Category Archives: Mobile

“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

LSA16: Thumbtack Focuses on Creating an ‘SMB OS’

Thumbtack President and Co-founder Jonathan Swanson

Thumbtack is an SMB sleeper. It has raised $275 million, using it to develop a profile-based, one click referral system. Last quarter, 200,000 service SMBs bought some level of lead bundles, which can be purchased in packages ranging from $10 to $600 per week.

Under Thumbtack’s model, service pros only buy the number of leads they want to deal with. Consumers receive a choice of 3-5 referrals per query (yes, sort of like Home Advisor.) The beauty of it: no sales force — the single greatest expense in the industry. Thumbtack simply finds its service pros via sophisticated searches and builds a searchable profile. In some cases, it is enfranchising entire new groups that don’t have storefronts and aren’t typically approached for marketing (i.e. photographers, dog walkers)

We’ll see whether Thumbtack hits a wall with the model, given that many SMBs have needed a push from a sales consultant to keep their foot on the gas. Meanwhile, the Thumbtack team isn’t waiting to see what happens. It plans to deepen its engagement with SMBs by developing a comprehensive SMB “operating system” that will connect all the dots for busy service pros that need help with scheduling, presence, marketing and back office chores.

Speaking at LSA 16 this week in San Francisco, President and co -founder Jonathan Swanson says the company is basically extending its longtime mission of moving away from the omnipresent directory model and be more Amazon-like. He calls it a “features” approach. “The more we looked at our competitors, the more they looked the same,” he says. Competitors include such companies as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Porch, Amazon, Google, Dex, Hibu and others.

Swanson says that the company’s main mission is to extend its relationship with its service pros, and make that relationship more rewarding. Churn isn’t an issue since there is no contract – just new business. “Once a professional is hired (using) Thumbtack, they stay with us forever. If they are being hired, they come back again and again,” he says.

The SMB operating system concept isn’t necessarily a new one. Groupon was talking about it a couple of years ago, seeking to enlist partners from a wide variety of niches to “close the loop” on its payments and loyalty system.

Thumbtack’s vision is to leverage its core competencies, mostly using internally developed resources. “We’re good at Adwords, payments, scheduling,” says Swanson.

With the OS in place, service pros can “open the App, tell us their skills and we can tell them what they can earn in different parts of the country. We’d help you start a small business, get a license and get customers. You focus on what you love doing, and we’ll focus on everything else.” The company, meanwhile, can also educate consumers on their bids and what they can expect to pay. Many consumers, for instance, wouldn’t realize that a quality photographer wouldn’t bid on a $500 photo shoot.

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

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.

My Podcast Predictions for 2016: I’m on ‘The Digital CMO with Mike Orren’

Can the daily deals model recover? Will beacons be big in retail? Why is the home services space set to soar? How will custom deals be more sophisticated in the new year? And how can marketers decide which “unicorns” to bet on and which to ignore?

Speakeasy CEO and social and hyperlocal media pioneer Mike Orren interviews me — The Local Onliner — about what’s happening in local and media in 2016 for his new show, The Digital CMO. It runs about 34 minutes….Here’s the podcast link.

SIM Partners’ 3 Cs for Boosting Listings in a Mobile Era: Configuration, Compliance, Conversion

The evolution of the listings business from basic name and address information to one that is a prime generator of leads, targeting and business intelligence is something we’ve watched closely over the past several years. The big listings companies – InfoGroup, Acxiom, Neustar’s Localeze and Factual — have all repositioned themselves for the mobile era, enabling brands and retailers to act on social media activity and location data.

With all the new features added in, however, they don’t have the business to themselves. Yext, Brandify (formerly Where2GetIt), Placeable and Rio have all sought to carve out their own niches in what we used to call “localization.” Another player is SIM Partners, a 75 person SaaS player that has evolved from its roots as a digital agency. The company has just reinforced its efforts via its acquisition of Sycara Local, which helps companies highlight data strategies for local search.

