Category Archives: HyperLocal

Merchants Helping Neighboring Merchants: Ex Constant Contacter Launches Alignable

One idea we’ve kicked around for a while is that merchants can generate business tips and customer referrals for neighboring merchants in a strip mall, or down the street. Why shouldn’t the cooking store people refer customers to the gourmet grocery? Or the hardware store people refer customers to plant nursery? At least, they can share tips about landlords, taxes, advertising and supplies.

At this point, several companies have tried it. It has been a leading premise behind the launch of local sites such as MerchantCircle and ShopCity.

The popularization of social media has led former Constant Contact executive Eric Groves to try it once again with Alignable, his new startup. Groves contends that there is vast local knowledge in pockets throughout communities. But many SMBs miss out on marketing opportunities because of the isolated state they operate in. “They never connect with people who are just 10 feet away from their dry wall,” he says.

Alignable makes it easier for merchants to share information; post calendar information; and other information. For SMBs, it is a growth engine, says Groves. What’s in it for him? Because there is generally so little overlap between the customer bases of neighboring merchants, the combined resources of hundreds and thousands of merchants represent a new way to reach a large quorum that could easily rival the reach of a local newspaper or broadcasters.

Informal surveys conducted by Alignable show that overlap rates between customer lists are generally less than two percent. A large community such as Austin, for instance, already has 700 businesses on Alignable. If the majority of Austin merchants were to signup, it would represent a combined reach of 1.5 million, Groves estimates.

Other fast-out-of-the-gate markets for Alignable include Denver, Phoenix and Oakland. In fact, the service is now available in 3000 communities representing every state, as well as Canada.

Looking forward, Groves sees opportunity not only to hook up neighboring merchants and their customers, but vertical players across the county. Health and Wellness has been an early winner, with MindBody Online serving as a strong partner for Alignable, says Groves.

Alignable is a member of the 2014 Future Stars, and will be part of Future Stars Alley at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can register here.

DataSphere: Opportunity in Mobile Advertising for SMBs

The times are a changin’ when it comes to SMB customer acquisition. Non-traditional options – including the use of social media, mobile targeting and promotional calls to action – provide opportunities for SMBs looking to take advantage of shifts in consumer behavior.

Few companies have been as energetic in capturing this shift as much as Seattle-based DataSphere, which has quietly amassed 20,000 SMB accounts, making it one of the largest SMB marketing platforms.

Changing with the times, DataSphere is moving its focus away from buying ad space on local Websites. Instead, it has developed a set of services based on mobile ad networks, which can target customers on a geotargeted and just-in-time basis.

The company is also focusing on LocalSaver.com, a coupon portal; and the LocalSaver Network, a distribution network. LocalSaver goes beyond coupons to provide SMBs with enhanced features such as landing pages, updated listings designed to maximize consumer engagement and video. (DataSphere has built videos for 90 percent of its customers.)

The rise in mobile usage, in particular, has led to a major boost in SMBs’ use of geotargeting – and in the availability of geotargeted ad exchange inventory. Seventy percent of LocalSaver traffic is now lat/long enabled, says SVP Gary Cowan.

This is an edited excerpt of a new BIA/Kelsey client brief, “DataSphere: Leveraging Mobile Advertising and Changing Course with 20,000 SMBs.”

Streetwise Media: Native Ads Go Hand in Hand with Local B2B Content

Local B2B news sites always make sense to us. But they have largely been an exercise in frustration, with a lot of money being thrown at them to build local journalism and sales teams. Back in the late 1990s, sites such as Localbusiness.com ran through millions of dollars in an effort to quickly launch and dominate the space.

New players have come out in recent years with business models incorporating native advertising –content-oriented advertising that contextually fits with other content. One of them is Advance Publications’ Streetwise Media.

Initially launched as an entrepreneurial local Boston site named Boston Innovation (now BostInno), the founders have honed the model — including specialized news index technology that can automatically track news releases — and are now in several markets, including Boston, Washington DC and soon, Chicago. More markets are likely to come on board in the near future. Advance bought the company in 2012 and kept the team intact, seeing clear business synergies with its more traditional Business Journals, which are in 40 markets.

CEO and co founder Chase Garbarino tells us his rollout model is to enter a market and focus on the startup community and entrepreneurship. “Once we get an audience foothold, our publications develop,” he says.

Each city varies in terms of its editorial focus. “In DC, we have four full-time writers focused on advocacy, innovation and things like that,” he says. “In Boston, we’ve had a ton of success with the college vertical.” Advertisers have come to realize they need to do more with content marketing, he adds.

Streewise has an internal team that focuses on the native advertising sales, while BizJournals sells most of the company’s traditional display ads. The key, says Garbarino, is that the native advertising format enables the company to guarantee and sell engagement.

“It is not just impressions,” hew says. “We can sell a half million impressions and guarantee one percent engagement; share content on LinkedIn and Twitter; and comment on it. It is not just used on the home page.”

