David Deal

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What can brick-and-mortar businesses learn about location marketing from a leafy Midwestern arboretum? As it turns out, plenty. The Morton Arboretum, celebrating its 94th year, does a masterful job combining location-based experiences and content that capitalize on the natural beauty of the 1,700 preserve located southwest of Chicago.

Especially during autumn, you might think the arboretum could coast on its reputation as one of the most popular destinations in Illinois. But the arboretum does not rest on its laurels, and for good reason. These days, going for a hike or bike ride competes with alternatives that didn’t exist when the arboretum was founded in 1922 – such as video games, Netflix, and apps that make it all too easy to put off an arboretum visit for another day. Here are two ways the Morton Arboretum attracts visitors in the post-digital age:

Creating Experiences

The arboretum is renowned for its latticework of trails and bike paths that wind their way through a warren of trees and fields. But the preserve is also a year-round source of special events that take advantage of the stunning setting. For example, the arboretum takes advantage of the seasonal beauty of autumn by hosting a number of events, such as Trick or Trees, which features activities such as pumpkin painting for children, and Theatre-Hikes, during which actors portray literary scenes amid the trees and fields for an outdoor audience. But the events don’t end when autumn passes. One of the arboretum’s most notable events is Illuminations, during which the trees are festooned with lights and projections throughout evenings in November, December, and January.

The arboretum is also a learning center. It’s a little known fact that the arboretum is a center for science and conservation, home to researchers in conservation and biology. And the arboretum shares its knowledge with visitors in many ways. For instance, during fall bird walks, docents and patrons explore the abundance of bird life teeming amid the grounds. On select days, Forest Therapy walks offer the opportunity to “experience the healing and wellness promoting effects of Shinrin-Yoku, the practice of bathing the senses in the atmosphere of the forest at The Morton Arboretum,” which includes an abundance of spruce, maple, ash, and many other trees from all over the world. More immersive programs include a summer science camp where kids can take intensive courses in botany and conservation.

The arboretum offers a powerful lesson in creating memorable experiences that give patrons a reason to return after their initial visits. Businesses such as retailers can do the same, as we see especially during the holiday season.  

Questions for Brands

  • What kind of experience do you create to attract foot traffic?
  • Do your experiences differentiate your locations and give visitors reasons to return?

Other Brands to Examine

Serving up Compelling Digital Content

The Morton Arboretum creates awareness and engagement by sharing content across the digital world where its patrons share their own content, demonstrating the adage that if you want to attract an audience, you need to be present where they live and search for things to do.

And the arboretum speaks the language of its audience: imagery. For instance, the arboretum’s Instagram account in recent weeks has been an explosion of fall colors enticing the Instagram community to experience, say, the bright red leaves of a sour gum or a golden yellow cork tree. Its growing Pinterest community takes advantage of Pinterest’s organizational tools, with images organized under boards ranging from Gardening Ideas to Winter Trees. On YouTube, the arboretum offers more immersive tours that give potential visitors a taste of what they’ll find, such as a recently posted Fall Color Report, which gives you a one-minute tour of maple, Appalachia, and Asian trees as their leaves change color from green to orange and gold. On Facebook, the arboretum also includes user-generated images, thus drawing from a broader palette of images and creating more engagement from its Facebook followers.

Facebook and Twitter also act as sources of updates on the events that the arboretum offers around the year. In fact, its Facebook page is a textbook example of a how an organization can use a local page to generate awareness where people conduct near-me searches. The arboretum makes it easy for visitors to learn about events such as its Boo Breakfast for children, and the arboretum cross-promotes content on other social spaces, including TripAdvisor reviews. By being transparent and informative, the arboretum makes Facebook an important digital touch point that complements its website, which serves as its hub for learning more about things to do there. Patrons can also sign up for an email newsletter that curates content as frequently as needed.

Questions for Brands

  • Are you creating content that will engage your audience at a location level?
  • Are you distributing that content where your customers are going to find it?

Other Brands to Examine

  • Nordstrom, for its mastery of content on platforms such as Pinterest.
  • Starbucks, for capitalizing on social spaces such as Facebook to generate awareness for its stores.

Finally, the arboretum makes itself easily findable by making content and basic data (such as its hours, address, and contact information) prominent in mobile and desktop searches – which is easier said than done. True, the arboretum needs to worry about managing data for a single location. But with so many events offered year-round, the organization must ensure that special hours are updated for different activities held at specific locations throughout the grounds. For businesses that operate multiple locations, updating hours to accommodate seasonal events such as holiday shopping can be challenging but rewarding, as noted in a recent blog post by Adam Dorfman.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, content and experiences, combined with accurate location data, are increasingly essential to combat the ever-present threat of merchants such as Amazon, which are expanding into physical retailing. Looking at non-obvious examples such as the Morton Arboretum can provide inspiration. To learn more how to energize your location marketing efforts, contact us. Meanwhile, get outside and enjoy the fall at your local arboretum.


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Big things have small beginnings.

On May 12, Google unveiled Gboard, a new keyboard for iOS devices that makes it possible for users to perform Web searches, look for images, and scour the earth for emojis without needing to leaving the keyboard. When you use Gboard, searches are pasted instantly into a text box.
To casual observers, Gboard sounds like another cool function that increases Google’s presence in our everyday lives. But I think Gboard points to a couple of bigger trends that influence location marketing: accelerating the growth of micro-moments and increasing Google’s influence.

