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September 2, 2015

Why Insurance Marketers Need to Think Like Henry Ford

By Jill Linsenberg

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

I’ve always loved Henry Ford’s famous quote about the birth of the auto industry — it’s one of my favorites actually. That’s probably because I’m a firm believer in the connection between success and the ability to think outside the box, take a chance, or do something unexpected. And in the insurance industry, local search constitutes a huge opportunity to make a major leap forward.

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Image Credit: Philanthropy Roundtable

The insurance industry has earned a reputation of being reluctant to change. Granted, there are certainly many examples of insurance firms embracing change (just look at the newest brands offering “pay as you go” auto insurance for example). But too often, senior marketers in the insurance industry still cling to a “we’ve always done it this way” type of thinking, based on conversations I have had with digital marketers attempting to drive change within some of the largest and most prestigious insurance brands in the United States. As author Dax Craig notes, “It’s no surprise . . . that insurance — not exactly known for being on the forefront of technology — is one of the last remaining industries to innovate and fully embrace data, analytics and customer communication technologies.”

And yet, when it comes to marketing, we’ve been living through a historic and unprecedented time of change. I often hear that there has been more change in marketing in the past two-to-five years than in the past 50. Digital disruption is everywhere, with “Uber-like” businesses popping up daily. And mobile responsive design is no longer a nice to have but a must, especially with the ongoing struggles brands face to be found and to create a great customer journey in the mobile era.

For most large insurance brands, local search certainly falls into the category of “we’ve never done it that way.” But the time is now for brands to quickly embrace a holistic local search strategy and to drive more conversions for the agents and advisors who sell their products. Cleansing, publishing, and ongoing distribution of location data is essential along with a local page optimized for organic search for each agency and agent. Local pages need to be filled with hyper-local content that is brand compliant, regularly refreshed, and built to maximize conversions.

For those marketers who may need a little bit of help getting their executive team better educated on why local search has to be a priority as planning begins for the coming year, Forrester Research’s “Uncovering the Benefits of Local Marketing” is be a great resource. And if you are looking for the right questions to ask as you consider potential solutions, the SIM Partners “Local SEO Platforms Buyer’s Guide” is a helpful tool. 

Remember: you’ll never win the race against a sports car by riding a horse. Don’t allow your brand and your agents to be left in the dust.

September 1, 2015

Does Your Local Marketing Automation Tool Measure Up?

By Tari Haro

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With local media marketing spend expected to reach $145.4 billion by 2016, local marketing has become a higher priority on the senior marketer’s agenda. Enterprises that manage thousands of locations, such as national retailers, can scale their local marketing efforts by investing in the right tools. To guide senior marketers of multi-location enterprises, Third Door Media (home to publications such as Search Engine Land) has published its annual Enterprise Local Marketing Automation Tools: A Marketer’s Guide. I recommend the report not only for its overview of automation tool providers such as SIM Partners’ Velocity, but also for its useful overview of key trends influencing local marketing. As I review the 2015 edition, I see two major themes emerging: the importance of mobile and the absolute need for brands to possess a local data strategy that builds your brand, not just maintains it. Does your automation tool provider measure up?

The Mobile Consumer Rules

Enterprise Local Marketing Automation Tools provides a snapshot of 20 local marketing automation vendors (versus 18 in the 2014 report). All the tool providers are servicing a marketplace increasingly shaped by the mobile consumer. As the report points out:

Local marketing will continue to evolve as mobile consumers demand faster, more accurate local information. In-store beacon technology, which offers consumers access to specific offers based on their proximity to products within a store or dealer location, is becoming more widely available. At the same time, enterprises are using LMA tools to connect real-time inventory information to their mobile websites and apps, allowing consumers to find the closest location offering their desired products. The role of wearable mobile devices – such as Apple Watches – is yet to be determined, but is being closely watched by vendors and marketers alike.

I nodded in agreement as I read that passage. As we have discussed on our blog, the mobile consumer has collapsed the buying cycle dramatically, and certainly at a local level. Google’s I-Want-to-Go Moments: From Search to Store report (possibly the landmark local search report of 2015) reported that “near me” local searches have increased by 34 times since 2011, with 80 percent of those searches coming from mobile.

