Category Archives: Big Data

Artificial Intelligence Helps Fill-In Schedules for SMBs

Marketing automation is playing a key role in making local scale for many marketers. It’s been front-and- center for companies like Demand Force, InfusionSoft and SignPost. Another contender is Frederick, a 20+ person marketing automation company based in San Francisco that was recently acquired by Booker.

Frederick takes a Big Data approach to data it receives from Booker and a host of other platforms. Using a combination of artificial intelligence and automation, it works with SMBs in a number of vertical categories that rely on frequent visits from customers (i.e. health & beauty, auto repair) to fill appointment slots. It also helps reinforce and engage customer relationships via reminders, review solicitations, upsells and cross-sells.

The company’s goal is to build a 1:1 marketing plan for its customers. In doing so, Frederick CEO and co-founder Corey Kossack tells us that the company looks at a number of variables, including customer transaction history, service sale-through rates, staff utilization rates and daily occupancy information.

While there hasn’t been a long track record – the company was founded in 2014 — customers are averaging revenue growth of 30% year over year, says Kossack. “What we have found is that structured data can be used to drive better results than segmenting a Constant Contact list,” he says.

Frederick’s application of Artificial Intelligence is what Kossack believes is its differentiator. “We are unique here in that we make decisions on behalf of the business based on proprietary algorithms,” he says. “Frederick is like a living, breathing marketers, studying millions of data points to determine what to do next.”

“Hey Alexa!” HomeAdvisor, TalkLocal Are Customizing for Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo represents a new eco-system for commerce, and is arguably, one of the biggest innovations in recent years. By simply voicing a request triggered by a common command, (“Hey, Alexa”), users can tap into hundreds of apps that are being specially designed to link their Web info – from movies and music to medical info. The key to Echo’s success over Apple Siri or Microsoft Cortana is that it is hands-free. The speaker can “hear” across the room and very quickly respond.

Over the next several months, Echo is likely to go even bigger, as the original $179 hands free speaker is now being supplemented by Amazon Tap, a smaller $129 portable speaker. The software is also being built into various devices.

We’ve been wondering how long it would take for it to hook into local services. Last week, HomeAdvisor added its Instant Booking feature, which sends service pros out to a location. CEO Chris Terrill said in a statement that “Smart-home platforms are the next big growth accelerators for local home services, and no other player in our category has the scale or technology to unlock the power of the connected home for homeowners.”

TalkLocal is also being added to the system. That makes total sense to us. TalkLocal is a service that automatically captures user’s calls, transcribes the message for its request elements, and links it to local services as a lead.

Co-founder Manpreet Singh tells us that TalkLocal initially expects a modest trickle of leads – 12 or so – to come in via Echo. “Few people will anticipate their plumbing needs. You’d have to be very lucky to discover us while in the midst of a plumbing problem,” he says. “Over time, more people will discover us.”

Deploying for Echo has been an experience for TalkLocal, which has worked closely with the Echo team in Seattle. Singh notes that TalkLocal has had to adapt to Alexia’s unique linguistic needs. “Designing commands and rules for a voice-enabled AI can be like finding a powerful but very clever trickster genie,” he jokes.

Experimentation has also been required. While TalkLocal provides over 40 service categories, it will launch with just a few. “Each service category is a virtual paradigm shift in terms of relevant terminology and possible linguistic pitfalls,” says Singh. We also want to give ourselves the opportunity to learn more about how users interact with the current skill.”

Singh adds that TalkLocal plans to do beta testing “with a ton of users” before launch. “We need as many users as possible engaging with this new type of technology. We can only anticipate so much about what people will say and do, or what expletive or prank requests they might try to submit,” he says.

TalkLocal’s Manpreet Singh

SMB Loyalty Marketing Trends: A Discussion with Venga CEO Sam Pollaro

Venga CEO Sam Pollaro

The conventional wisdom in the industry is that a loyal customer brings in 5X the revenue of a new customer. A slew of loyalty marketing platforms are reinforcing the CW with new technology that reach deeply into understanding and targeting loyal customers with superior analytics, incentives and ad campaigns.

Loyalty platforms include such players as Upserve (formerly Swipely) and Fishbowl. Another one of these platforms is Venga, a provider of loyalty services for 500+ sit-down restaurants in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

CEO Sam Pollaro tells us that Venga has seen a shift in the loyalty market over the past couple of years. It has begun to change from explicit loyalty programs (i.e. punch cards or card linked offer programs) to implicit programs using payments and social media to more subtly track customers and their habits.

Pollaro says Venga’s goal in its implicit approach is to “surprise and delight.” “When customers spend $500, an alert might be added to their profile,” and they might be given a dessert or a special table the next time they come in, he says. Or if they have indicated they like a certain kind of wine, they can be notified when a special shipment comes in.

Offine-to-online marketing is another trend that Venga is riding, mostly with the help of social media. Facebook, in particular, uses its direct response capabilities to help Venga develop “Fan Builder” campaigns, that lead to more Facebook likes; “We Miss You” campaigns that target customers that haven’t come in for a while; and “Special Interest” campaigns that will target customers based on their past visit and purchase history with specific imagery in an ad, such as a wine or beer bottle.