Rise of the Instant Micro-Moment

Gboard is an example of how Google is inventing the future by influencing consumer behaviors. In 2015, Google published popular research on the rise of the micro-moment, which Google defines as times when people use their mobile devices to decide what to do, what to buy, and where to go. And those micro-moments increasingly occur in context of near me searches. As Google reported, the number of near me searches has increased 34-fold since 2011, and 88 percent of them occur on mobile devices.

As SIM Partners CMO Tari Haro has noted, micro-moments represent a big shift in the way brands and consumers interact with each other. In the era of micro-moments, consumers accelerate the customer journey down to a single moment of research and decision making how they will spend their time and money. The launch of Gboard takes some friction out of the customer journey.
As Google noted on its blog, Gboard makes it possible to conduct near me searches right from your keyboard and share those results with others without even needing to leave your Google search app. I think it’s telling that on its blog, and in a one-minute video, Google chooses to focus on a search for a local meatball shop to illustrate the power of Gboard: two friends decide on where to grab a meal by doing a search from Gboard and sharing that information right from the Google app on their iPhones. As the video narrator points out, “It’s like having Google search in any app . . . right from the keyboard.”

As SIM Partners Senior Vice President of Product and Technology Adam Dorfman noted in a recent Search Engine Land column, Google realizes that traditional methods of search are giving way to more wide-ranging forms of discovery — and Google intends to be an active participant amid that change.

Battle of the Data Amplifiers

The launch of Gboard also represents something else: Google taking a swipe at Apple. As SIM Partners Vice President of Product Gib Olander discussed in a recent Street Fight column, data publishers such as Google, Apple, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp are becoming more influential as they muscle aside other platforms to capture and share brands’ location data across the digital world where near me micro-moments occur. We call this small group of publishers, along with data aggregators such as Neustar Localeze, “data amplifiers.”

Google is a data amplifier because it not only serves as a platform for search, but it ensures that the brands on the other side of those searches are visible when micro-moments of discovery occur. If your business operates hundreds and thousands of locations, you need to ensure that you share your data with Google to spread to consumers when they use their devices (and features such as Gboard) to figure out what to buy, where to go, and what to do.

But Google isn’t the only amplifier in town. Apple is another one, and Apple continues to extend its reach into search as we have seen with its iOS 9 predictive search feature, unveiled in 2015. With Gboard, Google is finding another way to compete with Apple for search traffic — by acting as a Trojan Horse and embedding itself into consumers’ everyday behaviors on Apple’s own turf, iPhones.

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As Google Principal Engineer Rajan Patel noted on Google’s blog, “iPhone users—this one’s for you. Meet Gboard, a new app for your iPhone that lets you search and send information, GIFs, emojis and more, right from your keyboard.” Within the first two sentences of the post, Google cites the iPhone — making sure we get the message.

And not only does Google become more embedded into our search behavior, it also collects more information from iPhone users whether they are searching or not. Trojan horse, indeed.

What the News Means

The launch of Gboard points to the importance of brands maintaining strong relationships with data amplifiers — not just Google but the other major players, Apple included. When you actively share your data with data amplifiers, you not only make your brand visible where near me searches occur, you also reap more benefits when the data amplifiers unveil innovations such as Gboard.

The news also should remind brands to understand the rise of micro-moments and have a strategy in place to turn those moments of consideration into next moments of purchase. It’s not enough to be present when near me searches occur on mobile devices. To win during those micro-moments, businesses need to be present with content such as mobile wallet offers that give consumers a good reason to visit your location. If you don’t, you’ll lose to someone else who is present at the right place and right time — without the consumer ever leaving an app.

Contact us to discuss how you can win in an era of micro-moments.

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It’s never been more important for healthcare systems to manage online patient reviews and ratings. Nearly half of consumers check online reviews and ratings before making an appointment with a doctor, and one in three consumers say that looking at online reviews is their first step when searching for a new doctor.

On February 4, SIM Partners and ReviewTrackers gave healthcare systems insight on how to manage online patient reviews and ratings during a webinar, Take Ownership of Customer Reviews and Ratings, hosted by Amanda Bury, managing director of the SIM Partners healthcare practice, and Emily Carl, account manager, ReviewTrackers.

They shared a number of insights, with the key take-away being that healthcare systems cannot manage reviews and ratings effectively unless they have strong location data management strategies in place. An effective location data management strategy will ensure that a healthcare system’s ratings and reviews are findable and visible at a time when patients demand transparency.

Amanda Bury provided context for the importance of reviews and ratings by discussing how reviews and ratings are a by-product of an era of increased transparency in healthcare.

According to Bury, patients are looking for affordability and transparency in healthcare — and they increasingly have access to digital tools such as online ratings/reviews to find out what they need to know about their providers in order to make informed choices.

In other words, patients are acting like informed consumers, undergoing the same process of awareness, consideration, and engagement that applies to people buying cars or clothing:

  • Awareness: patients perform search queries, especially “near me” searches, which have increased 34-fold since 2011, according to Google.
  • Consideration: patients consult reviews and ratings.
  • Engagement: patients scheduling online or call a physician.

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The challenge for healthcare systems is to be visible and findable with contextual information that encourages patients to move from awareness to engagement (an example being providing a scheduling widget that makes it easy for patients to make an appointment).

Bury explained that accurate location data — such as the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of a healthcare organization — makes a healthcare system findable through the stages of awareness, consideration, and engagement. Location data paired with compelling content converts these near me searches into “next moments” of forming patient relationships.

