March 23, 2017

What Foursquare Analytics Means to Brands

By Adam Dorfman


On March 20, Foursquare officially unveiled Foursquare Analytics, which Foursquare describes as “Google Analytics, but for the real world.” Foursquare Analytics consists of a dashboard that businesses may use to better understand consumer behavior at brick-and-mortar locations. According to Mike Harkey, vice president of business development at Foursquare, the dashboard can help businesses ranging from retailers to restaurants improve their location marketing by getting insight such as why sales drop or increase in different locations and who their best customers are — all based on information that Foursquare collects from consumers’ smartphones as they check in and out of locations.


For example, Foursquare can tell TJ Maxx that 5 percent of the retailer’s shoppers visit TJ Maxx locations about every other week, and eight out of 10 shoppers visited TJ Maxx two times or more in the past 12 months. The high-frequency shoppers were responsible for 40 percent of TJ Maxx’s foot traffic in February, which represented a 30 percent increase over February 2016. Foursquare has been working with businesses such as Equinox, H&M, Taco Bell, and TGI Fridays to test the dashboard.


Our take: the rollout of Foursquare Analytics is not surprising. The only real surprise is that Foursquare didn’t launch the dashboard sooner. Foursquare has been actively mining its 93 million mapped locations to position itself as a location data powerhouse to businesses for the past few years. For example, in 2015, Foursquare launched Pinpoint, which uses consumers’ location data to help businesses create more targeted advertising to consumers. Among many other developments, Foursquare has also developed relationships with businesses such as OpenTable and Uber to make it easier for users of those apps to book rides and dinner reservations with businesses that are on Foursquare.


Foursquare is one of the “data amplifiers,” a term that SIM Partners coined to describe the data aggregators (such as Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Neustar) and publishers (such as Apple, Bing, Foursquare, Google, and Yelp) that share a business’s location data across the digital world, where people conduct “near me” searches. As noted in a recent Search Engine Land column, data amplifiers are important to any business with a brick-and-mortar location because amplifiers wield a disproportionate amount of influence. When a data amplifier such as Foursquare possesses accurate location data for your business, you enjoy a ripple effect as Foursquare shares your data with more customers than a second-tier directory could ever reach.


Our advice to brands: invest your time and effort building relationships with data amplifiers instead of paying to have your location data directly managed on tier-two directories. Foursquare is one of those amplifiers. Clearly, its future is not about check-ins but about data. SIM Partners maintains relationships with all data amplifiers. We are in a position to help you publish data more efficiently on these platforms. Contact us to get started.

March 22, 2017

Artificial Intelligence Takes Hold for Retailers

By Jay Hawkinson

artificial intelligence

It’s been a big week for Watson, IBM’s computer system that applies artificial intelligence to improve businesses in industries ranging from healthcare to retail. At IBM’s Amplify conference (#Amplify2017), the company has been showing off Watson like a proud parent. As reported in MediaPost, retailer Harry & David, a SIM Partners client, has been using Watson to create more a more personal shopping experience. As noted in the article,

In the case of the Harry and David brand of 1-800-Flowers, finding the correct gift was the target objective, which led to the creation of a Watson-powered gift concierge that sorts through 7,000 products to find the most appropriate gift.

Our take: Artificial Intelligence is changing the retail experience — and rapidly. Businesses are using AI to create stronger efficiencies and customer experiences in a number ways, such as:

  • Improved image-based searching capabilities, which is crucial to help customers browse through deep catalogs by finding products that look like products a customer is interested in buying. How often have you been on a website and wondered, “Why can’t I just show a picture of the shirt I like and find shirts like it?” Businesses are using AI to do just that.
  • Personal shopping services such as the 1-800-Flowers gift concierge, which tailors suggestions by learning about customers and matching their interests more intelligently with gift ideas. Other businesses using these kinds of concierges including Victoria’s Secret.
  • Wayfinding in the offline world, as the Mall of America has been doing during the holiday shopping season with its ELF app, which uses conversational technology to help shoppers find the best locations inside the mall for products.
  • Improved service through more accurate inventory forecasting and replenishment, as Grocery chain Morrisons is doing in the United Kingdom.

You don’t need to go all in to win with AI. First ask how you can improve your location marketing experience, such as complementing your offline stores with stronger online browsing and shopping, and improving your brick-and-mortar stores themselves. The above examples are just a few ideas to get started. We’ve also shared how AI was a big takeaway at HIMSS 2017 as more healthcare systems and health IT companies are finding new uses. Is AI influencing your marketing strategy? How are you using AI to create a better location marketing experience?


