June 8, 2017

Amazon is a Search Giant

By Jon Schepke

Amazon Packages

I’m sure you heard the news by now: on May 30th, Amazon became just the 14th member of the “$1,000 stock club.” The company’s incredible earnings growth is probably Wall Street’s biggest story of the year.  To put things in perspective: if you invested $10,000 into the Amazon IPO, today it would be worth $4.8M.  But Amazon is much more than a cash cow for its investors. The company is a business disruptor. Amazon has certainly changed the retail experience forever. And now it’s a search giant, as noted by Forrester analyst Collin Colburn in a recent blog post.

Is “Google’s Biggest Threat? Amazon,” Colburn cites reasons why Amazon is encroaching on Google’s position as one of the dominant players in consumer search. One factor that resonates for me is how Amazon search moves customers along the product lifecycle.

“Google has long dominated the discover stage of the customer life cycle,” he writes. “But Amazon is playing an increasingly large role in how customers find products. In fact, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics data, 31% of US online adults who made a purchase in the past three months started their shopping research on Amazon. And it doesn’t end there. Amazon is also a place for customers to research product choices and even transact.”

Amazon, like Facebook, has built its own search-and-discovery platform. And with its ability to filter and personalize results through its own algorithm, Amazon makes it easier to find and purchase products with a few clicks. In fact, with the roll-out of voice-activated products such as the Echo, Amazon is changing the way we search, from clicking to talking. As I wrote earlier this week, Google also has a say in the evolution of voice search, but Amazon’s products dominate the market for voice-activated speakers.

Brick-and-mortar stores correctly perceive Amazon as a threat. But businesses can also succeed in Amazon’s world by treating Amazon’s success as a lesson in how consumers discover products and services:

  • We live in an omnichannel world in which people discover brand on multiple platforms such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, and Google, and devices ranging from laptops to mobile phones. Succeeding in an omnichannel world means being present on multiple platforms (including your own website) and creating content appropriate for each. Create visual content to capture searches on Instagram and to lead those searches to your stores. Go deep with descriptive content completed by accurate location data to win on Google – and so on.
  • Be flexible. Search is changing into a voice-activated and visually oriented experience. Make sure your location pages are optimized for voice-activated searches on Amazon Echo and that your inventory makes effective use of visual content to make your product descriptions pop.
  • Encourage next moments, or the moment of purchase that occurs after you find a product online. One of Amazon’s greatest strengths is its shopping cart feature. Once you find something you like, Amazon makes it easy for you to buy and ship. Brick-and-mortar stores can get a lot more savvy about creating next moments as Amazon does. For example, as my colleague Adam Dorfman wrote recently in Search Engine Land, businesses can make better use of their store locators to turn search into revenue. I urge you to read his column.

Learn from Amazon. Get better at creating a search-and-discovery process that leads to revenue in your store. Read my earlier post, Apple Steps Up Its Game in the Voice Economy, for more on voice search following the WWDC news. Contact us. We can help you succeed with location marketing.

June 6, 2017

Apple Steps Up Its Game in the Voice Economy

By Jon Schepke

The battle for the voice-based economy starts in consumers’ homes.

Within the past month, three publishing giants have made major announcements about products that rely on voice commands to manage consumers’ lives, ranging from getting sports and weather reports to searching for things to do and buy. To wit:

  • Amazon recently built upon its dominance of voice-activated devices by releasing a new version of its popular Echo device. Echo Show integrates voice commands with visual content, making it possible for consumers to not only use their voices to find what they want but also to see what they want, too. On Amazon’s website, the company boasts about users being able to call up weather forecasts for the day and see the details represented onscreen. Interestingly, Amazon had earlier released a version of Echo (Echo Look) with which people can take selfies of their clothing and get feedback from Amazon on their sartorial choices – sort of like Amazon appointing itself as a fashion consultant. Here we see Amazon expanding the scope of Echo beyond voice, while still making voice central to the experience.
  • Not to be outdone, within weeks Google made its Google Home voice-activated speaker smarter and more visually oriented. Google, which holds a (very distant) Number Two ranking in the smart speaker market, is under pressure to make Google Home more useful. As my colleague Adam Dorfman blogged recently, Google is doing just that. As Adam blogged, Google, building off its search ecosystem, has made more visual and proactive. So, just like Echo Show, Google Home will display visual content to complement voice results – say a route to a restaurant displayed on Google Maps. But Google is also making content more proactive by suggesting content to you through Google Home. So, for example, if Google knows you have reserved tickets to see Hamilton, Google will remind you when the date and time approach.
  • Apple, which has both pioneered and followed the market for voice assistants, made a big move in voice at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) June 5 by releasing its long-anticipated HomePod smart speaker. The release of HomePod was a catch-up move by Apple. After being an earlier leader in voice with the development of Siri, Apple watched as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft developed their own voice assistants and stole Apple’s leadership. But Apple made a gutsy statement June 5 by releasing a smart speaker that is far more expensive than Amazon Echo and Google Home. HomePod, like Echo and Google Home, is a device to manage your life. But HomePod also features a high-fidelity sound akin to a Sonos stereo speaker designed to deliver crisp sound but with smart features. At WWDC Apple stressed how well HomePod integrates with the Apple Music streaming service, which is an interesting strategy that places home entertainment above functional search and discovery.

These product announcements underscore how big voice-activated discovery has become in just a short amount of time. eMarketer estimates that in 2017, “35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month. That’s a jump of 128.9% over last year.” A year ago, how many of you could have predicted that kind of growth?

But the movements of Amazon, Apple, and Google also demonstrate how nuanced voice-activated discovery is becoming, too. For many months, the talk about voice has focused on the mobile, on-the-go experience. And yet, three influential brands are focusing their attention on the home. If you are a business that manages multiple locations, it’s important that you take a step back and assess how your customers are relying on multiple devices and channels to learn about you, find you, and do business with you.

We live in an increasingly complicated omnichannel world. Consumers use voice, images, and video to get what they want in the home, on the go, and at your store. The challenge for brands: creating content and managing data that moves them along the journey.

June 2, 2017

On-Demand Healthcare Inspires Compelling Partnerships

By Hannah Wilson

BCBSA & Lyft

Brian Westrick shares about how the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the ride-sharing company has recently joined forces to combat a problem that’s affecting physicians and patients all across America, transportation barriers. Transportation barriers result in over 3.5 million missed or delayed appointments in the U.S. every year. These missed or delayed appointments can cause more complications for patients down the road if they do not get the right medical attention, but Lyft and BCBSA are aiming to improve the quality of life for these patients.

Click here to continue reading the rest of this post.

Attribution for an Omnichannel World?

By Jay Hawkinson

Omnichannel world

In the run-up to Memorial Day, Google unleashed an avalanche of data at Marketing Next, Google’s annual event for advertisers. In case you missed it, here are some of the gems Google laid before us to understand consumer behavior:

  • 87 percent of smartphone owners turn to search in a moment of need.
  • 20 percent of searches in the Google app are by voice.
  • 70 percent of those who bought in store first used device like phone to find relevant information.
  • 91 percent of smartphone owners bought or said they were going to after seeing ad they described as relevant.
  • 30 percent of people use five or more devices.

The data underscore some important realities we’ve been discussing with our clients for quite some time:

  • Optimizing your experience for mobile is just table stakes to be effective with location marketing. The vast majority of consumers are using their smartphones to find what they want, including information about products in your store. If you are not optimizing your location data and content for the mobile experience, you might as well not exist, especially as Google continues to reward mobile-optimized content in search results.
  • Location data makes you findable. But content – compelling offers, descriptive information, video, images, and the like – brings people into your store. People complain about ads until they find them relevant. Good data about your customers – their behaviors and preferences – creates the foundation for creating relevant content. The more you know about your customers, the more contextual your content is to their seasonal interests, the time of day they are shopping, and other factors that shape the purchase decision. Brands’ need for contextual data is what has made Foursquare the data powerhouse it is today.
  • With 30 percent of people owning five or more devices, the shopping journey is becoming increasingly omnichannel in nature. Consumers can order a pizza on Amazon Echo, buy clothing on Pinterest, and use their cars as search engines to find a cup of coffee. Shoppers comfortably navigate multiple devices and channels to find brands. Businesses that operate multiple locations need to create a smooth journey across channels and devices to attract omnichannel consumers.