A location data management strategy means ensuring that location data is managed, distributed, and monitored everywhere patients conduct near-me searches for information such as physician reviews and ratings:

Managing location data means ensuring that all that all forms of location data, ranging from NAP data to one’s business description, are kept accurate and up to date.

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Distributing location data means sharing it with the data aggregators such as Neustar Localeze and publishers such as Google and Foursquare (collectively known as data amplifiers) that share a healthcare system’s location data everywhere near me searches occur.

Monitoring data means constantly checking it for accuracy and timeliness as a business’s conditions change (including the departure/addition of physicians).

By managing, distributing, and monitoring location data, a healthcare system creates the foundation to begin publishing its own reviews/ratings and, in turn, making sure that this vital information is findable and visible where near me searches occur.

Managing Reviews and Ratings

Emily Carl then dug into the details of reviews and ratings. According to Carl, 77 percent of consumers begin their healthcare search online, and one in three patients use industry or consumer influenced sites for reviews as they undergo the process of awareness, consideration, and engagement that Bury discussed.

Patients demand transparency throughout this process, and reviews and patients are an opportunity for healthcare systems to meet that demand.

Moreover, patients are finding reviews through Google search results that show ratings for a site as well as third-party sites such as Yelp, with or without the participation of a healthcare system:

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Optimizing your site with local information optimized for Google will make your reviews and ratings findable online.

Moreover, Yelp is more popular than most medical review sites such as ZocDoc as a source of physician reviews. Consumers can now visit Yelp to view patient reviews and have access to medical information before going to the doctor, as well as senior care centers.  
Consequently, healthcare systems need to take ownership of reviews so that patients can get trusted information:

  • Survey your own patients and share their ratings on your physician pages.
  • Participate in third-party review sites such as Yelp and ZocDoc, where patients can review your physicians. Make sure your physician information is visible and findable on those sites through a location data management program.

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But managing reviews and ratings is not necessarily easy. Enterprises need to monitor multiple physician sites and multiple third-party review sites, for instance. But a review management system can help healthcare systems manage the process.

Healthcare systems that do make a sustained effort will take a leadership position because there is a current lack of engagement from healthcare organizations on various review profiles.

Moreover, healthcare systems that manage reviews and ratings will build trust with patients in an era of transparency.

Next Steps

Bury and Carl suggested listeners take these next steps to take ownership of reviews and ratings:

  • Take stock of your entire location data ecosystem, including where reviews/ratings should exist.
  • Prioritize your location data needs − for example, is your most pressing challenge improving physician data or improving the quality of service-line information?
  • Leverage your review data to obtain and understand patient insight.  

Review management is no longer a nice to do but essential to be responsive to patients and to build one’s brand. To learn more about how to manage location data and reviews in tandem, contact either SIM Partners or ReviewTrackers.


Image Credit: ABC News

It’s time for retailers to start planning for the 2016 holiday shopping season.

You might not know yet what kind of merchandise is going to be hot come December, nor do you need to. But what’s clear from retailers’ experiences in 2015 is that the holiday season is extending its reach well beyond Black Friday, compelling retailers to plan ahead sooner. So I’m not surprised when I see marketing experts suggesting that retailers test their holiday marketing campaigns several weeks ahead of Thanksgiving.

Now is the time to lay the groundwork for the holiday season by mastering some habits that will serve you well when the results of the 2016 holiday season are tallied up. If you want to create in-store foot traffic and convert store visitors to customers, here are some a few important practices you need to own:

Turn Moments of Interest into Moments of Conversion

During the 2015 holiday season, Americans spent $12.7 billion online via mobile devices, up 59 percent year over year. Yes, the $12.7 billion is a small fraction of the $626 billion that we spent during the holiday season, but undeniably, mobile is shaping the holiday experience even when — actually, especially when — consumers use their devices to research a product they buy offline. When consumers use their devices to do initial product research, they’re experiencing a moment of interest. Retailers need to turn mobile moments of interest into moments of conversion by:

  • Being visible everywhere moments of interest occur. Google refers to moments of interest as micro-moments, or times when people are considering where to go, what to do, or what to buy. Businesses need to share contextual information and experiences, supported by accurate location data, everywhere your shoppers experience moments of interest. We usually think of mobile moments of interest occurring in context of a shopper Googling “stores near me” or “Star Wars toys near me” on a mobile device, and this scenario certainly applies. In addition, a lesson from the 2015 season is that mobile moments of interest are occurring everywhere, including mobile apps and social spaces. Target capitalized on these “everywhere moments of interest” by conducting a holiday campaign that engaged consumers on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, including suggesting holiday gift ideas and creating playful experiences. Thriving in moments of interest means sharing contextual content as Target did — supported by accurate store location data so that when shoppers want to jump off Facebook and come to your store, they’ll find an accurate address, contact information, and store hours updated for the holidays. If the location data is wrong, a moment of interest will quickly become a moment of frustration.

Succeeding with moments of interest and next moments comes down to consumer intent to buy: encouraging it and creating it.

Offer an Experience

What can offline retailers provide that Amazon can’t? A special experience. Shoppers can’t enjoy a department store’s window displays or take their kids to see Santa on Amazon.

Surprise and delight is a key element of a local experience. For example, just as Starbucks created an unusual gift card offer, the coffee chain provided a special in-store experience during the holidays, offering limited edition mugs and gifts with gold and crystal trim, thus adding some holiday bling to your Starbucks visit.

