October 7, 2015

Google My Business Updates its Interface

By Kyle Murray

Last week, Google My Business (GMB) made updates to its dashboard. The improvements of the user interface give the GMB dashboard a new look and feel that better organize a business’s GMB pages. Google’s Community & Social Media Manager, Marissa Nordahl made the announcement in a Google product forum:

“Merchants with multiple locations or Google+ brand pages will see an updated management experience with two tabs: one for “Locations” and another for Google+ “Brand Pages” where you can view your listings or pages in either a card or a list format.

In the newly added card view users can easily manage the content of their pages. In addition, the new interface allows users to configure how many cards they would like to view at one time. Furthermore, users can now view their location to see how the selected listing is performing in search. All of the above coupled with the addition of breadcrumbs as well as improvements to primary navigation makes for a cleaner, neater experience.

The update of the Google My Business interface reinforces the fact that Google is only going to improve their technology in the coming years. Below is a highlight of the updates:

  • Display Locations or Pages in a card view or a list view.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.31.53 AM

  • View Locations or Brand Pages.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.32.28 AM

  • Easily return to the lists of locations that you manage at the top of GMB page.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.33.04 AM

  • Jump to Edit Info, Insights, Reviews, and Photos on individual listings.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.33.40 AM
Additionally, the Google My Business interface has several additions to the contextual menu which allows users to:

  • Access GMB features
  • Contact Google support
  • Add Brand Pages
  • Add managers to listings

A “to do list” in the contextual menu informs users which listings still need to be verified, which ones have data conflicts, or which are missing store codes.

Overall, Google’s new update makes it easier to access multiple locations and navigate the dashboard’s primary features. The new improvements make for a heightened user experience. Utilizing Google My Business is one of the most effective ways for a business, brand, or organization of any size to manage their online presence with Google.



October 1, 2015

How Panera Bread Rocks Local Marketing

By David Deal

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.09.46 AM

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 24, 2015

Think Next Moments, Not Beacons

By Adam Dorfman



Beacons have been a hot topic in location marketing for the past few years, especially after Macy’s launched 4,000 beacons in all its stores recently. But beacons are a means to an end: driving customers to the cash register. And mobile wallets are the key to succeeding with beacons. In my latest Search Engine Land I discuss why enterprises with multiple locations need to focus first on understanding how mobile wallets support their local marketing, and then consider whether and how beacons are the right fit. I also explore why GPS technology might be more appropriate than beacons depending on the needs of the enterprise. Along with how mobile wallets relate to beacons, and the role they will play in the future of local marketing.

Has your organization stated testing beacons? Have you tried a mobile wallet offer? Connect with me. I’d love to hear your feedback.

September 23, 2015

Mobile Wallets Are the Key to Success with Beacons

By Tari Haro

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 1.54.58 PM

More than half of the leading brands in the United States are testing beacon technology to create a stronger in-store experience. Should you? The answer depends on how well you use beacons to support mobile wallet offers in your stores, according to a newly published SIM Partners white paper, The Enterprise Guide to Beacons.

Our new white paper argues that beacons can be valuable when an enterprise uses them to create “the next moment” in a store — or a concrete action that leads to a sale. Those next moments usually require a thoughtful mobile wallet offer, such as a reward for customers for trying on clothing after they’re already in your store. But beacons are not for everyone. Because of their limited range, they are less useful than simpler GPS technology for luring foot traffic into a store (except in densely populated urban areas).

Beacons are neither the future of retail nor a massive hype. According to Business Insider, beacons will directly influence $4 billion in in-store sales in the United States in 2015, a figure that will increase by tenfold in 2016. Big brands are testing the waters with them in some creative and inspiring ways, but beacons remain in an experimental phase for the most part. Enterprises with multiple locations need to understand beacons and decide whether they are the right technology to support a strong local marketing strategy that deploys mobile wallets. The Enterprise Guide to Beacons will help you decide.

Read the white paper and contact us to learn more.  

September 22, 2015

Shoe Carnival Turns “Near Me” Searches into Store Purchases With Velocity

By Tari Haro


Shoe Carnival, one of the nation’s leading retailers for women’s, men’s, and children’s shoes, is turning “near me” searches into store purchases with SIM Partners’ Velocity platform. Shoe Carnival will drive incremental in-store traffic and sales by treating location data as an ownable asset that is scalable, accessible, and actionable.

Recognizing that 80 percent of local shopping searches convert via mobile, Shoe Carnival saw an opportunity to take its local and location-based marketing efforts to the next level. With Velocity’s listing management solution, Shoe Carnival is now harnessing the power of its location data to be visible in the “near me” moments by making the data accessible and actionable across the discovery ecosystem — including mobile search results, online directories, maps, and more. Through Velocity’s publishing capabilities, Shoe Carnival’s search and mobile optimized store location pages feature unique content for each store, as well as a responsive store locator.

To deliver customers to the register, Velocity Wallet offers are also being tested on key location pages. Once downloaded to a consumer’s mobile device, these mobile wallet offers can be redeemed in-store as well as used for location-based GPS and beacon notifications.

“Ensuring the very best experience across the entire buyer journey is a top priority for Shoe Carnival, and that journey often begins with a local “near me” search – whether it be via a search engine, a map search, or another discovery outlet,” said Todd Beurman, SVP of Marketing, Shoe Carnival. “With Velocity, we will be able to scale our local marketing efforts to ensure visibility and relevance across the entire local marketing ecosystem, so that our customers – no matter where they are – have the best possible shopping experience.”