Now, for a challenge: attributing sales to an increasingly complex shopping journey. Google has faced criticism for failing to effectively measure all the touchpoints that influence a purchase decision – or multi-touch attribution. At Marketing Next, Google said it intends to do something about that shortcoming. Google announced it will soon make available Google Attribution, a product that uses machine learning to do multi-touch attribution.

As Google announced on its blog, “For the first time, Google Attribution makes it possible for every marketer to measure the impact of their marketing across devices and across channels — all in one place, and at no additional cost.”

The product, in beta, will be free although a fee-based product will be available as well for more in-depth attribution. Google Attribution is not a magic bullet, as it is limited to measuring consumer behavior that occurs in the Google universe, but Google’s universe is vast, and the fact that the product exists is a sign of better things to come for measuring consumer behavior in an omnichannel world.

Omnichannel is getting more measurable and real. To discuss how to thrive in an omnichannel environment and measure your performance effectively, contact SIM Partners.

May 23, 2017

How Location Marketing Supports the Red Wing Shoes Marketing Stack

By Jay Hawkinson

Location marketing works best when it’s part of a larger ecosystem to support a brand. That’s one lesson learned from Red Wing Shoes winning a Stackie award from Third Door Media, publisher of sites such as Marketing Land and Search Engine Land.

The Stackie Awards are given to companies that create the most effective visual depictions of their marketing technology stacks (or the technologies that companies use to support their marketing). Red Wing Shoes, a SIM Partners client, was one of six winners among the 57 entrants for the following depiction:

red wing marketing stack

The Red Wing martech stack shows how the footwear retailer harnesses and automates data to drive customer personalization through the right channel, with the right message, to the right person, at the right time. And the SIM Partners Velocity platform is an important part of that stack, as you can see in the Web/Content section of the graphic.

For the past few years, SIM Partners has been working with Red Wing Shoes to turn consumers’ “near me” searches into in-store purchases. Red Wing Shoes maximizes visibility for its hundreds of stores by relying on the SIM Partners Velocity to optimize content and data for its location pages. As we announced in 2016,

Velocity Location Data Management manages, distributes and monitors Red Wing’s store location data (including name, address, phone, store hours, and other key attributes) to ensure store locations are visible when and where consumers are looking for footwear or workwear. With Velocity Publishing, store locations are able to create contextually relevant content and experiences to convert searches into store customers. One-to-many publishing enables store managers to update their pages, including localized content on services provided and brands carried, while custom workflows and moderation ensures content and messaging stays on-brand.

Through our relationship, we help Red Wing make its brand more relevant and personal especially to mobile shoppers, who use their mobile devices to find the right location at the right time when shoppers need to replace their footwear. In turn, Red Wing Shoes relies on myriad technologies to manage the marketing automation, sales enablement, and analytics required to plan inventory, fulfill orders, and manage a host of other functions.

SIM Partners is proud to support Red Wing Shoes as the company builds a powerful brand based on data, insight, and great products. For more information about how your company can enhance their marketing stack with Velocity, contact us

May 22, 2017

Embrace Visual Storytelling Now 

By Adam Dorfman

Search Engine Land Recap

What’s your visual storytelling strategy? Do you have one? In my recently published Search Engine Land column, I discuss why businesses need to embrace visual storytelling more seriously to build their brands locally. Chances are that your customers communicate with you and each other using GIFs, emoji, video, and pictures. Granted, some customer segments are more visually oriented than others. But images have become as much as part of our common communication vocabulary as the written word. The question for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations is not whether they will employ visual storytelling tactics but how. My new column, “Why location marketers need to embrace whimsical, visual storytelling,” provides more insight into how businesses are successfully adding spark and excitement to their brands through visual storytelling. Check it out and contact us to talk more about how to attract and retain customers with location-based marketing.