We believe that senior marketers should demand that their automation tool provider understand how to help grow their brands with mobile consumers. For national brands to truly capitalize on those near me searches, they need to be visible in the “near me moment.” But I also believe brands need to own the “next moment,” by providing contextually relevant content and experiences that compel consumers to take action. For instance, your tool provider should understand how to serve up mobile wallet offers in addition to optimizing your local content for mobile searches. Optimizing your content is the equivalent to being present. Serving up a mobile wallet offer encourages the next moment. Does your automation tool provider know the difference?

Data, Data Everywhere

The importance of local data also informs the 2015 edition of Enterprise Local Marketing Automation Tools. According to the report:

Industry experts agree that accurate, up-to-date business location data is the lynchpin for all local marketing initiatives. Enterprises must first assess the health of every local data point, including business name, address, phone (a.k.a. “NAP”), and business hours. From there, more effective local landing pages, search optimization, monitoring of online reviews and ratings, and engaging in paid search and social advertising should follow. 

The report urges marketers to assess how well tool providers manage the myriad complexities of local data, ranging from data analytics to the ability to support local listings with clean, accurate data. In fact, SIM Partners believes data is the foundation of all local marketing — not just to protect your brand, but also to build it. As our CEO Jon Schepke recently wrote on Search Engine Watch, “Enterprise brands need to think beyond listing management, and transform their location data into a scalable asset that is accessible and actionable.”

For instance, as Jon writes, enterprises should make their data accessible by distributing data properly among publishing intermediaries and making data findable via voice searches conducted on mobile devices and wearables. Brands need to make data actionable to encourage that next moment of search, an example being a healthcare provider that provides a scheduling widget to make it easy for patients to schedule appointments.

To be sure, a tool provider should ensure that local listings use accurate, clean data. But a data strategy should go far beyond is more than local listings. Does your automation tool provider understand the dimensions of a local data strategy?

Enterprise Local Marketing Automation Tools identifies seven crucial capabilities that tool providers should possess: listing management, local search engine optimization, local landing pages, reputation management, paid search or social campaign management, mobile optimization, and local data analytics. Of the 20 vendors assessed, only 9, including SIM Partners, are cited as having capabilities in all areas. The report discusses our Velocity platform, which helps enterprises maximize visibility for their brands everywhere.

We urge brands to read the new report and to work with their tool provider to apply the seven capabilities across the Local Marketing Adoption Curve, which we created to help marketers understand which tactic works best for them along the “crawl, walk, run” stages of local marketing. Make sure you know not only the essential capabilities of your tool provider, but how and when to apply them.

August 26, 2015

Target Makes a Strong Play for the Mobile Consumer

By David Deal

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.

August 25, 2015

The Mobile Back-to-School Study Guide

By Julie Piatek

This back-to-school season we can all learn something from consumers — mobile is huge. People are doing their homework before making a purchase, relying on their mobile devices to find the best deals and the stores that carry items on their shopping lists that are closest to them.

Study this infographic to earn all A’s this back-to-school season and beyond…

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August 21, 2015

Build Your Brand with a Location Data Strategy

By Jon Schepke

To attract and acquire customers in the mobile era, enterprise brands must think beyond business listing management. Today, brands must harness the power of their locations by transforming their location data into a scalable asset that is accessible and actionable.

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In my latest Search Engine Watch byline, I discuss how mobile consumers, with their “near me” search habits, have elevated the importance of location data. To convert mobile consumers into customers, and accelerate the velocity of the customer journey, brands need to encourage “the next moment” that occurs after someone finds your brand through a search.

Location data is key to owning both the “near me” and “next” moments. Brands that have thousands of locations can use location data to be visible in the moments where and when people are looking for them as well encourage the following action, ranging from booking an appointment via a scheduling widget or downloading a mobile wallet offer to redeem in-store.

I hope you take a moment to read my column — contact us for more on how you can harness the power of your location data to drive market leadership for your brand.

August 18, 2015

Don’t Like Google’s Snack Pack? Dial Up Your Local SEO

By Adam Dorfman

While many of us were trying to make sense of Google’s recently announced restructuring, Google once again shook up the world of search. As we noted on our blog, Google scaled back the amount of real estate it provides for featured search results by rolling out its three-listing Snack Pack, which gives preference to the top three results instead of the top seven. The advent of the Snack Pack underscores the need for enterprises to practice sound search engine optimization (SEO) at the local level.