Efforts across the program will be measured at the individual store, regional, and national levels with Velocity’s robust reporting and insights capabilities.

As Shoe Carnival illustrates, treating location data like an asset can do more than make a brand more visible, and data can help an enterprise deliver sales.

September 21, 2015

How Major League Baseball and NFL Stadiums Win with Local Marketing

By David Deal

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 9.03.02 AM

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.

September 17, 2015

SIM Partners Highlighted in ITA’s Spotlight

By Julie Piatek

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.13.13 PM

The Illinois Technology Association (ITA) promotes “collaboration among companies in order to help them continue to scale and and raise Chicago’s profile as a technology hub.”

Our team is proud to be part of the organization, as well as to have our company featured in this week’s ITA “Spotlight,” which features a bit about our company, Velocity technology and where we’re headed (hint: it’s all about making locations matter for enterprise brands).   

We look forward to celebrating with the ITA and other Illinois-based company’s at the annual ITA City Lights event tonight — hope to see you there!


Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.18.05 PM

Google My Business Testing Photo Update

By Christine Wuertz

Good news for brands: Google appears to be testing a better way to display your photos in Google My Business listings. Consequently, optimizing your Google My Business Listings with visual content is more important.

When the new Google Snack Pack update rolled out last month, one of the more obvious issues was the way in which brands’ visual content was displayed. When users clicked through to the Local Finder (the “more results” options below the three snack pack result) they were presented with Google My Business photos that were awkwardly cropped (see below). Many profile photos were only displaying people’s eyes and ears.


Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 10.55.01 AM


Seeing as how poorly cropped images is not the most optimal way for brands to appear in search results, many Google My Business brands questioned whether it was worth their time to upload photos or even optimize their Google My Business listings with the elimination of Google+ links within listings altogether.

In an effort to correct this poor user experience, Google appears to be testing a new type of photo display. Profile photos for a select handful of Google My Business listings are now displaying alongside a second street view photo, which provides a more visually appealing experience.

With this update to photos, optimizing your Google My Business listings becomes increasingly more important. As we’ve previously noted, optimizing all possible data points within your Google My Business has always been important. While you may not have wanted your eyes and ears as your main photo a month ago, it’s time to rethink your overall Google My Business strategy and start optimizing.

September 16, 2015

Succeed with the SIM Partners 2015 Holiday Retail Guide

By Tari Haro

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 11.12.18 AM

To generate offline sales during the holiday season, retailers need to court the mobile shopper, according to a new SIM Partners report. Mobile shoppers influenced holiday sales online and offline in 2014, and in 2015, shoppers empowered with smartphones will dominate holiday shopping. A July 2015 survey from marketing technology provider Signal reports that 70 percent of consumers will browse more frequently from smartphones or tablets than they did in 2014, and six out of 10 will buy more often from their phones or tablets. Our new 2015 Holiday Retail Guide: From Search to In-Store Sales, available for download, provides tips for converting mobile “near me” searches into in-store revenue during the holiday season.

We believe that retailers need to own “the next moment,” or the moment that occurs after someone finds your brand through a search. Owning the next moment means motivating mobile holiday shoppers to visit your stores and to buy the holiday merchandise they find online. A brand may deploy many tactics to own the next moment, such as making it easy for shoppers to check available inventory on their mobile devices after they have conducted a search, or creating offers that convince mobile shoppers to stop by your store for a holiday sale.

This holiday season, what advantages can you offer to steer traffic away from Amazon and toward your store? How will you encourage the next moment for mobile shoppers? Read our report and contact us. We would love to help you.

September 10, 2015

Delivering the “Next Moment” of Local Search in the Auto Insurance Industry

By Julie Piatek

Recently my SIM Partners colleague Tari Haro blogged about how mobile is collapsing the customer journey, making it imperative for brands to service customers who are comfortable making search and purchase decisions from their devices. “In some cases, consumers are not taking a journey at all,” she wrote. “The consideration and transaction occurs on the mobile device . . .” She stressed how important it is for brands to not only be found via local search but also to enable the “next moment” — or the action that occurs after a search is conducted. I recently experienced the power of the next moment when I became a first-time buyer of auto insurance.  I can attest that insurance brands absolutely need to focus on creating the next moment in local search.

As a recent first-time buyer of auto insurance, I’ve always lived in large cities and never relied on cars, but recently made the choice to lease a car for occasional driving. After I agreed to a lease, the salesperson told me that I could not leave the dealership without auto insurance. Forced to make this decision quickly, I turned to my mobile phone. I performed a local search for “auto insurance near me,” and the brands that appeared in the paid listings and the local, organic map-pack were immediately the ones in my consideration set. From there, the key factors in ultimately making my decision on which policy to purchase were:

  1. Who provided the fastest and most seamless path to conversion – receiving a quote
  2. Which brands had local agents whom I could call to best understand my needs as a local driver
  3. Which brand and agencies had the best reputation with reliable online reviews


image1 (3)


Ultimately, I selected the insurance provider that gave me a quote immediately over a cheaper competitor that waited a day to send me its quote.

This experience underscores how critical local search is to the auto insurance industry and the importance of the “last mile” of making a purchase. In order to obtain the business of new drivers like myself, auto insurance brands need to focus their digital marketing budgets to solve the challenge of being found in local search — and once being found, to provide the fastest and easiest path to conversion, or the next moment. The brands that adopt these measures will ultimately be the ones who win the “near me moments.”