May 18, 2017

Google Home Gets Proactive and Visual

By Adam Dorfman

Google Assistant

One of the more interesting developments coming out of Google I/O 2017 is the way Google is improving its Google Home voice-activated speaker, which is powered by Google Assistant.  Like every other player in the market for voice assistants, Google is chasing after Amazon, which dominates the market with Echo. Google’s strategy is to make Google Home as smarter and more versatile, especially with these features announced May 17:

  • Proactive Assistance: with Proactive Assistance, Google Home updates you without your prompting. Here’s how it works: let’s say you have an appointment to get a car stereo installed at your local Best Buy, or you have tickets to see Father John Misty at the Chicago Theater. Google Home can alert you with reminders that your appointment or concert are coming up soon. Because Google Home is a smart device, it can also tell you about traffic conditions or changes in the weather that might affect the timing of your trip to Best Buy or the Chicago Theater.
  • Visual Responses: through Visual Responses, Google Home allows you to integrate visual content along with voice. So perhaps you might want Google Home to display the route you’re going to take to Best Buy or the set list from Father John Misty’s most recent concert before you leave home or while you’re on the go. Visual Responses allows Google Home to perform those tasks by displaying the content on your phone or TV. The idea behind Visual Responses is to give you an alternative to managing information that is either too complicated for voice or is just better expressed visually.

Google is enhancing Google Home and Google Assistant in many other ways, as reported on Google’s blog. Essentially Google wants to broaden its reach across the omnichannel discovery ecosystem by building off its legacy understanding of search to create more ambient discovery experiences. Whether Google (or other tech giants like Apple) can catch up to Amazon remains to be seen, but the voice assistant arms race will make omnichannel discovery more useful to both consumers and businesses.

Businesses can thrive in this increasingly omnichannel world in a number of ways. As I have written in Search Engine Land, smart brands like Domino’s Pizza have been responding by making themselves more visible and useful regardless of what device or method that people use to find what they need.  You can order a Domino’s pizza with voice commands, tweets, and a number of other ways.

Businesses also have an opportunity to get out in front of proactive discovery by figuring out how to be part of the conversation occurring on devices such as Google Home. Conceivably Best Buy could provide updates to its customers in the example I cited and provide other useful information, such as the availability of products in the store tailored to your purchase history.

As I wrote in Search Engine Land, “The next frontier of omnichannel discovery for businesses will involve using advanced analytics and consumer measurement tools to anticipate consumer discovery and either positioning themselves with the right solution before a search begins or pre-empting the search completely.”

The major data publishers such as Google are pushing us into a more proactive, multichannel experience. It’s up to you to keep up. If you would like to learn more, please contact us.

May 17, 2017

Instagram Bets on Location, its “Hidden Gem”

By Adam Dorfman

Chicago Instagram 2017-05-16

The war between Instagram and Snapchat is intensifying around location.

Josh Constine of TechCrunch has reported that Instagram is testing a feature known as Location Stories, which collects and shares public Instagram Stories content from Instagram’s 700 million users. As Constine writes, “Users can then visit that business, landmark or place’s Instagram page and watch a slideshow Story of posts from there shared by strangers they don’t follow.”

The testing of Location Stories builds upon features that Snapchat had introduced. For instance, in December, Instagram launched stickers that emulate Snapchat geofilters by making it possible for users to spice up their Instagram posts with content such as emoji and location names. Those stickers are crucial: Instagram is using the stickers as tags to create Location Stories. In doing so, Instagram has one-upped Snapchat. As Constine reports,

The closest thing Snapchat has is the new Stories Search feature it’s testing. But it relies on metadata, machine vision object recognition and the free-form text people add to Snaps to surface content. Instagram’s standardized location database that powers location stickers will make it easier to both add to a unified Location Story and watch them, too.