March 17, 2017

Are Your Business Locators Making Money for You?

By Adam Dorfman


When consumers visit a company’s business locator, chances are they are already interesting in becoming customers. And yet too many brands fail to convert that interest into revenue. The sins of bad locators are many: they’re often loaded with extraneous details that distract users, they don’t include enough useful information about hours and directions, and they fail to optimize content for mobile. By treating business locators as revenue generators, brands can make them more user friendly experiences that encourage a path to purchase. My new column for Search Engine Land, “10 Ways to Improve Your Business Locators,” provides practical tips for wringing more value out of locators. Check it out and contact us to discuss how we can help you.

March 8, 2017

Omnichannel Becomes a Way of Life

By Jon Schepke


Omnichannel is morphing from a business strategy to a way of doing business. That’s the conclusion of Retail Insight: Moving Beyond Omnichannel, a report published by Retail Systems Research (RSR).

RSR is the only research company run by retailers for the retail industry. For five years, RSR has surveyed retailers to assess their progress in adopting omnichannel strategies. The 2017 report reveals that retailers are trying to make omnichannel a way of life.

“Omnichannel is becoming a matter of course — shifting from a specific strategy to something that drives the entire business,” according to the report. “The industry needs to move beyond omnichannel — and quite frankly — toward however the customer wants to shop.”

The report notes that consumers expect omnichannel to be the norm, with consumers wanting a unified experience across all online/offline touchpoints. But retailers face challenges embracing omnichannel, including managing inventory, warehouse capacity, and the technology required to provide a seamless consumer experience.

Our take: we are not surprised that omnichannel remains a top-of-mind issue for retailers even though the concept has existed for quite some time. The explosion of mobile technology has dramatically accelerated consumers’ expectations. Consumers want to look for a product on their mobile devices, do a “near me” search to find the closest location, probably pre-order the product, and pick it up with no hassle in the store.

We believe brick-and-mortar businesses can win in a world of omnichannel discovery by setting the right foundation locally. Doing so means first understanding their customers’ journeys – and then by combining data, content, and experiences to create a smooth journey across channels. As we discuss in our own CMO’s Guide to Omnichannel Discovery, succeeding in an omnichannel world requires businesses to:

  • Understand their customers’ journeys by mapping every channel and device people use when conducting “near me” searches, or location-based search queries that contain phrases such as “near me” or “nearby.”
  • Develop an omnichannel location data strategy that makes the brand visible at every touchpoint where micro-moments of decision making occur during near me searches.
  • Create content and experiences that trigger next moments of commerce for the brand, or the action that occurs after someone finds a business through a search. The content and experiences must be appropriate for each channel. A customer experience on Snapchat will look completely different than one on Facebook or on Google.

Not every omnichannel journey is the same for every business. By mapping your customer’s journey and sharing the right kind of content and data appropriate for each touchpoint in the journey, you will increase your chances for succeeding as omnichannel becomes a way of life. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.

March 2, 2017

Amazon Web Services Outage: How Preparation Prevented a Problem

By Adam Dorfman


On February 28, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing platform experienced a service interruption for four hours — an event that disrupted the performance of some well known businesses such as Buzzfeed, Netflix, Pinterest, Quora, Slack, and Spotify. AWS over the past 10 years has become a vital part of the Web. More than 148,000 websites as well as thousands of apps and devices rely on AWS to help them manage their infrastructure by storing critical assets on the AWS cloud. When AWS went down, its clients experienced problems ranging from slow processing time to outages. Because AWS’s clients include so many high-profile brands with substantial web traffic, a bad day for AWS meant it was lights-out time for everyone Slacking, taking Buzzfeed quizzes, listening to music on Spotify, and binge watching on Netflix.  

Businesses scrambled to notify their users about what had happened and to keep them up to date as best they could. In reality, AWS clients — including Amazon itself — were powerless to do anything until AWS recovered.

SIM Partners also relies on AWS to support our client service through our Velocity and Velocity Health platforms. Like many businesses, we find it more cost-effective and practical to rely on the cloud to store the myriad assets that Velocity and Velocity Health use in order to manage the complexities of location marketing for businesses that operate hundreds and thousands of brick-and-mortar locations. But when AWS went down, fortunately we were not one of the AWS clients that experienced a service lapse. In fact, for SIM Partners, February 28 was a routine day free of interruptions.