Offering a good experience also means harnessing the power of technology at or near stores — for instance, using GPS and beacon technology to offer shoppers loyalty points if they’ll try on clothing while they’re in the store, as American Eagle does, or making it possible for shoppers to organize and find merchandise, as Target does. The Skip phone app, being piloted by Gerrity’s in Pennsylvania, allows shoppers to bypass the check-out line and scan purchases as they shop, then pay for them on their phones. Gerrity’s, a grocery store, is on to an idea that retailers might want to apply to create a better experience.

Get Ready

Creating a holiday game plan goes well beyond mastering moments and a great experience. The SIM Partners Holiday Retail Guide, published in 2015, contains more insight and best practices. Consider next moments and experiences to be the cornerstone of your approach, though. And why not start learning how? The year provides plenty of milestones for you to get better at next moments and creating local experiences, including Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and events specific to a region.

Don’t wait until the fall to figure out the holiday season. Start now. Borrow and adapt ideas liberally from the online world.  Consumer shopping intent is always in season.  Contact us to talk more.

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Image Credit: Google 

Self-driving cars are rock stars, and they’ve been owning some pretty big stages lately. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 6-9 was a coming-out party for self-driving cars, and they have been all over the news at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), occurring January 11-24 in Detroit. Self-driving cars may be coming sooner than you think, and they promise to make location marketing a more contextual, on-demand experience.

Big Announcements

CES hadn’t even officially launched, and self-driving cars were the talk of the event, especially when General Motors and Lyft announced a partnership that includes the development of a self-driving car service. More major announcements followed, among them: Volvo said it is developing high-bandwidth streaming capabilities for self-driving cars, and technology company Nvidia announced a new computer to power self-driving cars.

At the NAIAS, developments included Mercedes-Benz announcing the 2017 E-class sedan, which features autonomous driving (although not fully self-driving — yet) capabilities. Ford said it is the first automaker to test self-driving cars in snowy conditions (Google had already done so). John Krafcik, president of the Google self-driving car project, spoke of Google’s intent to accelerate the development of the autonomous vehicle by forming more partnerships with the auto industry.

It’s already clear that automobiles are becoming more sophisticated search engines as voice-activated capabilities such as Android Auto and CarPlay gain more acceptance among car manufacturers. In addition, the news coming out of CES and NAIAS points to the automobile as a future battleground for more contextual, on-demand location marketing.

Contextual Experiences

It’s not just the advent of self-driving cars that has captured the imagination, and earned the investment, of the world’s biggest brands — it’s the development of connected, self-driving cars that could change the way people live and interact with businesses.

We’re already living in an era of the car as entertainment machine, thanks to partnerships between automakers and businesses such as Pandora. At CES, Apple, Google and Microsoft were among the technology players sharing how they are collaborating with automakers to turn cars into connected mobile devices with which you can stream content and navigate the world with your voice. The transformation of autos into connected devices, coupled with advances in self-driving technology, are nudging the auto transportation one step closer to the experience of settling into your seat, kicking back, and entertaining yourself with rich content while your car drives you where you want to go.

As Adweek recently discussed, the promise of increasingly connected cars with the added twist of autonomy has many implications for marketers, such as the possibility of delivering more immersive content while people are on the go. With connected, self-driving cars, brands need not worry about the obvious problem of distracting drivers with content. Automobiles may become traveling content machines.

This opportunity applies to location marketing in a big way. We often think of state-of-the-art location marketing in terms of businesses sharing mobile-wallet offers as a consumer is nearby or in a location. With connected, self-driving automobiles, enterprises can share contextual experiences through bigger screens and with high-definition sound to more engaged automobile passengers. For example:

  • A new restaurant attempting to gain a following could go beyond an offer and provide a video tour of the dining room or give you an opportunity talk with the chef while you decide whether you want to visit.
  • A clothing retailer might provide an immersive look at its new Versace or Dolce and Gabbana collection.

The key to success will be, as always, being relevant and engaging. Whether consumers are in their cars, on airplane, or hanging out at home, the same reality applies: people will block annoying ads. But they will welcome an engaging experience that happens to be an ad.

At Your Service

GM and Lyft are not the only companies figuring out how to create on-demand self-driving cars. Google, Tesla, and Uber are among the other heavy hitters researching on-demand, self-driving cars.

It’s easy to foresee a day when multi-location businesses will use on-demand, autonomous vehicles to perform a wide variety of services, including delivering products to your door, picking up products that need returning, and driving people to and from their homes to complete tasks such as shopping. Imagine Nordstrom rewarding its repeat customers by managing the transportation to/from a local store with self-driving vehicles, pre-programed with a customer’s favorite music and entertainment stations, and waiting while the customer shops: no fuss, no need to make multiple orders for return service, along with a more personal, customized experience on the way.

We’re already seeing businesses ranging from Amazon to Taco Bell launch same-day delivery services as businesses shift to the realities of an Uber-like on-demand world. High-tech self-driving vehicles open up more possibilities beyond the use of drones or on-demand services that require human intervention.

The On-Demand World Is Here

Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to picture an incredibly engaging, efficient future in which people and brands combine the immersive qualities of technology with the warmth of in-person customer experiences on their best days. The future is a lot messier, fraught with regulatory debates, obvious issues of consumer safety, and development costs, just to cite the baggage associated with driverless vehicles.

But the future of the car as autonomous experience is coming, and automakers know it. Witness the way legacy brands like GM, and challengers such as Tesla, are embracing the autonomous future rather than fighting it. Various pundits predict self-driving cars becoming more common by 2020. On-demand location marketing is already here. The two worlds are converging in some intriguing ways — and rapidly.

Contact us to discuss the future of location marketing.