At the 2017 TechCrunch Disrupt NY event, Instagram’s head of product talked about Instagram’s heightened interest in location-based content. He described location pages as a “hidden gem” of Instagram. He said, “I think that over time, as people are tagging their Stories proactively, there’s an opportunity to aggregate content and find out what’s happening right now at the Eiffel Tower, what’s happening right now at your favorite restaurant.”

Instagram could monetize Location Stories in a number of ways. For instance, Instagram could allow businesses to place ads in Location Stories feeds just as they do already with Instagram Stories. Or Instagram could aggregate the images from Location Stories as data to give businesses (for a fee) better insight into customer behavior (similar to how Foursquare sells data to advertisers based on users’ foot traffic).

In any event, the news is another reminder to brick-and-mortar businesses to use visual storytelling more thoughtfully as a competitive asset. Businesses should treat their Instagram accounts as opportunities to create foot traffic and potential customers, not just places to build their visibility (although doing so is important). Instagram is but one platform for creating organic and paid content. Instagram Location Stories will help 700 million users do a better job drawing attention to their location and sharing cool things to do and see. Brands need to participate, too.

May 12, 2017

Open Your Digital Front Door

By Jay Hawkinson

Digital Front Door - Velocity Health

We recently read an article by Rachel Arndt of Modern Healthcare that talks about how healthcare systems should improve patient acquisition. In her article, “Leading hospital systems creating ‘digital front doors’ to foster brand loyalty,” she describes a fundamental change in the way healthcare providers view digital. At a time when patients increasingly go online to search for care, healthcare systems are treating their entire digital presence like a digital front door.

Click here to continue reading more about why this digital front door is becoming increasingly important for healthcare marketers.



Google Makes “Events Near Me” Easier to Find

By Adam Dorfman

Google Events Near Me

For the past few years, Google has urged businesses to respond to the rise of micro-moments, or instances when people use their mobile phones to find things to do and buy nearby. Google says the number of “near me” searches increased 34 times from 2011 to 2015 (when Google started discussing micro-moments). People who use their mobile devices to find things to do and buy nearby demonstrate strong purchase intent.

But ironically, it hasn’t always been easy to use Google on mobile devices to find events nearby. People looking for concerts, games, and other events are more likely to use Facebook or a ticket-selling site such as Ticketmaster. Google seeks to change that behavior by becoming the preferred tool to find events. On May 10, Google announced that it is updating its app to make it easier to find events nearby. Google has aggregated event data from event sites to present a clear view of nearby events for people doing queries for activities near them.

As Google Product Manager Nishant Ranka explained on Google’s Keyword blog, “[T]ype in a quick search like, ‘jazz concerts in Austin,’ or ‘art events this weekend’ on your phone. With a single tap, you’ll see at-a-glance details about various options, like the event title, date and time, and location. You can tap ‘more events’ to see additional options. Once you find one that’s up your alley, tap it to find more details or buy tickets directly from the website.”

The expanded functionality should certainly make it easier to find special events, but I suspect Google will pull from a wider range of sources than ticketing sites and dedicated event venues to return useful results. Someone looking for “music nearby” will likely turn up expensive or sold-out options for same-day events with especially popular musicians on Live Nation and Stub Hub.

If you operate a brick-and-mortar location that offers special events to attract customers, it behooves you to manage event-based attributes carefully by ensuring their accuracy and optimizing the information for search. Examples include:

  • A restaurant that occasionally features music for special events such as Mother’s Day.
  • A retailer that features in-store appearances, such as book stores that sponsor signings with famous authors or apparel stores that occasionally host appearances by fashion experts.

As I noted in a Search Engine Land column, Google increasingly returns search results by mining attributes. Attributes consist of descriptive content such as the services a business provides, payment methods accepted or the availability of free parking — details that may not apply to all businesses. Attributes are important because they can influence someone’s decision to visit you. A special event is an example.

I believe Google will mine more event-based attributes from locations that don’t always offer events. Doing so will give Google more sources to draw from and make its mobile app more useful for people looking for things to do nearby. To learn more about how to build your business with location marketing, contact us.