To recap: Google’s Snack Pack format highlights only the three top listings in search results, as opposed to the seven-listing format previously used. The three-pack takes a mobile-first design approach, whittling results to basic address, weblinks, and driving directions, as this example illustrates by revealing search results for “gyms downtown Chicago”:

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There is no other way around it: the total amount of local and local organic listings on the first page of Google’s search results just dropped by almost a quarter, and some businesses are dropping out as a result. If you are concerned about losing search traffic in a post-Snack Pack world, here’s what you should do:

  • Review your local organic search strategy. Why? Because if you were in the 4-7 spots of of the local pack, there is a likely chance that Google will send less traffic your way moving forward. So make sure you are following all best practices for optimizing your local business pages for organic search and continue working to build additional local links.
  • On the other hand, don’t neglect to continue optimizing your Google My Business listings and creating additional citations, both structured and unstructured. The conflation of local and local organic signals continues; so ignoring one in favor of another is not in your best interest.

Incidentally, I suspect many businesses will notice a decrease in site traffic and onsite conversions attributable to Google thanks to the Snack Pack. The decrease is beyond the control of your own efforts to optimize for Google and SEO. Rather, Snack Pack listings now show fewer trackable links to websites. In the example I cited for a search for “gyms downtown Chicago,” Google reveals a website and links for the three businesses listed: East Bank Club, Lakeview Athletic Club, and Quads Gym. When you click on the website links, you are indeed taken to the websites for each business. But when you click on the other links associated with each name, you are taken to Google’s Local Finder:

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Visiting this Local Finder is not a trackable action from the standpoint of your Web analytics.

So don’t panic if you see a dropoff in measurable Web traffic. The dropoff doesn’t necessarily mean that your local performance level is decreasing, but rather the trackable performance level from Web analytics is decreasing. Instead, look to other metrics like Google My Business reporting, call volume, and in-store visits.

We’ll continue to monitor the fallout from the Google Snack Pack and report our findings. Meantime, contact SIM Partners if you want to discuss implications for your business in more detail.

August 14, 2015

Yelp Jumps into Healthcare Ratings and ER Wait Times

By Amanda Bury

The patient experience continues to resemble more consumer-like experience: Yelp recently announced a partnership with ProPublica to publish real-time emergency-room wait times and other relevant hospital data points. For healthcare organizations with strong performance data, the publication of wait times, ratings, and other service data provides a great opportunity to more aggressively incorporate third-party ratings/information into their local marketing efforts, ranging from their websites, local search programs, and social media pages.

 

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Image Credit: Yelp

Information is compiled by ProPublica, which took its own research from 4,600 hospitals, 15,000 nursing homes, and 6,300 dialysis centers in the United States. All of this information is publicly available, and Yelp is just surfacing the data to help patients make the best-informed decisions. So, what information can hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis centers expect to see for public consumption?

Patients can now hover over text on Yelp Business pages to see the following stats:

Nursing homes — data provided by propublica.org.

  • Number of beds.
  • Fines paid over the past three years.
  • Number of serious deficiencies over the past three years.
  • Denials of payment for new admissions over the past three years.

Hospitals — data provided by medicare.gov.

  • Average ER wait time.
  • Quality of doctor communication, versus state average.
  • If the rooms are quiet at night, versus state average.

Dialysis clinics – data provided by medicare.gov.

  • Number of dialysis stations.
  • If they supply peritoneal dialysis.
  • Rate of patient hospitalization versus standard.
  • Rate of hospital readmission versus standard.
  • Rate of patient survival versus standard.

With more than 25 percent of patients stating third-party reviews are an important factor when choosing a physician (source: Finding Quality Doctors  AP-NORC) this Yelp addition makes sense for Yelp’s business model. State hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis centers cannot “opt-out” of the information being displayed. For healthcare entities with positive metrics, the public ratings constitute a great way to demonstrate why patients should choose their brand. For healthcare organizations with more negative reviews, the transparency could discourage patients.

Healthcare organizations confident about their ratings should consider a number of local marketing efforts ranging from prominently displaying the data in local search results to conducting local PR and marketing. Local is an increasingly important market for healthcare and is just getting warmed up.

 

August 12, 2015

How Are You Responding to the Uber Effect?

