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40th Speaker Added for SMB Digital Marketing, Sept. 22-24, New Orleans

The lineup for our SMB Digital Marketing event in rockin’ New Orleans has got to be considered one of our strongest ever.

We’ve just confirmed our 40th hand picked speakers for the event, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans.

In addition to SMB leaders who have previously announced (i.e. from Google, Facebook, Sprint, YP, Yelp, ReachLocal, Acxiom, Groupon, NOLA Media Group, Mercury Payments and more), we have now confirmed a great set of additional SMB leaders — each driving the local SMB space in new ways. These include:

Mike Deluca, SVP, Hearst; CEO, Local Edge
Del Humenik, COO, Dex Media
Stu Wall, CEO, SignPost
Jon Wuebben, CEO, Content News
Amanda MacNaughton, CMO, PromoJam (Orange Soda)
Mike Lazarro, Head of Planning , Perka/First Data
Nancy Lane, President, Local Media Association
Tom Kenney, President, Verve Mobile

Each of the speakers has been hand-picked by the BIA/Kelsey analyst team. Check out the full agenda here.

Will we see you in New Orleans? You may register here.

Watch Out AAA: Urgent.ly Goes Uber, Takes on Roadside Assistance

Urgently 4_3

“Uber-ification” has been extended to many local segments, including hotels, restaurant reservations and promotions. How about roadside assistance?

Asserting that AAA and other roadside assistance services have outdated economic models and technology, local media and commerce vet Chris Spanos (AOL, Repair.com and Seniorchecked.com ) is leading a team launching Urgent.ly. The Washington D.C.- area company, which provides flat-rate repair truck assistance rather than charging annual insurance-like fees (i.e. $99), has done hundreds of service calls and is set to go nationwide. It completed its seed round of funding in March 2014, and is in the process of closing a larger, pre-series A round.

Like Uber, Urgent.ly has a free iOS App that contains a motorist profile and credit card information. Customers can easily tap their phones for a repair truck, and a live map lets them see where the trucks are at all times in the process. An additional feature is “FamilyView,” which allows drivers to link their app to a driving-age child, spouse or parent.

Spanos says 53 million customers are currently paying $70 to $130 for annual access to AAA, but most under-use use the services. The more serious issue with AAA is that customers often have to wait too long for a tow — some don’t get served within AAA’s 90 minute window. The problem? AAA only pays tow truck companies $20-25 and they have real mileage restrictions. The low payments mean that tow truck drivers will always give preference to cash calls from non AAA members. Urgent.ly’s on demand pricing takes care of that, says Spanos.

He also notes that people use AAA for a variety of services, of course, such as discounts to Amtrak, hotels, stores, and entertainment venues. “We may put in promotional discounts for auto-related services” at some point, Spanos notes. The key, however, is better transparency. “Transparency is the future of roadside,” he says.

Urgently Consumer Web App

Empty Seats at Lunch? Mogl Launches Time of Day Promotions

Loyalty programs offering cash back or other rewards make a lot of sense for merchants – until it is 7:30 pm on Friday, and the loyalty program is still giving 20 percent back even though it is prime time for the restaurant. Mogl, the San Diego-based loyalty firm now working with over 1,000 restaurants in Southern California, San Francisco and Phoenix, thinks it has solved the problem.

Since June, the company — which has raised $25 million and set to initiate a new round — has been rolling out a new version that lets restaurants choose the amount of cash-back based on time of day. A 20 percent promotion at lunch can shrink to 1 percent for dinner, and go back to 10 percent for brunch – based on when the restaurant has seats to fill. Mogl calls this putting “butts in seats”.

How does it work? Restaurants log on to their dashboard on the Mogl website to program their cash-back offer by day and time. Mogl has established direct relationships with Visa, MasterCard and American Express providing users with a seamless, coupon-less, loyalty card-less way to redeem the real-time rewards if they just pay with any debit or credit card.

While several other loyalty providers also allow for time of day promotions — some even extending beyond restaurants to include hotels and other categories — CEO Jon Carder claims that MOGL is actually the first loyalty provider to get a live feed of card transactions. He asserts that other loyalty companies gain access to feeds from banks and payment processors that aren’t in real time. Moreover, these feeds only provide day of transaction data – which isn’t useful for executing time-based promotions, he argues.

Others, like FiveStars, get much closer to real time data – if consumers are willing to provide phone numbers or swipe dedicated loyalty cards though a restaurant’s POS. Carder feels this is a disadvantage. Mogl’s seamlessness is a major step up, he says, comparing it to what Uber did for the taxi industry (to us, this is an arguable point).