Facebook is making a major move to become a go-to resource for local reviews.

As reported by blogger Sreedev Sharma, Facebook is testing a feature that makes it possible for consumers to find highest rated businesses (such as professional services) in their areas. And anyone can try it out, here: https://www.facebook.com/services/

The URL takes you to a Facebook page that permits you to find ratings for nearby businesses by simply typing the name of a business category in a search field. Facebook returns results based on your location. For instance, Chicagoans who choose the “Tex-Mex Restaurants” category receive information about options such as Uncle Julio’s on North Avenue and Taqueria Vargas on California Avenue. As you can see from this example, the results include ratings and essential data such as phone numbers, hours of operation, and street addresses. Facebook also suggest names of other Tex-Mex locations nearby:

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It didn’t take long for news media ranging from Tech Crunch to Search Engine Land to notice Sharma’s blog post. The apparent ratings/review feature is another sign that Facebook long ago evolved from being the world’s largest social network to a publishing powerhouse. We refer to Facebook as a “data amplifier.” Data amplifiers consist of publishers (such as Facebook and Apple) and data aggregators (such as Acxiom and Neustar Localeze) that are essential to extending the reach of a business by distributing its location data across the digital ecosystem where consumers have “near me” moments of need.

As Google has reported, consumers are increasingly conducting “near me” searches to explore what they want to do and where they want to go. The number of near me searches has increased by 34-fold since 2011. Facebook wants to capture its share of those near me moments.

At a minimum, enterprises need to ensure that their location data is accurately shared on Facebook (note that the search results for the under-development “Yelpbook” feature pull data from brands’ Facebook pages, which Tech Crunch also notes). More importantly, enterprises with multiple locations need to develop a broader location data management strategy that treats location data as a scalable asset distributed to data amplifiers and select vertical-market publishers.

SIM Partners maintains relationships with data amplifiers and can scale location data through our Velocity platform. In our newly published white paper, The CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management, we discuss how businesses can unleash their location data as part of a broader strategy. Download The CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management and contact us to talk more.

The holiday shopping season isn’t just happening sooner. As digital buy buttons proliferate, holiday shopping is becoming even more convenient for consumers to do online, which challenges offline retailers to lure foot traffic into their stores. The key is for offline retailers to connect with and convert shoppers to offline customers when people are searching for holiday ideas on their smartphones.

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Image Credit: Facebook

Recently, both Pinterest and Twitter expanded their buy-button functionality that makes it possible for users to shop directly from the social media apps. Re/code indicates that Pinterest’s expansion of buy buttons is part of a strategy to make Pinterest a shopping destination during the holiday season. And as Adweek reported, with Twitter adding more online payment partners to power the buy buttons “you’ll likely start seeing a lot more shopping-enabled tweets in the coming weeks from retailers eager to drive holiday sales.” Best Buy is among the major brands that are expected to selling products directly from tweets.

Twitter and Pinterest are but two of many online brands that have launched buy buttons in 2015, which appeal especially to mobile shoppers who use their smartphones to research, find, and purchase products both inside and outside mobile apps. As Jon Schepke has discussed and I have noted, buy buttons are something of a fixation. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are all counting on buy buttons to claim their share of the $886 billion that U.S. consumers are expected to spend during the holiday season. On October 12, Facebook also announced that it is testing new functionality designed to make shopping on Facebook easier, especially through mobile.
These developments are not necessarily good for offline retailers that seek to deliver foot traffic to their stores. But enterprise brands have options to create customers during the holiday season. For instance, brands can and should:

  • Be present when consumers use their mobile devices to decide what to buy and where they’ll buy. Google calls these crucial moments of discovery and decision making “micro-moments.” According to Google, consumers are more open to suggestion from brand during micro-moments, but businesses need to be present with differentiating content when those searches occur. Make sure location pages and apps feature content that will put offline destinations in the consideration set when someone searches for “Star Wars merchandise” or “best-selling books.” Merchants should play up information about seasonal deals, any merchandise exclusive to their stores, and services such as gift wrapping.
  • Reward mobile shoppers for visiting their stores. Create “next moments” — or the action that occurs after a search has occurred — with compelling mobile wallet offers and tools that allow consumers to find inventory and reserve it easily. Starbucks, for instance, drove foot traffic to its stores via a 2014 holiday contest eligible to shoppers who used their Starbucks mobile phone app at local Starbucks stores. Banana Republic and the Gap provide a “reserve in store” option through which consumers can choose their clothing and have it waiting for them at a register. “Reserve in Store” creates a next moment by encouraging shoppers to visit a store.

Google recently published a white paper, Winning Omni-Channel Shoppers in Their Micro-Moments, which underscores the importance of reaching mobile shoppers as part of an online/offline experience. The white paper cites compelling comScore data: the majority of purchases following a mobile search happened not online, but in a physical store (73 percent) or on the phone (16 percent). The white paper shares compelling examples from retailers such as Rebecca Minkoff, which has boosted sales by creating immersive in-store experiences coupled with mobile content such as offers.

Google urges retailers to prepare themselves to own mobile micro-moments this holiday season. “Take advantage of the fact that people are often searching on mobile before they come into a store,” notes the report’s author, Vice President of Marketing Lisa Gevelber. “Be there on mobile, and think of it as the new entrance to your store.”