More than 50 percent of customers can be tracked down on Facebook from customer lists with just a phone number, says Pollaro. Because they are Facebook members, there are no opt-in requirements, he notes. The program is especially useful, since restaurants typically can only collect emails from 10-15 percent of their customers. Facebook is also more effective than programs such as Gmail, since Gmail now segregates promotional emails.

Venga is seeing especially good results for its clients since it is targeting consumers that are already fans. Pollaro says the company sees 3-5X typical restaurant response rates. The high click-through rate also cuts cost-per-click rates by 50 percent or more.

MarTech’s Growing Impact on Local, SMB and Niche Marketing


Chief MarTec Scott Brinker

MarTech — the integration of software and marketing — is a wild card in the new generation of marketing. The new era of Martech takes into account not only ads and promotion, but content and experience, social and relationships, commerce and sales, data and management. The question for us is how it all ultimately applies to local, SMB and niche marketing.

It is certainly true that we’re increasingly focused on MarTech-centric issues: such as driving more customer loyalty and upsells via engagement, utility, targeted promotions and analytics. In our space, its been the differentiator and evolved focus for such social and promotions oriented companies as Radius Intelligence, Surefire Social and Signpost.

The keys are the “marketing pace layers,” as described by sector pioneer Scott Brinker, in his new book, “Hacking Marketing.” Brinker notes that in the modern era, campaigns take weeks, tactics take days but feedback and iterations (i.e. social media and messaging) are in real time and have become increasingly important. While advertising will often retain a central place, other critical channels are now invited into the “core“ marketing experience. Brinker thinks it is a 70/30 ratio.

In a keynote live streamed at his MarTech conference today in San Francisco, Brinker previewed many of the attributes of the MarTech revolution. Brinker notes that there were 350 companies in the space in 2013, 1,000 in 2014, 2,000 in 2015 and more than 3,500 in 2016 – 87% growth in the last year alone.

One of the key attributes of the space is that its scope and marketing relies on so many pieces that the Microsofts and SAPs of old –which assembled monolithic building blocks of tech — no longer really apply. All the companies in the space are constantly iterating and borrowing or partnering from each other. “The real story is: how do you leverage the opportunities,” says Brinker.

Swipely Rebrands as ‘Upserve’; Analytics Lead for Restaurants, Not Payments

Upserve CEO Angus Davis

In 2012, payments seemed to be the horse to ride in on for marketing services, as SMBs saw the coming era of mobile payments as an opportunity to dislodge credit card companies with cheaper payment processing, coupled with complete suite of analytics, promotions, and loyalty services. Key candidates included Google Wallet, ISIS, PayPal, First Data,Groupon’s Gnome (a little later), LevelUp Swipely and Punchey.

Today, the space has evolved, with some companies dropping out or treading water – while new entrants, like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, have focused mostly on the payment side. What’s clear is that when it comes to marketing services, payments haven’t emerged as the anchor of a broader SMB marketing platform.

Against this backdrop, Swipely — a name that conjures up credit card swiping –has announced that it is rebranding to “Upserve.” We had a broad talk with CEO Angus Davis about the rebranding, where payments are, and his company’s next directions as it focuses entirely on the restaurant business. Davis notes that the 3 ½ year-old, Providence R.I.-based company has enlisted “thousands” of restaurants of varying sizes: 100+ locations, 20-30 locations, 2-4 locations and single unit. Cumulatively, they’ve served 11 million meals a month – which it reports is an annual increase of 172 percent over last year.

“Payments are the last reason that restaurants are motivated to buy the product,” says Davis. While payment processing credits reduce the amount that restaurants pay for Upserve, they are “not a reason to get excited to work with us.” Restaurants are more focused on anything that helps them provide higher level hospitality services. They get that via the insights that Upserve provides into diners, diner behavior, food, service and servers, he says. For some restaurants, the analytics may be more important than features like online ads and loyalty programs (although the latter is offered by Upserve).

A big priority for the company for the rebrand is to simply “catch up where the business and product and customers have been for a while,” says Davis. Upserve has essentially become “a management assistant that helps make smarter decisions.”

Using the service, restaurants receive a complete picture of their operations and their customers. The software remembers customers (birthdays, recent visits, transactions, favorite drinks). Its predictive software can also tell a restaurant how many diners are likely to show up at peak times, and even count how many of each type of dish will be ordered (i.e. 40 T-Bone steaks, 18 brick chickens).

It also scans social media to get a sentiment analysis of how customers feel about different dishes (“40 percent say that the chicken pot pie is too dry). Davis notes that at least half of online reviews mention at least one dish. The service can also sort results per server to determine server success with upsells, or selling wine, or perhaps, overuse of coupon codes.

New to the service this year is integration with OpenTable ERB, which will enable Upserve to work with table management. While some restaurants have switched to tablet systems for table management, 85 percent of OpenTable’s customers still use the dedicated hardware, says Davis.