Regardless, MOGL’s new flexibility with promotions has also enabled it to pivot its business model. The company used to charge a flat 5 percent fee to restaurants across the board. But now – with rewards becoming variable – it has switched to a flat monthly fee of $199. The fee is refundable if restaurants don’t clear $199 in revenue a month from Mogl users These fees are on top of reward/jackpot fees, which the restaurant can now set for itself. The top three customers in a month at each restaurant win a jackpot bonus. The company allows customers to donate their cash-back to local food banks. More than 800,000 meals have been given away.

Mogl’s new model is also winning it some new customers – including some of the hottest restaurants that had shied away from flat, cash-back reward programs in the past because they weren’t able to change the amount based on time of day, says Carder. Even these establishments find themselves needing to fill their seats on weekday lunches.

We’ll have an extensive rundown of loyalty strategies and issues for SMBs at our Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing event Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. Groupon’s Dan Roarty is keynoting, and our session includes executives from First Data, Mercury Payments and SignPost.. Register here.

Gannett’s Deal for Cars.com

In a move that shows a deep commitment to the future of classified/vertical advertising, Gannett has announced it will buy out its newspaper partners in Cars.com and take sole possession of the #2 car site (which trails only Cox’s AutoTrader in the online auto marketplace.)

It will pay heartily to do so, paying $1.8 billion for the 73% stake of Cars.com that it doesn’t already own. That sets a value for Cars.com of $2.5 billion — an impressive amount, but still $500 million less than what the highest estimates called for.

An “economic event” around Cars.com and its sister company, Apartments.com, had been considered an absolute certainty by insiders since Summer 2013. This was mandated by the sale of The Washington Post; and the deep debt of other newspaper partners, notably The Tribune Co., and NY Times Co. Apartments.com was sold this April to CoStar Group.

Some have questioned whether Gannett is paying too heavily for Cars.com at 11.5 x earnings. We don’t comment on these issues, but note that the online auto space has gone through a lot of consolidation, boosting the prospects for more car-maker advertising; and is set for a new era that will likely go beyond dealer advertising and leads to include all kinds of transactions; dealer services such as scheduling; and perhaps other revenue producers. The increased dependence on mobile channels will also play a factor in online auto’s growth.

The Cars.com news was accompanied by Gannett’s announcement that it is separating its newspaper properties from its 46 TV stations and its rich collection of digital properties (i.e. Cars.com, Career Builder, Pointroll, BlinQ, ShopLocal, DealChicken, Clipper Magazine, KeyRing). The newspapers will keep the corporate name, while a new name will be found for the TV/Digital group (perhaps an extension of its recently announced G/O Digital brand?)

The spinoff of the newspaper properties will presumably placate Wall Street’s needs to see media companies unencumbered by newspaper and magazines, which are felt to be in an inevitable — if slow — decline. It follows similar moves by Scripps, Belo, Tribune, News Corp. and Time Warner.

The prospect of Gannett holding its newspaper-developed brands such as Cars.com, CareerBuilder and ShopLocal outside of its newspaper company shows how little synergy is seen with today’s newspaper industry (although the grandfathered Cars.com newspaper owners will hold a five year period of exclusivity to sell Cars.com following the sale.)

Should Cars.com have been kept with the newspaper group anyway? To do so would have forced Gannett to saddle the newspapers with debt from the sale.

First Data Bets on Virtual Gift Cards to Drive Local Commerce

Gift cards have been growing astronomically and now make up an industry nearing $100 billion in revenues. You’ll see racks of cards for national brands and retailers everywhere, from Safeway to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

But can local merchants get in the loop? We’ve seen gift card activity increase in travel, spa & salon and hospitality. Most of these are sold in person or on web sites.

And a second question: can they go virtual, with gift cards stored in e-wallets and easily bought, sold and transacted via mobile phone? While the industry is relatively nascent, Mercator Advisory Group says loads onto digital cards have tripled from 2012 to 2014.

That’s the bet that payment processing giant First Data is making today via the acquisition of Gyft, a Silicon Valley ewallet provider that has contracts with 200 major retailers.

First Data is hoping to extend its own prepaid ties with over 300 national retailers, while also working with SMBs who use its Clover touchscreen POS solution. Its Perka loyalty program customers may also be recruited.

Not everyone thinks they can easily move into Gift cards, however. Facebook, today, announced that it was shutting down its virtual gift card service – apparently, it sees other avenues for getting into ecommerce, such as buy buttons, as more immediate and customer-centric.