The site’s technology also enables targeting around specific audiences. A campaign for Bentley Business School, for instance, focused on the value of having an MBA and was targeted to 20-somethings. The company does especially well with corporate workers and young working pros. While many B2B sites are focused on automation as a way to make them economical, Garbarino says that just won’t work. “The key to the model is having a local presence. You can’t do community and local news without being part of the community.”

Local’s New Year: Some Thoughts and Predictions

Over the years, we’ve seen some major paradigm shifts in the transition of local marketing to digital. In 2003, it was the rise of Google search as applied to small business –to this day, the biggest thing that ever happened to local. In 2007, the paradigm shift was the rise of Groupon and prepaid deals as a way to drive customer acquisition. This opened the door for all kinds of non-advertising marketing, from Facebook and Twitter to Card Linked Offers.

Right now, mobile is THE paradigm shift – both as a media channel, and as a geolocation device (Mobile hasn’t been a factor yet as an ewallet. But that is sure to come, with a whole new set of implications.)

Nothing happens in 12 month cycles, but this is what I see happening in 2014:

Hyperlocal Fails to Win Destination Status, Gets a Better Life as Feature
Hyperlocal seems so compelling; contextual content that can draw users who can be microtargeted on a block by block basis. But on a super hyper local basis, it hasn’t scaled as a business model or as a compelling destination site. AOL’s Patch is reported to be winding up as an independent entity, and National Local hybrids such as Examiner.com haven’t made an impact either. The one remaining super hyperlocal site is Next Door Networks, which has raised a $100 Million war chest. The site is based on user generated content and local cells of 30+ users. It is a much cheaper model than Patch’s local staff. But will it win sustained participation from users? My bet is that it won’t. But does that mean that hyperlocal is dead? In fact, hyperlocal is everywhere – in reviews, posts, articles, maps and enhanced listings. Its use is sure to grow.

The Sharing Economy Spawns Multiple Vertical Sites
One of the big local breakthroughs has been the development of shared listing sites for apartments (Airbnb), vacation rentals (BRBO) and rides (Uber). In 2014, we expect to see shared listings become more ubiquitous, with multiple entries per verticals, and the addition of many more verticals. We also expect to see an entire ecosystem grow around these sites. As AirBnB’s Joe Zadeh noted at Interactive Local Media in San Francisco, solutions are being added based on need. For instance, Airbnb has developed a freelance photographer program because hosts need good pictures of their apartments.

Social’s Impact In Local Is Too Fragmented, But Dedicated Word of Mouth Sites Make a Dent
Social leaders like Facebook and Google+ have tremendous volume at the local level. Facebook, alone, has over one million SMB advertisers. But its local usage is so fragmented that local can’t be a real focus at the vertical level. Review-based sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List get closer to the mark, and have broadened their reach beyond restaurants and service professionals, respectively. But they leave plenty of room for smaller Word of Mouth sites that can specialize in certain sectors (i.e. Plumbers) and really dig in. Look for some of the industry’s most innovative leaders try to break through with new models in 2014, including Justin Sanger with SupportLocal; Gib Olander with Local Viewpoints; and Matthew Berk with Lucky Oyster.

‘Big Data’ and Non-Advertising Marketing Boost Local Leads
The ability to base marketing on user engagement and behavior is a fantastic opportunity. Big data, specifically, mixes and matches various data bases to determine the likelihood of engagement. It has been successfully applied to support advertising campaigns. But can users be targeted as a substitute for advertising budgets? And looking forward, can transaction activity, store inventories and user location be wedded to search behavior as part of e big data? This is a greenfield opportunity in all respects. What we are looking for is the transformation of retail email and social lists to leads and promotions. Look for big data players such as Radius Intelligence, Retailigence, xAd, Urban Mapping and LocalBlox to showcase new opportunities in leads and geotargeting.

The Hunger for ‘Attribution’ Drives Big Data and Transaction Marketing
One of the biggest problems for local marketers is proving attribution – especially as users effortlessly move from a banquet of “spreadable media” – everything from articles to email to social media posts to YouTube. It is another reason we are keen on transactional media and loyalty media – the receipts say it all. Look for the gatekeepers of transaction media and loyalty marketing–everyone from Living Social to First Data, Bank of America, MasterCard, Amex , Google Wallet, PayPal and Square – to edge their way into consumer marketing.

Online Shopping Goes Local via Delivery
Interactive Local Media has largely been defined by tech factors, such as geofencing . But the growing use of online by commerce giants such as WalMart, The Home Depot, Amazon and eBay; their development of regional warehouses and delivery networks; and use of Facebook Connect-like one stop shopping suggests a new front in the war for local commerce. The imposition of local sales taxes also suggests a level playing field with local businesses. eBay’s purchase in 2013 of the Shutl courier service, and its expansion to multiple markets, really showed where this might lead.

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading and being part of the local community.

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What’s The ROI for SMB Ad Campaigns? Bizible Tracks It


Sometimes the ability to track the ROI of a local campaign is as important as the campaign itself. That is part of the assumption behind Bizible, a Seattle stat-up which works with SMBs to track lead sources from different media campaigns, and provide reports on their effectiveness.

