Category Archives: Big Data

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.

American Express Cuts Back: Big Impact on SMB Digital Marketing Support?

American Express is under the knife, as it cuts $1 billion in spending with the end of its Costco and JetBlue co-branded cards. The cutback will probably cut into many of the forward looking promotion and marketing projects that Amex underwrites with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Uber, Pinterest and others.

It will also lead to the departure of many executives – Leslie Berland, EVP, Global Advertising, Marketing and Digital Partnerships, for one, is rumored to be headed to Twitter as CMO – where she would be able to work with Buy Buttons, coupons and other promotions to fan commerce that would supplement or compete with Amex efforts. In this case, the use of Twitter and other social media to fan commerce will seem a whole lot easier than directly fulfilling sales and ecommerce.

For Amex, however, it is not all bad. If we want to be cheerful about it, the looming cutbacks also represent a great “focusing” opportunity for the company, which is perhaps the most aggressive digital marketer in the field with mobile-oriented initiatives for deals, loyalty, prepaid cards and wallets.

The company and its premium model have actually been under stress for some time — even before the loss of the two reseller deals (Costco alone represented 10 percent of Amex revenue). While there is Apple-like seamlessness in Amex as the acquirer, the issuer and the network, many merchants have been hesitant to pay the .5 percent Amex premium over other credit card issuers – especially after Amex moved away from its exclusive emphasis on the wealthy and rolled out the Bluebird debit product with Walmart and other value cards to compete for the high volume of underbanked customers.

Given the cutbacks, we wouldn’t be going too far out on the limb to predict that Amex won’t be underwriting major promotions from major merchants in the near future. This past holiday season, we already saw Amex end its subsidy of Small Business Saturday purchases (which went from $25 in 2013 to $10 in 2014 to zero in 2015).

One could argue that Amex has already incubated its digital offerings, which launched in 2011-12 out of a distinct business unit designed to “challenge the status quo.” Indeed, these efforts may not really require additional financial support. We know that a good promotion these days still results in tens of thousands of sales – Amex definitely remains an inviting publisher for deals . But they are no Super Bowl.

As for the focusing opportunity? That would be for Amex to reimagine itself as a marketing machine for its merchants – something that is well underway. That could mean a series of acquisitions (I might speculate that could mean one of the SMB loyalty plays, Big Data companies – Amex was an initial investor of Radius Intelligence–, or even a social media power, such as Twitter, Yelp or Foursquare).

At Money2020 in 2014 – more than 14 months ago — CEO Kenneth Chenault telegraphed the company’s next moves. When it comes down to payment innovation, it all comes down to one thing: Merchants want to grow sales. Does the innovation “help merchants meet customer needs?” he asked. “Do they provide incentives for changing customer behavior?”

Amex CEO Ken Chenault at Money2020 2014

Connectivity’s Matt Booth: SMB Marketing Automation ‘Unfolding Like B2B’

As marketing automation platforms have become more efficient, we’ve seen them being increasingly used by SMBs and multi-location merchants to localize advertising, leads management and promotions with listings, reviews and Websites.

One such platform is provided by Connectivity, which handles presence management for enterprise and franchise groups such as Sky Zone, Pie Five Pizza and Grocery Outlet, as well as “thousands” of SMBs. The 40-person, Burbank-based company was founded in 2005 by IAC/CItyGrid/CItysearch alums Emad Fanous and Erron Silverstein as Yellowbot, a Yelp-like review site/directory. In 2014, the company made a sharp turn towards marketing automation, coinciding with the arrival of my former Kelsey colleague Matt Booth as CEO.

Booth tells me that marketing automation in the B2C space is unfolding in the same manner as B2B companies like HubSpot did several years ago. Basically, there is a central repository of information, and a marketing automation platform that allows businesses to manage their workflow and interact with customers in different ways.

The marketing automation space, of course, has become very competitive. “Many companies have seen the same trends as us,” said Booth. It is “the quality and robustness” of the database that will give companies a leg up, he noted.

To this end, Connectivity has focused especially hard on “very specific vertical segmentation.” It also incorporates calling data. All of it supports the company’s new “Customer Insights” intelligence platform, which automatically creates customer lists using call data and emails sent to businesses. Customer Insights also generates a detailed demographic profile on each lead or customer.

JK Volvo Specialists in Pasadena, for instance, did not previously have an ability to market to its customer base because data was locked into invoicing software that lacked marketing abilities. After using Connectivity’s Customer Insights for a month, the platform built more than 300 customer profiles from incoming call logs. Three months later, more than 2,400 profiles were built including phone numbers extracted from the business’s invoicing software.