Of course, the creators of buy buttons hope to make mobile the store, not the new entrance to an offline store. Ultimately, offline retailers can combat frictionless buying with a great experience that shoppers cannot get online. You can’t visit Santa with a buy button. A mobile phone can’t serve you free hot chocolate or the unexpected joy of carolers singing in a store. But retailers need to work harder to attract mobile shoppers to those experiences, which is where micro-moments and next moments apply. The recently published SIM Partners 2015 Holiday Retail Guide provides more in-depth advice on how offline retailers can successfully court mobile consumers. I encourage you to read it and contact us for more information.

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Image Credit: Panera

How does a restaurant chain with 1,800 locations succeed with local marketing while maximizing the value of its national brand? Panera Bread provides one compelling example. The chain makes its mark through local marketing by combining community outreach with the efficiencies of digital at the national level.

Founded in 1987, Panera Bread has become a national favorite for its high-quality bread, soups, sandwiches, and bakery specialties served, along with free WiFi, in a casual environment. Panera Bread restaurants also provide a sense of comfort and charm for reasonable prices, beyond what you normally find off an expressway or in a strip mall. An effective local marketing approach is an important part of the $1.8 billion brand’s appeal. Its key components include:

Community Outreach

The cornerstone of Panera’s local presence is its strong community outreach program to ensure that each location builds goodwill through giving.

For example, through its Community Breadbox, Panera bakeries take donations from customers to support local nonprofit organizations. Through Fundraising Night, Panera Bread restaurants work with local nonprofits to promote their causes and raise money by using local Panera franchises to raise awareness (which generates foot traffic for Panera and revenue for a participating nonprofit). And since 2010, Panera has operated select Panera Cares outlets, where customers pay only what they can afford to pay (they can volunteer their time, too), thus creating a haven for the needy in cities such as Boston and Chicago. Other programs include:

  • End-Day Dough-Nation through which Panera Bread bakeries donate unsold bread and baked goods to charities and hunger relief agencies. According to the Panera Bread website, Panera stores donated $100 million worth of unsold food in 2012.
  • An internship program, piloted in Missouri, that gives at-risk youth job training through Panera Bread locations.

Giving to the community means supporting individuals in addition to institutions. For example, Panera Bread turns its restaurants into classrooms by offering teaching tips for children aged 5-12. Instruction includes the art of baking French baguettes (“one to bring home and one to donate to people in need in your community“).

Giving back to communities does not occur by accident. The local programs reflect Panera’s national commitment to solving hunger — a mission that has expanded to supporting many other charities and causes. By delivering on a national mission, local Panera bakeries become more integrated into their communities and seem less like faceless chains.

Creating a Home

Panera also makes its locations destinations, not just places to grab something to eat and drink. Certainly, chains ranging from McDonalds to Starbucks make their stores more appealing by offering amenities such as free WiFi. Panera Bread goes a step further by actively encouraging its customers to make Panera restaurants part of their daily routines. Many Panera Bread bakeries provide Community Rooms, which residents can book for meetings by calling the restaurant or booking online. If your weekly coffee klatch needs a place to hang out regularly, you can take the guesswork out of the process by reserving a place and time (which probably means more revenue for Panera).

Panera taps into its national infrastructure to help its customers learn how they can make Panera their home away from home. On its national blog, Panera profiles some interesting ways customers have enriched their local Panera stores, such as:

Here again, Panera creates an interplay between its national brand and local presence. The Panera bakeries make themselves destinations for patrons. The Panera blog shares examples from the front lines in order to maximize the value of the local activity for the benefit of the national Panera brand. The message is clear: we not only welcome you to spend time with our stores, we celebrate your spending time with our stores.

Being Useful

Panera relies on the power of its national brand and infrastructure to make sure that each locations ingratiates itself by being useful. Case in point: in 2014, Panera launched a mobile app through which customers may do everything from place food orders to pay for their purchases.

What makes the app special is its pre-order functionality. Using the Panera Bread app, you can use your smartphone to place an order for a meal before you arrive at the nearest location and either pick it up to go or eat it in-store. Or you can use the app to place a meal order from your table if you want to wait until you have arrived and secured a table before you think about food. If you prefer to place an order with a person, you can use the app to pay for your purchase just like you do at Starbucks, so long as your phone is enabled with Apple Pay.

As it turns out, Panera is a trendsetter: Starbucks recently launched its own Mobile Order and Pay functionality nationwide, available in 7,400 stores. But you don’t need a smartphone to use mobile technology at Panera. The company has also incorporated iPads in its locations, through which customers may place orders inside locations and either dine at their tables or take their food with them.

Going mobile is part of a $42 million investment, “Panera 2.0,” which is designed to make Panera dining an easier experience. As The Wall Street Journal reported in 2014,

The technology upgrade is geared at disrupting Panera’s current customer experience which typically involves ordering food at one station, picking up beverages at another and waiting in the “mosh pit” — the grim nickname Panera has for the area where customers pick up their food. “All of the friction that we introduce . . . is atrocious,” said Blaine Hurst, Panera’s executive vice president of technology.

Making it easier for customers to place to-go orders is important, too: in 2014, Panera reported that 45 percent of its orders are to go.

By making it possible to use mobile to place orders from tables or to go, Panera enjoys the best of both worlds: satisfying diners who want to hang out at Panera and those who simply want to get their food and leave quickly.


Being Findable

Panera’s local marketing efforts don’t matter a whole lot if customers struggle to find Panera when they are searching for something to eat, especially when they use their mobile devices. According to a SIM Partners audit, Panera could stand to improve its local search visibility.

On the one hand, Panera enjoys good, if imperfect, visibility for branded search. When customers search for a “Panera bread near me,” they can generally find one fairly easily. (But in St. Louis, where Panera Bread was founded as Saint Louis Bread Company, the company name appears with inconsistent naming conventions.)