Last week, I had a wide ranging discussion about these macro trends with SIM CEO Jon Schepke, CMO Tari Haro and VP of Product Gib Olander. In their view, listings still anchor everything for the industry. But with mobile exploding and “Near Me” searches doubling in the last year alone, the SIM execs think it is all about scaling and enhancing that data ad content. Successful companies in the space will focus on supporting what SIM believes are the three Cs of listings: “Configuration,” “Compliance” and “Conversion.”

To get there, SIM has launched Velocity, a local marketing automation platform, which includes location data management, publishing, data analytics and other data amplifiers. SIM reports that brands that increased their “listing health” score by 20 percent saw traffic to their location pages increase up to 450 percent and on-page action conversion rates increase by 216 percent.

What’s next for 2016? For many proximity marketing players, the focus will be on implementing wireless beacons. These recognize users and analyze their behavior at specific stores. But SIM is putting its weight more broadly behind a mobile wallet solution. Arguing that beacons will have limited capabilities and deployment, SIM hopes to close the loop for its retailers and brands with the wallet.

Wallets can store and redeeem location-sensitive promotions, in addition to providing consumers with one stop access to reviews and other social media. In tests conducted earlier this year, 30 percent of consumers clicked on promotions and saved them to their wallets.

Prior versions of wallets (Apple Passbook, Google Wallet etc.) haven’t been well used by retailers or consumers, beyond boarding passes. But with so much emphasis on using mobile tools, SIM is convinced there will be a near-term break-through.

The Local Angle to Virtual Reality: NYT Launches with Google Cardboard

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What is the role of virtual reality as a local or vertical marketing channel? It’s an important question for the industry.

What we know is that 360 degree video and other precursor technologies are now being applied for local verticals such as real estate, auto, retail and travel. It is fairly commonplace to get a view of new car interiors by mousing over them. But as processing capabilities improve, video costs decline, hardware production scales, and major companies invest, we’ll see full blown virtual reality being presented as a brand new channel for locally targeted brands. There may also be applications by local governments and others.

We also know that interest levels and industry investment levels in VR are high. A report that includes a consumer survey and industry analysis from Greenlight VR, a new VR consulting firm I am advising, shows that VR has high awareness among men and women (but especially men); there is high interest in VR among all age groups (but especially Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X); and consumers anticipate using VR for a wide range of activities, including gaming, travel, entertainment and training.

In anticipation of a breakthrough, companies such as Facebook, Google, Sony, Samsung, VG and Mattel have invested billions of dollars. In fact, Greenlight VR reports there are 160 U.S VR companies now, up from 120 in 2014. But it’s still a greenfield opportunity with no clear leaders at this point. On the processing front, we’ve also seen major support from Intel, NVIDIA and AMD.

Media companies are just beginning to weigh in as well, seeing a potential growth avenue and, possibly, a new way into video. This weekend, The New York Times launched its NYT VR app for iOS and Android, and delivered free Google Cardboard viewers (each normally priced at $24.95) to nearly 1.15 million Sunday print subscribers.

The inaugural VR programming on the Times app – a Mini Cooper promo and a moving, 10 minute warzone documentary produced with VRSE, a VR storytelling firm — was shot with multiple cameras and let consumers take a 360 degree view of various landscapes with studio quality sound (if using headphones.)

Relying on the inexpensive, Viewmaster-like Google Cardboard reader rather than high end computing platforms (expected to cost $300+,) the NYT programs aren’t offering much more than a self-directed, 360 degree view. You won’t see head tracking tech with this.

But it gets the app and reader into the hands of its early adopter, high-end readership. Its importance can’t be under-estimated. To us, it is a major step for both the NYT and Google, as they strive in their own ways to be immersive, comprehensive media and commerce providers. One wonders how a CBS or ABC affiliate, or a local newspaper, will compete against a Google, Facebook and/or NYT that offers virtual reality options, video, listings, commerce, social media and other open loop/closed loop channels.

Fast Company profiled Greenlight VR’s new report. Here is the link to Greenlight’s purchase page.

From Wired Goodness