By Adam Dorfman

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Image Credit: Startup Nation

Mobile is collapsing the customer journey, and businesses are responding with the launch of more on-demand services, a phenomenon I call the “Uber Effect.” As Uber has demonstrated, an enterprise can satisfy customers by empowering them to get what they want with one tap of their mobile devices. In my new Street Fight byline, I discuss how local businesses need to respond to the Uber effect in order to keep their storefronts competitive. I invite you to read the article and let me know your insights about ways businesses can drive more in-store foot traffic amid the rise of the on-demand economy. Connect with me. I’d love to discuss further.

 

 

August 11, 2015

A Quick Take on Google and Alphabet

By Tari Haro

 

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Image Credit: The Official Google Blog 

At first glance, Google’s launch of Alphabet looks like the mother of all reorganizations. We all know Google is huge, but the company found a way to create something bigger. Alphabet is more than a reorganization. It’s all about Google creating an organization to change the way we live.

From a brand/strategy perspective, Alphabet is bigger than Google’s stated mission, “to organize the world’s information” (which was reiterated in Larry Page’s blog post August 10.) Alphabet now has the freedom to innovate (anything from A to Z), to take risks, and to make big bets (“alpha” bets) especially by creating more autonomy for incubator projects such as Google X, responsible for developing forward-thinking products such as self-driving cars. Moreover, giving more autonomy to entities such as Nest, the maker of Internet-connected devices for the home, may help Google allay concerns of Google becoming too much like Big Brother.

Meantime, Google — now a slightly slimmed-down version of itself in Larry Page’s words — has already given us a glimpse of the company’s likely focus under newly named CEO Sundar Pichai, formerly Google’s product chief. In recent months, Google has amped up its message about the importance of businesses harnessing the power of data around mobile “micro moments,” or critical moments when consumers use their mobile devices to decide how to spend their time and their resources. With Pichai leading product development, Google has made big strides toward creating a mobile-first experience, examples being:

In the near term, marketers can expect even more “mobile-first” changes from Google to optimize for these micro-moments, many of which are “near me” location-based opportunities. By harnessing the power of their location data, brands can earn their opportunity to be there where and when consumers are looking for them. As for Alphabet? Look for technology and data to become bigger, more imaginative, and bolder.

Buckle up, everyone.

 

August 7, 2015

Attack the Google Snack Pack

By Jay Hawkinson

We’ve been following breaking news about Google apparently replacing seven-pack search results more uniformly with a mobile-styled three-listing Snack Pack. As Mike Blumenthal reported, the Snack Pack — or the top three listings Google calls out in search results — is appearing more frequently as a search result convention over the seven-pack, which lists the top seven results. In other words, it looks like Google is more consistently rewarding prime real estate in search results to fewer brands in both mobile and desktop platforms and across multiple search engines. The more widespread adoption of the Snack Pack underscores the need for brands to create and distribute healthy location data.

As Blumenthal noted, the mobile-styled Snack Pack is “being seen via Safari in the Netherlands and to it now being seen nationwide in my Firefox browser. Given its increasing visibility across the US and internationally, I would suggest that this is likely a rollout not a test.” If indeed we’re looking at a rollout, brands will need to get used to the following format, which demonstrates a Snack Pack result for a desktop search for “vinyl records near me” in Chicago:

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In the example, note the prominent location of the map as well as the minimal real estate accorded to the merchants that appear in the Snack Pack. In fact, the desktop Snack Pack result emulates what you would find on a mobile device:

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To improve your chances of appearing in Snack Pack results, merchants need to:

  • Harness the power of your location data. Absolutely ensure that your basic name, address, and phone (NAP) data is accurate and shared with the aggregators that supply your location data to Google. Now is the time to do a data health check with all your locations. Is all your location data accurate on Google My Business and represented consistently on your location pages? Are you regularly distributing your data to the big four aggregators (Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Localeze) that Google considers as authorities?
  • Ensure your site is optimized for mobile. As we’ve noted, earlier this year, Google launched an algorithm update that penalizes sites that fail to optimize themselves for mobile content. On its blog, Google identifies a number of criterion for being mobile friendly, such as whether your text is readable without zooming. Google also offers a self-test for you to check whether your content meets the requirements of its algorithm update. If you are not optimized for mobile, you will fall behind.

We will watch this development closely and provide future updates and comment as needed. Meantime, it’s already clear that more than ever, your location data forms the foundation of your local marketing.