When people do non-branded searches (e.g., “fresh bread Chicago”), Panera does not appear in Google Snack Pack results — a missed opportunity to be present when people are looking for options in Panera’s category and have not specified Panera by name.

Panera also lacks local store pages, which could boost visibility and drive local traffic. Panera has claimed Google My Business pages but needs to optimize them with more descriptive content and more appealing visual imagery.

Panera is getting many things right with local marketing. But the enterprise has some work to do in order to make search a stronger element of its local marketing. As Google reported in 2015, “near me searches” have increased 34 times since 2011, especially on mobile devices. The opportunity for Panera to capitalize on local searches is huge.

Panera Succeeds

Panera is rocking local marketing. Its use of technology to improve the local experience earned Panera a place on the Fast Company Most Innovative Companies 2015 list. Making the local experience more useful through technology has come with a price tag: according to CEO Ron Shaich (in a July 28, 2015, press release discussing fiscal performance), the cost of launching Panera 2.0 has dampened near-term profit growth. But Shaich says that Panera 2.0 has made a positive difference, too, by helping the company increase sales every month in the second quarter of 2015. He says the mobile/local push is working. Panera also has room to improve its local marketing via search, as the SIM Partners audit shows. But overall, Panera has found the right formula to differentiate itself through local marketing.


September is an exciting time for fans of the two great American sports pastimes, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL). Baseball pennant races are taking shape just as the NFL season kicks off. In both sports, the stadiums where the teams play are instrumental to building fan loyalty. Chicago’s Wrigley Field relies on charm and tradition to draw millions of fans each year even though the Chicago Cubs has not won a World Series since 1908. In Santa Clara, California, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, offers high-tech amenities such as a mobile app that allows fans to order food from their seats. Whether you are a fan of football and baseball, you can learn a lot about successful local marketing from the 61 NFL and MLB stadiums that drew a combined attendance of 90 million people in 2014. Here is how the best stadiums build brand loyalty:

Limit Your Inventory

Even though both the NFL and MLB have undergone numerous changes over the years, both leagues have kept the length of their seasons remarkably consistent. Baseball teams play 162 games over 26 weeks, and the NFL, 16 games over 17 weeks. Major League Baseball has not changed its schedule since 1961, and the NFL has kept the length of its season intact since 1978. Consequently, NFL and MLB stadiums benefit in two major ways:

  • They maintain the notion of scarcity. The window of opportunity to visit a stadium during the regular season closes in October for baseball and in January for football. The scarcity model can stoke demand for many local businesses, an example being the Doughnut Vault in Chicago, which maintains a steady stream of customers by offering a limited supply of donuts. Once the daily supply is depleted, the store closes.
  • Associate themselves with seasons. Baseball fans associate going to a Major League Stadium as a summer ritual, whereas the NFL has made it seem like an attractive experience to bundle up, brave cold weather, and watch a game during the dead of winter. In fact, the winter elements can add to the experience: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver is an open-air stadium even though the field could justifiably have constructed a dome to protect fans from the elements. Why? Because the elements create unpredictability, or a wild-card effect that heightens the experience.

Great retailers know that scarcity and seasonality stoke demand. It’s no wonder that Black Friday remains a retail tradition during the holiday season despite mounting criticism that Black Friday sales are disruptive and not always well managed. People respond to scarcity, and Black Friday has become lodged in our minds as a Thanksgiving tradition as surely as watching football.

Provide an Experience

Sports teams cannot control the quality of their product. Even the most successful baseball teams lose a lot of games during a season, and football teams, with their limited schedules, can find themselves knocked out of contention early in the season. The savviest MLB and NFL stadiums create an experience. As noted, the Chicago Cubs rely heavily on historic charm and ambience of Wrigley Field to draw fans. Fenway Park in Boston does so as well, and with a twist. Recently, the Boston Red Sox partnered with Airbnb to offer two lucky fans the chance to stay the night in the hallowed stadium — for Red Sox fans the equivalent of spending the night in the National Cathedral. The promotion was a brilliant way to attract visitors by offering behind-the-scenes access.

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The lesson learned for other businesses: don’t take your reputation for granted. No matter how well known you are, or how well entrenched you are in your community, keep finding fresh ways to make customers happy.

In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars have gone in a completely different direction, promoting high-tech excitement over heritage. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and EverBank Field in Jacksonville offer fans massive high-definition video screens (EverBank’s is the world’s largest) that magnify every nuance on the field for fans accustomed to seeing the action on their own big-screens at home. AT&T Stadium synchronizes one of its giant screens with a mobile experience. Its “fan experience board,” consisting of 40 LED louvered panels, is connected to every fan in the stadium via a mobile app. When attendees press Dallas Cowboys logos on their apps, the board vibrates and emits a digital display. With the app, fans can also snap selfies and have them posted on the digital board.


But not everything in Texas is about high-tech fun: at AT&T Stadium, fans can check out a large art collection ranging from Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror polished stainless steel sculpture to a massive, colorful mural by Franz Ackermann. In fact, the stadium has procured 42 works of art and commissioned 16 additional pieces exclusively for the stadium to comprise the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection.

The lesson learned: surprise and delight your customers.

Make Life More Comfortable with Technology

Major League Baseball and the NFL have an inherent problem: convincing fans to leave their high-tech cocoons, where they can watch as many games as they’d like, to willingly pay money to endure crowded stadiums, long lines for food, and long walks to the bathroom. Increasingly, stadiums are responding by making the in-person experience easier with mobile technology.