Connectivity CEO Matt Booth

‘Print SEO’ Efforts Drive Digital Traffic for Traditional Media Advertisers

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Digital conversion services have played a key role in getting print advertisers online. But in a “digital first” world, advertisers want to do more than simply replicate their ads.

Some of the real value is taking the content from their ads; making it searchable; and adding it to new channels, including social media, new display ads, directories and event listings.

ShopLocal and Wanderful Media (which took over Travidia) have played a key role here. Similarly, PaperG and its “Flyerboard” pushed the envelope in working broadly with local advertisers to automatically create new online ad formats.

OwnLocal continues to push hard in this direction, working with 2,400 newspapers in the U.S. and recently, Europe, for its “print SEO” efforts. While digital conversion still represents a large portion of the Austin and New York-based company’s revenue, it is now broadly diversifiying.

Co-founder Jeremy Mims sees an opportunity to broadly collect the data found in print ads to create business profiles, where they can be recirculated for SEM, SEO and business data syndication. Typical placements can be in marketing messages, emails and Facebook pages.

OwnLocal has also begun working in a slightly different way with broadcast TV and radio partners. For instance, with TV stations, it is working to disseminate ad spots across all the video platforms, such as YouTube, Vimeo and MetaCafe.

Getting from Search to ‘Close the Loop’: Chatting with FreshLime’s Jay Bean

SEO remains key for SMBs in 2016, but the goalposts have moved. With a surfeit of “close the loop” technologies being added to Big Data analytics, search has become just the tip of the iceberg.

Companies like SignPost are working closely with SMBs to provide close the loop information and action for SMBs. Service lead platforms such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor, Thumbtack and others are also providing transaction marketing behavior. So are loyalty and customer acquisition plays such as Empyr Networks.

Another platform is FreshLime, a Utah-based company launched by OrangeSoda founder Jay Bean. The company has been testing results with several hundred customers.

“Getting to the transaction enables us to help the SMB gain actionable insights about their customers,” says Bean. “Transparency past the transaction enables us to see the bigger picture and completely understand the consumer. Now we provide real data to predict future success.”

Some companies focus entirely on real time data from the Point of Sale forward, but Bean notes that real time data is only part of the picture. Seeing the data from a five year period gives a fuller picture. For example, Quickbooks can offer a ton of useful data, since SMBs enter all their transactions there. So do other feedback mechanisms, such as online reviews and channels of feedback (i.e. email, phone or text). This data is largely lost when SMBs focus on signing new customers instead of analyzing previous transactions that can show them where they can win repeat business and higher revenues.

To create a predictive analytics program, “we look at customers who are not coming back; and at past transactions,” says Bean. “We see where the leads are coming from, and the cost of leads. We are mining actionable data that can actually be used. The results show SMBs exactly where they should boost spending on the most relevant types of marketing channels, such as postcards and other offline engagement.

Lots of different players continue to hold on to different data elements. “There are big pools of data that no one wants to give up, despite the fact that the more valuable data is right there and available” says Bean. “It is like Google Analytics in 2000.”

Automation of all the inputs helps make it a win-win for all partners. “SMBs are tired of clicks and calls that don’t convert,” says Bean. To help them succeed, “it is important to not only focus on the front-end of engagement, but on the longer-term marketing side as well.”


FreshLime CEO Jay Bean

Milking the Big Data Around Local Events

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No one has really been able to build much of a business around “events.” While Zvents, Eventful, GoldStar and others have built great, increasingly granular databases of events, business models have never really been developed to leverage that data.

What if the focus was on the meta data around an events database? With mobile based geolocation and wallet information, that’s the quest for Gravy, a northern Virginia company founded in 2011 that has won investments from Gannett and others.

Gravy’s thesis: consumers reveal a great deal about their behavior and psychographics in in their search for events –and that marketers generally don’t leverage event searches.

CEO and Founder Jeff White told us that Gravy never thought of itself as an events discovery platform. “We didn’t want to get into the crowded ocean of events,” he said. But Gravy is set up to capture everything associated with an events search, from points of interest to very precise times of their location and activity.

“This is for the real world,” added White. “It is no different than a Web cookie in the Web world. Sometimes, you are understanding competitive locations. Other times, you are understanding the interests and behaviors of your most loyal customers.”

“Marriott wants to understand when customers are going to competitive properties,” said White. “Wal-Mart wants to understand yoga apparel. Sirius XM wants to market a country music channel to people who have attended country events.”

Gravy, of course, doesn’t have these types of insights to itself. It faces off against a host of Big Data, mapping and mobile search companies that are also providing consumer insights (Ground Signal provides similar insights with its location based data). But what Gravy does have is an integrated offering with the Gannett papers and websites, and other partners.