But why? Because we planned for the unexpected. We’ve built security safeguards into Velocity and Velocity Health and have developed a level of service redundancy to ensure that the needs of our clients are not compromised. And we have to. For our healthcare clients, patient access to healthcare systems is at stake. And our clients in other industries count on us to support countless dollars in revenue generation by managing their digital brands across multiple platforms and channels. So we have to plan for the worst. Consequently, we experienced zero interruptions on the day of the great outage.

If you work with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, now is a good time to check their protocols and approach for protecting the integrity of their service. If you are considering a partnership with a SaaS vendor, make sure they walk you through their process for anticipating and managing disruptive events.

Your brand depends on how well we manage the unexpected.

February 27, 2017

SIM Partners Unveils Velocity Health Website

By Jay Hawkinson

simhealth website

The SIM Partners Velocity Health platform helps healthcare systems acquire and engage with patients anytime, anywhere.

Those are the first words you see when you visit the newly launched SIM Partners Velocity Health website. With our new website, we have created an experience that will drive access and engagement with our own customers, leading healthcare systems. As you’ll see when you visit the site, this is an experience that focuses on solving for your needs in healthcare and what you need to know to understand how we can help you.


With this website launch we are articulating a vision for Velocity Health and our clients. That vision is all about using technology to improve patient acquisition and retention for healthcare systems, private practice, and retail health. We want to help you engage your patients where they live, work, and play by transforming the patient/provider experience and deliver the care your patients deserve.


Businesses inside and outside healthcare often think of location marketing platforms such as Velocity as tools to drive patient access at scale. Indeed, Velocity Health makes it possible for healthcare systems to acquire more patients by making providers and facilities more easily findable through accurate provider location data, data management, and optimized provider pages.


Additionally we believe healthcare systems have a tremendous opportunity to retain patients by empowering their providers to find and refer other providers within their networks. As mentioned on our site, we apply our search background to develop user-friendly patient-facing find-a-physician directories to create similar search tools behind the firewall for physicians to use, too.


Velocity Health goes beyond patient access and retention. Professional services and products like paid media, mobile proximity campaigns, and provider directories that can improve patient engagement complement the platform. Take a moment to explore the new Velocity Health website and learn more about how we can improve patient access and retention through our location-based technology platform. We welcome your feedback. Meanwhile, contact us if you would like to discuss more on how we can help you apply technology to drive patient acquisition and retention.



February 17, 2017

Google Maps: More Social and Personal

By Adam Dorfman

Google Maps Favorite Places Share With Friends

Google has made Google Maps more personal and social.

In a recently published blog post, Google announced that users can save locations to personalized lists and share those lists with others through social networks, email, and messaging apps. For example, someone planning a trip to the SxSW festival in Austin might want to create an “Austin Night Life” and “Austin BBQ Joints” list and store Google Maps destinations ahead of their visit for easy access when exploring the city during the event. The lists could be stored offline if needed and shared with other friends attending SxSW to do some planning together.

Our take: this development underscores why it’s so important for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations to manage their location data and content effectively. Businesses that maintain accurate location data and compelling content will enjoy a multiplier effect when someone shares the business’s information with other users through social and messaging apps. But businesses that do a poor job managing their online identity will pay for their lack of attention many times over.

  • Make sure you claim and optimize your Google listing via Google My Business.
  • Ensure your location data is correct.
  • Include quality photos that encourage people to visit your location. (Per Google, “Businesses with recent photos typically receive more clicks to their websites.”)

It’s also interesting to speculate what this development means to the future of Google Maps. I would not be surprised if Google eventually incorporates into its ranking algorithms information about businesses stored in personal lists as well as titles of personal lists, thus putting more power into the hands of users. It’s also not unreasonable for Google to use personal lists to suggest things to do and places to go, akin to a vacation suggestion via algorithm. Or, Google could repurpose list data for its Google destinations product. After all, we know two things with certainty about Google:

  • Google wants to create an end-to-end experience that keeps users on Google.
  • User data is king. Google is always looking for ways to put user data to work. And personal lists are a treasure trove of user preferences based on data.

Whatever happens down the road, brands can prepare themselves by getting the basics of local data and content management right. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.

February 13, 2017

Giving Back for the Greater Chicago Food Depository

By Jay Hawkinson

Give Back Chicago Food Bank On February 7, a dozen of us from SIM Partners gathered at the McCormick Tribune YMCA in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s west side to package and distribute produce for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. This is the third time SIM Partners has volunteered to help the Chicago Food Bank. Fortunately on this chilly February day, we were mostly indoors packaging hundreds of bags of produce to given to families in need.