The company announced today that it has raised $1.7 Million in a new round lead by Madrona Venture Group, which has also funded AdReady and Mixpo. MHS Capital and various Seattle angel investors are also participating in the round.

Launched by Microsoft AdCenter vets Aaron Bird and Peter Thompson, Bird suggests that SMBs typically have no idea where they are getting their revenue. “You have no insights into what your keywords bring you. Or Clicks. Or maybe even your calls,” he says. Bizible will track this activity vis email, adding additional channels later. “This can be as simple as emailing the customer an invoice or as elaborate as using email to answer questions before and after the sale,” he says.

The initial focus on email means that the company will be targeting service based industries that are more dependent on email, including such categories as insurance, real estate, home services and contractors. Bars, restaurants and retail are more call-focused.

“We don’t bring you customers,” adds Bird. “You buy them on the Internet. But we have the analytics telling you how much each campaign is generating.” He envisions a reporting capability that will eventually provide SMBs with the level of detail that e-commerce companies get.

They “can track the source of sales through online conversion tracking technology,” says Bird. “Because of these they have a wealth of data on what’s working, down to the keyword, ad copy, social post, etc, and they have great revenue and conversion data to optimize their efforts.”

The service carries a rate card ranging from $149 to $999 a month depending on the number of accounts and locations involved. It is being sold directly to SMBs, and indirectly via agencies, Yellow Pages and other resellers, which may bundle the costs into their other fees.

Local Mass Transit Sites Benefit From Storm Chaos

Hurricane Sandy forced millions of North-easterners out of their travel routines, closing down regular transit routes and services. It also spurred a boomlet in online and mobile searches for alternative transit, as well as weather.

HopStop, a 20 person, four-year-old site, says its traffic for “non subway” searches was up over 800 percent. Biking, taxi, walking, hourly car rentals and biking usage was way up. Bus-only searches were up over 1000%, and bus-only searches were up over 1300 percent.

At the same time, subway/train-only searches were down over 30 percent over the same time frame (due to many of the subways and trains being out-of-service).

The site, which relies heavily on crowd-sourcing for transit route updates, serves 102 major markets in five countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K, France and Russia. About a dozen more will be added in coming weeks. In early 2013, there are plans to expand to Southeast Asia.

HopStop self-reports that it is the #1-ranked transit app in iTunes, and the #4 ranked free navigation app in iOS overall (after MapQuest, Waze and Telenav). It recently got a boonfall when it was selected as one of the transit defaults for Apple Maps.

The lion’s share of HopStop’s usage has traditionally comes from the Big Apple, its headquarters city. But with all of the outside growth, New York now accounts for less than 50 percent of its traffic, says CEO Joe Meyer. “We’re in every MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS market,” he notes.

Until recently, HopStop’s major revenue model was geo-targeted ads sold by its own network. The site can sell location aware adds based all current and future whereabouts. “Anyone interested in knowing where people are,” says Meyer. But the company switched in mid-2012 to using Travora (formerly the Travel Ad Network.) “They have the arms and legs to sell ads,” says Meyer.

Top advertisers include such brand names as JetBlue, Delta, Macys, Dunkin’ Donuts, JC Penney, BofA, American Express, Capital One, Disney, Starbucks, ZipCar, Monster, CareerBuilder, as well as major tourism boards and convention bureaus.

Dallas Morning News, Slingshot (and Mike Orren) Team for Local/Social Service

Newspapers have local brand credibility and content; agencies have media expertise; and neither of them do especially well selling SMBs on today’s social-infused media options.

That’s the challenge being addressed by Speakeasy, a new local social service being owned in partnership by Belo’s Dallas Morning News and Slingshot, a Dallas-based interactive agency that will provide a lot of the key infrastructure and media expertise. The effort, majority owned by The News, is being run by Pegasus News Founder Mike Orren.

Orren tells us Speakeasy, in development for several months, includes a lot of elements from prior hyperlocal efforts, and will be aiming at higher end SMBs willing to spend $2k a month for six month contracts – a newspaper sweet spot. It will be positioned above the newspaper’s existing 508 Digital initiative, affiliated with Local Edge, which sells a search/social and display package to smaller SMBs.

Matching content to SMBs is a core initiative for Speakeasy. Content will be available from The News’ archive for placement by clients on their social media and websites.In this regard, it’s not much different than Demand Media’s effort a few years ago to provide content to Merchant Circle clients for $9.95 a month.

But archival content is just part of it. Orren says that he also expects to utilize his extensive network of Dallas-based writers and producers for custom jobs – an effort to similar efforts that CBS Local has running with Examiner.com (where Orren has been a consultant). Digital Sherpa, Yodle and others are also providing custom content aimed at driving higher search ranking and success.

“There’s obvious stuff… stories about the company; gardening columns. But there is also non-traditional content,” says Orren. “A real estate agent can create a site around where neighbors go; and local news content,” he says. A lot of SMB database content – maps of local coffeehouses or entertainment listings — is very poorly done today, he says.

Ultimately, whether unique content is involved or archives, it seems what really matters is bringing local SMBs back into the newspaper fold; efforts previously focused on SEO sales by WebVisible, Maroon Ventures and others.