Perka co-founder Rob Bethge is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. Check out the full agenda here. Prices go up after July 31.

Coming to New Orleans? More Top Speakers Announced for SMB Digital Marketing, Sept. 22-24

We keep adding and adding to the lineup for our SMB Digital Marketing event, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in Rockin’ New Orleans (yes, we are trying to top last year’s super event in Austin). We’re boasting 32 industry leaders for the event now, and expect to end at 40+. Among our new adds are:

• Julien Billot, CEO, YPG
• James Croom, General Manager, Google My Business, Google
• Peter Curzon, Business Development, Yelp
• Tim Williamson, CEO, The Idea Village
• Neal Polachek, Board Advisor, Buzzboard
• Matt Graves, CDO, Infogroup
• Faith Murphy, Director, Channel Management,Yahoo

These leaders add to an already steller lineup featuring Acxiom CEO Scott Howe; ReachLocal CEO Sharon Rowlands; Groupon’s VP of Local Dan Roarty; Facebook’s Joseph Devoy; Sprint’s SMB GM Karen Noel; Booker CEO Josh McCarter; and Kevin Ryan, author, Taking Down Goliath.

Let’s highlight a few more of our sessions:

• A powerhouse newspaper SMB panel featuring NOLA Media Group Publisher Ricky Matthews; The Houston Chronicle’s CRO Warren Kay; and Morris Communications’ Steve Gray
• A great local search session with Search Influence CEO Will Scott and Matchcraft SVP Brad Petersen
• A deep look at SMB loyalty programs with Perka cofounder Rob Bethge and Mercury Payments SVP Randy Clark.

Check out the full agenda here. Each of the speakers has been hand-picked by the BIA/Kelsey analyst team. Will we see you in New Orleans? You may register here.

Zillow to Buy Trulia; Will Pursue Twin Brand Strategy

Zillow is buying Trulia, its chief rival, for $3.5 Billion in stock. The two companies – both nine years old — have a lot of overlap currently. But after the deal closes in 2015, they will seek to develop two differentiated marketplaces for real estate-related information, which includes house sales, rentals, mortgage and related national and local advertising.

As the acquiring company, Zillow would focus on “top of funnel” awareness advertising. Trulia, meanwhile, would focus more on specific agent-related, final purchase (or rental)- related advertising. According to ComScore, Zillow attracted 83 million unique visitors in June, while Trulia attracted 53 million. Roughly half of Trulia’s visitors do not visit Zillow.

The proposed purchase price, roughly $70.53 a share, represents a 25 percent premium over Trulia’s current stock price. Combined revenues from both companies could produce $721 Million in 2015 under present conditions, according to estimates by Benchmark Research. Separately, the companies estimate $100 million a year in cost savings by eliminating redundancy. Under terms of the agreement, Trulia CEO Pete Flint will report to Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff.

In our view, the primary goal of the acquisition isn’t to build the one-two punch of differentiated real estate sites, or even to maximize cost savings from eliminating overlap. Mostly, it takes Trulia out as a rival company, and per GeekWire, it also ends apparent merger talks between Trulia and Move.com, the #3 Real Estate site that controls the NAR’s Realtor.com site. (It also isn’t the first time Trulia has considered selling itself. Google apparently was interested in buying the site in 2009 when it was pursuing a major listings effort).

Over the next several years,the effort to differentiate the two sites make more sense than to collapse them into one brand. Such a strategy would be reminiscent of what AutoTrader.com has accomplished with KBB.com; The Weather Co. has accomplished with Weather Underground; and what Match.com has accomplished with the purchase of several dating verticals.

Winning national advertising dollars is especially viewed as a key growth area. Zillow has budgeted $45 million in marketing dollars this year to accelerate that effort. Zillow, perhaps best known for its controversial Z-Estimates, sees a unique advertising market among speculative home browsers, targeting everything from landscapers to auto companies. Trulia, meanwhile, has been less controversial than Zillow in the Realtor community and might be a better brand for Realtors to work with.

Will there be anti-trust issues? Both Zillow and Trulia tend to draw from Realtors and brokerages that are digitally minded in their advertising. Zillow head Rascoff, however, suggests that the market is nascent and represents less than 3 percent of the $12 Billion market in real estate advertising.

We don’t know about that. The reality is that the two companies actually tie up a great deal of the linkages between real estate advertising and distributors, such as the search engines, local media companies and others. But ultimately, it probably falls short of real anti- trust concern.

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff at a recent BIA/Kelsey conference