we track, clicks, impressions, visits to your site and calls. Facebook will be able to say, hypothetically, something like: “we can tell you how many people came in and when.” The power of that information is self-evident.

Publishers and sales channels of all stripes need to be experimenting now with new methodologies and technologies, such as beacons, to provide more value to business owners. Even if Facebook can’t directly connect online or mobile ad exposures and in-store sales the offline visitation data still has enormous perceived value.

Competitors that wait and then undertake “me-too” initiatives much later are almost always too late. So while some technologies can be immature or not ready for adoption often that rationale is an excuse for inaction, with disastrous consequences later on.


Webinar: What Is ‘Phase 3′ of SMB Digital Marketing?

LSA logo

Buzzboard’s Neal Polachek and I will be collaborating on a new report tentatively called “Phase 3 of Small Business Digital Marketing.” This a kind of  follow up to the earlier sales report we developed.

Arguably Phase One of SMB digital marketing lasted from the mid-to-late 90s through roughly 2005. This was a period of convincing business owners to get online and that the internet was important to their businesses. SMB 1.0 websites were built by hobbyists or nephews and cousins. It was also a period when SMBs were sold advertising and marketing solutions that mostly didn’t work (e.g., early display advertising).

Phase Two lasted approximately from 2005 until today. During this decade the credibility and importance of the internet was established. Websites were upgraded. Search and social media became central to the consumer-user experience, as did smartphones. During this period digital channels became the most critical for local business owners.

Yet there remained considerable inefficiency and a lack of transparency. Local digital marketing is still characterized by a kind of “Wild West” chaos. Churn rates, confusion, noise and ethically dubious vendor claims are all well documented. ROI is still very uncertain to many SMBs.

Overall, Phase Two has been defined by what’s now often called “digital presence management,” as well as review monitoring and new types of customer interactions. Self-service has picked up momentum but is still not viable at scale for most vendors.

Phase 3, which we are now entering, is likely to be defined by mobile, CRM-style data insights and automation and a new set of transactional capabilities, so-called “on-demand services.” And while SMB advertiser acquisition and retention challenges remain — and business owners themselves remain confused and often frustrated — there are big changes afoot.

This is the subject of LSA’s next webinar with me, Buzzboard’s Neal Polachek and Clickable board advisor and local-industry veteran Lem Lloyd. We want the webinar to be a discussion and much more interactive. We’d love your input on the following:

  • Does this time line make sense?
  • Do you agree with these descriptions and characterizations?
  • Are we truly entering a new phase of SMB digital marketing and, if so, what will it mean as a practical matter for stakeholders?
  • What specific questions or issues do you want us to investigate and discuss?

The webinar is free and this Thursday, June 11, at 11 Pacific, 2 Eastern. Register and please join the conversation on Thursday


Hyper-Local Classifieds Publisher PennySaver Abruptly Folds After 53 Years


Direct mail classifieds directory PennySaver — the original hyperlocal ad platform — has abruptly gone out of business, apparently because it couldn’t secure further financing. All of its roughly 700 employees were laid off and its doors shuttered.

Distributed in California and Florida, it was founded in 1962 and later, for most of its life, owned by one-time local media conglomerate Harte-Hanks. In 2013 the Texas-based company sold PennySaver and its companion national website to private equity firm OpenGate Capital for roughly $22 million. Harte-Hanks said at the time asset was no longer core to the company’s strategy, now focused on digital marketing services.


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At the time of the sale, in 2013, PennySaver revenues were approximately $200 million, but that was apparently about half of what they were in the 1990s at the height of the publication’s success. Harte-Hanks has a current market cap of roughly $375 million.

At one point Pennysaver claimed a print circulation of 13 million. The company says on its website that current print circulation is 9.1 million with 1 million monthly website visitors. It also says that it was receiving more than 50K new listings per week.

Accordingly PennySaver seems to have decent traffic and, interestingly, a fairly developed social media presence.

Pennysaver on Pinterest

It’s not clear what the full story is but this appears to be an entity with some life left in it. Someone will undoubtedly buy the PennySaver website and brand from OpenGate — although the PennySaver brand was apparently never copyrighted and so similarly named publications exist across the US. In any new acquisition scenario it’s unlikely that the print publication would be revived.

While a combined print-digital publication makes sense in this multi-platform world, print classifieds have been dying a slow painful death for the past 15 years. Now mostly online and increasingly in mobile, classifieds have also been heavily segmented and verticalized. However there are some horizontal digital marketplaces that still exist: eBay, Craigslist and, more recently, Nextdoor.

PennySaver could be seen as a symbol of the decline of print classifieds broadly or it could equally be a story of specific mismanagement and poor strategy. As with all these things, the truth is probably somewhere in between.


