Google is casting its nets farther and wider to return search results — and consolidating those results more efficiently through entities. As I discuss in a new Search Engine Land column, an entity consists of a collection of information that Google reports about at topic in one convenient search result. Search for, say, “Starbucks near me,” and Google will pull information from the Starbucks corporate website, Google My Business pages, Yelp reviews, and many other sources to consolidate probable answers through an entity. Entities are becoming more important for a variety of reasons, among them the rise of voice search, which is making it possible for people to ask more complicated, detailed queries (e.g., “Where is there a Starbucks near a theater showing Logan?”) Google needs to draw from a deeper pool of information to return precise answers in a convenient knowledge graph. The rise of entities affects businesses in a number of ways, including the need to publish information across the digital world where Google retrieves information for entities. Check out my column to learn more, and contact us to discuss how we can improve your search marketing efforts.
Constant Innovation. Strong growth. An engaged user base. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat. In my new Adweek/Social Times column, I share reasons why Pinterest is the social platform to watch. Pinterest might not always get the headlines that Snapchat and Facebook earn, but the app continues to succeed. In fact, as I note in my column, Pinterest is exceeding analysts’ growth projections. One of the reasons Pinterest continues to attract brands and customers is the platform’s ability to innovate. For instance, Pinterest recently introduced Lens, which uses artificial intelligence to make it easier for people to find images on Pinterest. Image-based search has clear and valuable applications in a number of industries, especially retail. Check out my column and contact us to discuss how you integrate Pinterest into your location marketing strategies.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.