For instance, three baseball stadiums — AT&T Park in San Francisco, Coors Field in Denver, and Yankee Stadium in New York — offer the Clear biometric security service, through which fans can to sail through a “fast access” line by scanning their thumb prints. They can also use the service at airports that offer it.

The Levi’s Stadium app where the NFL 49ers play allows for the ability to order food from your seat (and have it delivered there), search for the shortest bathroom wait times, and find the shortest food lines. Similarly, at Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, New England Patriots fans can use an app to monitor bathroom wait times and track parking and traffic conditions.

By using mobile to enrich the on-location experience, sports stadiums offer a best practice to retailers. Along a same vein, Target began rolling out a program that makes it possible for shoppers to use a mobile app to find their way through Target stores, create and manage shopping lists, uncover special offers, and get sales assistance.

Mobile need not be exclusively about attracting customers; mobile and sensor technology can keep them coming back after they have visited your location.

The Connected Experience

Attending baseball and football games will likely continue to collapse the world outside and inside the stadium by satisfying the needs of connected fans. The San Francisco 49ers have opened the Yahoo Fantasy Football Lounge where fans who participate in fantasy football leagues can watch flat-screen TVs and use touch-screen technology to keep up to date on the performance of make-believe teams compiled from rosters around the NFL. The forthcoming Atlanta Stadium will offer a similar amenity. We are a nation of multi-taskers, using multiple screens to manage our lives while we experience the offline world. Sports stadiums, like the best retailers, have become comfortable with the reality that always on customers never get you all their attention. To attract and retain fans, they’re adapting to our connected lives.

Target announced the rollout of beacons at 50 stores in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle. Through beacons, the retailer will offer deals and product recommendations as customers shop at their local Targets. With nearly 1,800 stores in the United States and a strong brand, Target joins a growing list of major retailers putting a greater emphasis on location marketing via beacons. The news is significant because it demonstrates how technology and data together can create more relevant and useful customer experiences at scale.


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Image Credit: Target

In its announcement, Target emphasized how beacons can enhance the in-store shopping experience. Shoppers who opt in via a Target app will receive offers for products on a “Target Run” app home page as shoppers navigate their local Target stores. As Target explained on its website:

Let’s say you’re browsing women’s apparel. You might get an alert about nearby items that are trending on Pinterest. As you move over to get your groceries, and you may see the “Target Run” page updated with a department-wide offer or a Cartwheel deal for items like Archer Farms Organic milk or Market Pantry cheese.

Also, Target is developing features to make shopping easier. For instance, shoppers who opt in will be able to dynamically re-sort their shopping lists as they move through a Target. (Target compares the experience to smartphone apps rerouting drivers depending on their routes.) And Target will make it possible for shoppers to use the Target app to ask for customer assistance.

It’s interesting to see how much attention the beacons themselves have received in resulting news media attention, ranging from Engadget to TechCrunch. Clearly, beacons continue to enjoy shiny new object status. But beacons need to be deployed carefully. As noted in a recent Street Fight article, beacons can fail miserably for a number of reasons, including:

  • Retailers running advertising campaigns before they first measure data about customer behavior at the local level.
  • Lacking the technology infrastructure to manage beacons correctly.

Target promises to be careful about sharing only contextually relevant content with consumers. “Don’t worry about being overwhelmed with pop-ups—we’re going to limit the amount you receive to two per shopping trip, and we’ll make sure the alerts and in-app updates provide compelling content and offers,” its website says. The business is taking the right approach by testing the rollout across a limited number of stores before expanding the program. During its test-and-learn period, Target will most certainly figure out how to refine its offers based on data it receives about customers who opt into the app. As Target expands its program, the company will likely tap into a number of opportunities, such as:

  • Creating context-aware offers to lure foot traffic into a Target — such as mobile wallet offers to shoppers as they happen to be passing by a Target, which is especially appealing in urban areas where Targets are easily accessible to pedestrians. (Picture a Target downtown Chicago offering a sale on mittens and scarves to nearby pedestrians during the first chilly day of winter.)
  • Making the in-store holiday shopping experience easier through the forthcoming service that allows shoppers to ask for service. So long as Target staffs its stores properly, an in-store service app could make Target a more attractive shopping alternative especially as shoppers try to make last-minute holiday shopping decision.

The critical success factor is not the beacon technology. Beacons are a means to an end. What matters most is how well Target meets the needs of the mobile consumer by creating contextually relevant content — and the ability to harness about customers and locations will make or break Target’s efforts.

As SIM Partners has noted, succeeding in the post-mobile era means being contextual — or delivering the right experiences to the right people at just the right moments. According to Matt Lawson, Google’s director of marketing and performance ads, “[Consumers] want what they want when they want it . . . It’s essential that brands be there in these moments that matter — when people are actively looking to learn, discover, find, or buy.” In fact, SIM Partners believes so strongly in the power of mobile consumers that we recently launched a relationship with mobile provider Vibes to help retailers create compelling mobile wallet offers (incorporating beacon technology).

Target seeks to go beyond “being present” for its customers and wants to create more business by offering a better experience and by cross-selling merchandise to shoppers in store. Customers don’t want to be cross-sold merchandise that is irrelevant to their needs at the moment — but they’ll welcome a deal served up at the right place and time. Target will need to effectively collect its customer data and create actionable content (such as compelling deals that are easily used on mobile wallets) at scale to turn its 50-store pilot into a national success.