It’s the User-Experience Stupid: Why Uber Is Destroying the Taxi Industry

Uber logo

Perhaps no market has been more quickly “disrupted” than that of taxis and chauffeur-driven cars. Whatever you want to say about the company’s ethically challenged management, Uber has delivered a fantastic consumer experience all the way around and become a global phenomenon in a very short period of time (since 2010).

Uber is being fought in many countries and US municipalities. However Uber will probably ultimately win most of those fights. As an interesting aside, vested interests have always sought to use the state or legal apparatus to block new entrants when their markets and incomes were existentially threatened. This goes way back to the European Middle Ages.

Various government and private interests have aligned to try and fight Uber. Yet what is so threatening to the taxi industry is the fact that Uber is simply better, more pleasant, cleaner, more convenient and usually cheaper.

In March the New York Post, remarkably, announced that there were now more Uber cars driving in NYC than yellow cabs. Accordingly the market for taxi medallions in NYC has also taken a bit hit. This is essentially the taxi futures market.

The following chart shows the impact of ride-sharing services on the San Francisco Taxi industry:

Uber impact on SF taxi industry

Source: SF MTA/The Atlantic

We can certainly debate any or all of the following questions surrounding Uber:

  • The ethics and m.o. of the company
  • Whether Uber drivers are sufficiently background-checked and insured
  • Whether drivers can actually make a living wage with Uber
  • Whether, if Uber and its imitators win, the long term impact will be bad for drivers and ultimately for consumers
  • Whether Uber, as a future public company, has staying power over the long term

I’m focused on the user-experience here, however. Heavily regulated and quasi-monopolistic, the taxi industry became complacent. The passenger-user was effectively an afterthought in most markets, especially in places like New York. Dealing with dispatchers in other markets was painful and you couldn’t ever be confident that the cab would actually show up.

Indeed, the terrible experience of getting cabs in San Francisco inspired Uber:

Garrett’s big idea was cracking the horrible taxi problem in San Francisco — getting stranded on the streets of San Francisco is familiar territory for any San Franciscan.

The well-designed app and — this cannot be emphasized enough — the “payment in the background” made using Uber a radical improvement over cabs. After one Uber ride, generally you were hooked.

It’s possible, though unlikely, that the taxi industry will be able to recover and upgrade its service to match Uber. For example, Flywheel has tried to duplicate the app-based Uber experience but it’s a weak imitation. I’ve tried to use it several times but won’t any further.

Here’s a secondary point: if you’re an incumbent being disrupted you can’t simply create a “me-too” offering. You have to go beyond what the insurgent is doing. That may be effectively impossible in most industries where the culture and economics are typically stacked against creative innovation.

In some markets, such as Manhattan, taxis will undoubtedly survive. New Yorkers have fewer reasons to use Uber. However in most other places, such as San Francisco, the Uber experience is so much better, that it is decimating the existing industry.

In another sense Uber is a lesson in customer service and what providing a superior customer experience can do.


The $500 Billion Cost of a Disengaged American Workforce


Two years ago I stumbled upon a 2013 Gallup survey that argued 70% of the US workforce was “disengaged.” Beyond that stat, a big chunk the group was “actively disengaged” (think “Office Space”-style sabotage). Though I wasn’t shocked by these findings, I was very surprised at how bad it was.

It makes sense. It’s very hard to find people who genuinely like their jobs. Things may be somewhat better in the tech sector for several reasons.

Gallup engagement data

Gallup’s 2014 survey data are slightly better than the 2013 results. In fact, Gallup says that the level of employee engagement is better now than at any time since 2000, when the pollster started conducting this survey. But they’re still not good.

It’s worth pointing out that this is no survey of 1,000 adults at a point in time. It’s based on a sample of more than 80,000 US adults from every state captured over the entire course of the year:

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted January to December 2014, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 80,837 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The following are example questions used in the survey to determine levels of employee engagement:

Gallup engagement questions

As the chart above indicates, Gallup found in 2014 that 31.5% of US employees were “engaged,” while 68.5% were not. Gallup reports that “managers, executives and officers” had the highest levels of engagement in 2014 at 38.4%.

This is probably because these groups are better compensated than others and their compensation may be partly tied to individual and corporate performance. In addition, I would speculate, they’re more emotionally identified with their jobs and roles than lower-level employees.

Gallup engagement data

In accordance with the cultural stereotype, “Millennials are the least engaged group, at 28.9%.”  Gallup says that “Millennials are particularly less likely than other generations to say they ‘have the opportunity to do what they do best’ at work.”

Gallup engagement data

According to Gallup and other sources the cost of unhappy employees is “between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity each year.” And turnover costs employers between 100% and 300% of the former employee’s base salary. By contrast, companies with engaged employees perform better across the board and generate more income.

Gallup engagement

These findings argue that the biggest problem in the American workplace and perhaps, by extension, the US economy is not efficiency or “productivity” in some conventional sense but employee dissatisfaction — as the root cause of other problems. Much of this stems from a long-standing disregard of employee well-being and satisfaction.