Cardlinx San Francisco: The Drive to ‘Incremental Spend’ by Consumers

The evolution of the card linked space is happening in unexpected ways, as we saw this week at Cardlinx’s San Francisco conference. It was the association’s largest event in its two year history. Basically — the table has been set; a number of early arriving guests have arrived; and we are now waiting for real momentum and numbers to come in.

The first to come on board have been the larger companies, which thrive on the analytics – they want to know who their customers are, and how to market to them. The smaller merchants are more impacted by the direct impact of offers that drive store traffic and are still using their traditional options (ads, dm, coupons, etc.)

The event’s large attendance –130+ — reflected the rollout of several key card-linked based projects, such as Plenti from Amex, Macy’s, AT&T, Enterprise Rent a Car, Exxon Mobile and others; and a major card linked rollout from Whole Foods. Living Social has added a card linked element in dining rewards; and Groupon is tentatively preparing one as well, with 15 percent off as a constant feature.

Card linking is also seen as being deeply integrated with payment and messengering programs that are more directly driving commerce. Facebook, for instance — a Cardlinx member –appears to be studying a role for card linking on its growing Messenger platform, which is already set to provide shipping updates, book rides and send money.

Widely used, well-subscribed platforms are expected to add scale to card linked concepts as well. Speaking at the event, Empyr CEO Jon Carder said he could see 20 million active consumers building a $10 billion annual business –with $750 million in revenues going to the participating card linked offer companies. “It is a network effect,” he said. “The more participants, the more consumers you have, the more revenue you get. “

Whole Foods has whole-heartedly embraced its card linked program – which is a bit of a surprise for a company that has historically been “discount reluctant.” Payments Marketing Director Marushka Bland said card linking will give it an edge as the company faces serious competition in the organic grocery space from Kroger, Costco, Walmart and others. The company is now “much more open to worrying about its customers and eager to focus on things like loyalty.”

Whole Foods started rolling out its affinity program on a small scale in 2014. It is currently rolling out digital coupons. “It is about our customers and how they shop with us,” said Bland. “Execution, targeting and attribution” are the keys to the program, with a target goal of 10 percent incremental spend.

Incremental spend is also the chief goal for Excentus President and CEO Brandon Logsdon, who stressed that the key is not to focus on Card Linked Offers, but on getting participation in card linked programs. (He’s right: I’m going to phase out my own references to CLOs.)

Excentus rolled out its Fuel Rewards program in 2012. More than 6.5 million cards have been registered, and there is an active group of 1.4 million linked cards. Customers have spent $450 million on a growing list of affiliating merchants, and gotten $3.6 million back on fuel costs (roughly 5 cents a gallon). Logsdon adds that the merchants are seeing brand new spending from the programs. Fifty percent of those coming in are new customers; and 65 percent of promoted sales are incremental.

Empyr CEO Jon Carder

Empyr CEO Jon Carder

Does Email Still Drive SMB Marketing? Privy Says ‘Yes’


We’re said to be in a post-email generation, as Millennials increasingly rely on messaging and other channels. There will need to be a lot of adjustment for marketing strategies.

But email is still the most reliable connection for most consumers. It remains the primary input for customer lists, which are now being collected by 80 percent of SMBs, per BIA/Kelsey. In fact, no other SMB marketing feature ranks as high.

Are SMBs doing enough with their email lists? The obvious answer is “no.”

Optimizing email for leads and engagement is the role that Boston-based Privy has given itself. Founded in 2012 as an offers company during the Groupon boom, Privy has remade itself as a freemium/premium email marketing enhancer that is tightly integrated with more than 10 top email programs (Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Fishbowl etc.)

The 10 person company currently has a base of 14,000 SMBs under its email marketing efforts, and is now growing by 3,000 to 4,000 new small businesses every month. It hopes to enlist 50,000- 60,000 SMBs by the end of the year.

CEO and Founder Ben Jabbawy tells us that the company’s initial focus on offers and then “closed loop marketing systems” was an effective way to acquire consumers, but businesses were slow to adopt. The new focus on email list growth has given the company a period of rapid new growth – even though much of the leads- based functionality (attaching offers etc.) remains pretty much the same.

Two types of campaigns are typically run, says Jabbawy. “The first is a generic, ‘Hey , welcome to the website’ type effort. They may see a 1.5 – 2 percent conversion. The second is offer-based. “Join our list and get X% off.’ Offer driven campaign can see conversion rates jump to 5-15 percent. Offers are (still) a great carrot to incentivize customers to establish relationships.,” he says.

While the core email programs provide a lot of services, Jabbawy says Privy’s ability to provide more sophisticated targeting, offer tracking and redemption fully complement them. “When businesses sign up for Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, they typically have (few) email contacts,” he suggests. “The majority have sub 100 email contacts, or sub 500 contacts.”

Privy is offering a feature-rich freemium tier, with paid plans costing either $19 a month, $79 a month and higher (which is mostly for Enterprise players.) Given the expense of cold calling and acquiring SMBs in general, Jabbawy says it is an attractive offering.

And while email is the focus, a Privy campaign just as easily leads in to website-based marketing. Privy simplifies getting SMBs onto Websites, he says. SMBs that have Shopify, WordPress and Weebly.com accounts are the company’s fastest growing channels.