When our team arrived around 8:45 a.m., there was already a large crowd of people waiting the inside the YMCA gymnasium where the food distribution would happen. Most of those folks had been there since 5 a.m. We were behind schedule since the delivery trucks were still circling the block so we had a lot of catching up to do. Good thing our SIM volunteers were up to the task because the work was non-stop from the moment the truck doors opened. We stacked all the boxes of produce (squash, radish, tomatoes, grapes, green beans, etc.) along the walls of the gym in stations where a smaller group would bag them up for handing out.

give back Chicago Food Bank

The bagging is where the real work began. The plastic bags were a challenge unto themselves, proving very difficult to open. In most cases it took one person assigned to opening the bags so the others could place the precise allotment of produce inside. After a couple hours, we had a sufficient amount on the pallets, and the Chicago Food Bank reps had all the families queued in a long line that snaked back and forth across the gym floor. During the next hour we handed out food to more than 200 families. Some of them came back for a second round until all the food was gone.

By the end we were breaking down the boxes and sweeping the floors. It was an exhausting yet fulfilling morning at the McCormick Tribune YMCA that went by very fast. We are pleased that we could offer our time and effort once again to help the Chicago Food Bank provide for those in need.

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February 6, 2017

Amazon Fires a Super Bowl Warning Shot to Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

By Jay Hawkinson


If you were watching the Super Bowl 51 ads closely, you might have noticed Amazon putting brick-and-mortar retailers on notice. During a 10-second spot known as “Finger Lick,” a couple in their home watching television restock on Doritos by telling Amazon Alexa to “reorder delivers from Prime Air.” Then a voiceover announces, “Look for delivery soon” as a drone hovers outside the couple’s window. Very clever.


The ad was another reminder that Amazon is going to continue stepping into the turf defended by U.S. businesses that manage multiple brick-and-mortar locations. Amazon has already launched drone delivery in the United Kingdom, and getting necessary government approvals to do the same in the United States is going to take some time. But make no doubt: Amazon has the muscle and money to fight U.S. brick-and-mortar businesses for on-demand customers.


We saw other signs of Amazon’s intent when the company launched physical book stores and then announced the roll-out of Amazon Go grocery stores, which promise a frictionless shopping experience. But brick-and-mortar businesses don’t have their hands tied behind their backs. They have plenty of tools at their disposal to compete. For instance, Walmart’s pilot Pickup and Fuel stores offer dedicated drive-through for shoppers to pick up online grocery orders, and 7-Eleven has been piloting drone delivery in Nevada for months.


We recommend that brick-and-mortar retailers:


  • First set a foundation for stronger location marketing by getting the basics right: for example, ensure that your location data is accurate and that your content is optimized for search, especially mobile search.


  • Take a closer look at your customers’ on-demand habits. As Google has been noting for months, consumers in general are using mobile devices in “micro-moments” to make split-second decisions about where to go and what to buy.


  • Capitalize on something that Amazon does not have: an in-store experience. For instance, how well are you taking advantage of event-based marketing to create in-store promotions and integrating those promotions with your online content?


At SIM Partners, we work all the time with brick-and-mortar businesses to strengthen their location marketing through our Velocity platform, which manages location data and content. (In 2016, we introduced “Ride There with Uber” functionality to Velocity so that your customers can order Uber rides to your business directly from your location pages.) Contact us to discuss how we can help you.

February 3, 2017

Location Marketing Is Changing — Are You?

By Jon Schepke

Local Marketing

Never underestimate the changing nature of location marketing.


A year ago at this time, many location marketing experts thought voice search was little more than a passing trend, and the notion that people would use emoji to do business with local brands was a novelty. Yet, in February 2017, businesses are rapidly rethinking how to optimize their local content for voice search, and startups are emerging to create commerce out of emoji-based communication. My newly published Street Fight column, “Three Ways Location Marketing Is Changing in 2017,” takes a closer look at trends shaping how people discover businesses with multiple locations.


As I mention in the column, the fundamentals of location marketing remain as relevant as ever: businesses that operate multiple locations need to create contextual content, unleash location data, and provide compelling experiences to convert consumer searches into sales. But people are searching differently. They’re using emoji, voice commands, and social media to find what they want on demand through a variety of channels and devices. As a result, businesses need to be more nimble and imaginative in the way they convert online searches into offline sales.


Read my column for more insight, and contact us to discuss how we can help you build your business locally with our Velocity platform.