It was a pleasure to address the retail and brand execs gathered at ShopLocal’s Eighth Annual Retail Forum in Chicago a couple of weeks back (along with Rishad Tobaccowalla and a host of other great speakers.) Here’s a link to the full presentation on YouTube.
Gannett Digital Marketing, the umbrella division of Gannett that includes ShopLocal, BlinQ, PointRoll, DealChicken, Key Ring and Clipper Magazine, relaunched today as G/O Digital. The new unit – which is adding a massive hub in a Chicago skyscraper, and is specifically kept separate from Gannettt’s media properties — is lead by longtime ShopLocal head Vikram Sharma. It also adds ecommerce vet Mark Maranacci (Edo, Google, Yahoo) as ShopLocal President, where he will lead the sales marketing team interacting with national brands and retailers.
The rebranding was announced today at ShopLocal’s 8th Annual Retail Summit in Chicago. Gannett CEO Gracia Martore, at the event, said that the effort is part of “transforming Gannett into an innovative media and marketing powerhouse,” scaling local audiences “to a national level.”
Staples SVP of U.S. Stores Alison Corchoran spoke about the value of having all the Gannett services under one roof. The company views Gannett as a major marketing partner, along with companies such as Constant Contact, Google, Groupon, LinkedIn, Facebook, Cheetah Mail and Mcgarry Bowen.
Corcoran noted that Staples now has 1,500 stores, but it isn’t about the stores so much as being a “b2b marketer” both online and in the stores. With the rise of search, Direct Mail, email marketing, social media, ecommerce and loyalty services, she noted that the goal posts have dramatically changed.
While Staples continues to focus on “easy,” “the meaning of ‘easy’ has changed. Retailers have more dots to connect. Gannett’s new focus on integrated offerings have really helped the Staples team get over the dual dilemma of being “very data driven but risk averse,” she says.
Is email still the anchor for customer engagement, given the rise of mobile, social media, texting, websites and big data? With people joking that they don’t even know what email is, you have to wonder.
ExactTarget, which specializes in email marketing and other personalized marketing programs, argues that email is more central than ever before. And apparently, so would SalesForce.com, which agreed in early June to pay $2.5 Billion for the company.
Last week, at San Diego Interactive Day, ExactTarget’s Joel Book laid out the case for email, which he calls “the backbone of customer engagement.”
Email is still more widely used than any other channel, he argues. And the rapid spread of smart phones have greatly accelerated email’s capability. “Mobile is the new direct response,” he says. It is “all about marketing to the individual.”
Email also enables marketers to own their own audience. It’s a long way from 1976, when marketers used to “rent” an audience by buying SRDS books.
The challenge for marketers is to make sure that their email programs are well integrated into all their other programs, including social media, websites and mobile. Shoppers “want a seamless shopping experience,” says Book.
The best way for brands to respond to this need is to use direct response methods such as email to build “small, highly engaged communities.” Brands such as Scott’s Lawn Care have made a science of doing exactly that, tying personalized emails to entire programs for garden care.
Online restaurant ordering and discovery giants GrubHub and Seamless have agreed to merge their operations, creating a single company. Chicago-based GrubHub currently serves more than 20,000 food ordering establishments in 500 cities, while New York-based Seamless serves more than 12,000 food ordering establishments in 400 U.S. cities plus London.
GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney, who co-founded the company in 2004, keeps the CEO job. Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky becomes president. Zabusky recently came on to spin off the operation from Aramark, the corporate catering giant.
The two companies had been going head-to-head in a number of their markets. Both share a vision of the food ordering business being rapidly transformed via smart phone.
We had an extensive discussion with Zabusky in March. At that time, he noted that Seamless had two million regular users and grossed $85 Million in topline revenues in 2012. It projects $100 million in top line revenue in 2013, with major growth seen in coming years.
The company has had a strong foothold in the corporate market, providing food ordering and delivery to law firms, tech firms and investment houses. But its major effort has been focused on the consumer side, which has been experiencing year-over-year growth of 60 percent.
The company has 300 people in three major offices, as well as field based sales. While it is best known for its strong business in Manhattan, where it recently opened a 28,000 square foot facility, Zabusky notes that the company has a strong presence in 13 major U.S. markets. He added that Seamless had “a major national expansion strategy,” and was well-situated to execute it with a customer care center in Salt Lake City.
The key to growth, said Zabusky, was to keep selling new products and features to its food establishment partners. “We don’t make money unless they make more money.”
Zabusky noted that Seamless has been processing electronic order forms, and providing electronic terminals, along with table side ordering apps. Generally, its focus is to move restaurants away from fax machines, and away from phone calls and paper, which he says remains the segment’s biggest competition.
With Seamless, restaurants move up to a “multi-platform portal,” where they could “view, confirm and track orders,” he said. Restaurants also leverage Seamless and its vast network for discovery and retention. For instance, it offers different deals on different days to keep customers coming back. “It is very different than the daily deals space,” he said.
The industry’s transformation via mobile, however, is expecially key. Zabusky says it represents 40 percent of the total business, up from 10 percent a year ago. But for online food ordering, mobile doesn’t just represent a phone. The company’s best customers use the PC-based Web, phones and tablets, he says. “Thirty percent of the mobile volume comes from the iPad.”
After the merger is completed, major competitors for the combined company will include Living Social, which has recently bet big on online food ordering; Delivery.com, which claims a roster of almost 10,000 restaurants in 50 cities; and Eat24.com, which covers 20,000 restaurants in 1,000 cities across the country.
Disruption happens. In the local space, we’re seeing it happen with Yellow Pages and newspapers. Banks are seeing it happen as well, which will cause a major change in the way that customers keep track of their money, buy goods and services and stay “loyal” to merchants.
At NACHPA’s Payments 2013 in San Diego this week, speakers discussed how the move to digital is impacting banks and their relationships with customers and merchants – and how the payment space is evolving.
Keynoter Brett King, CEO of Moven,, an online bank. suggests the biggest sea change is that customer relationships aren’t determined by anything that goes on at the branch. “Nine of 10 customers can’t remember getting advice at a branch,” he notes. “By 2015, digital interactions with banks will outnumber branch interactions by 300 to 1.” And branches will only be visited once a twice a year.
“The mobile phone is undoubtedly the next banking platform,” says King, citing a Gartner forecast showing that 70 percent of GenY will be “mobile banking first” by 2015, and that 50 percent of all customers will be using mobile as their primary channel by 2016.
The other part of the equation is the rise of prepaid debit cards, which is growing 25 percent a year, which checks are shrinking 4 percent a year. The prepaid debit cards are evolving into smart accounts for some users that can tally total spending in a category – and even show areas to cut back on.
Smart accounts are about putting context in payments – good spending versus bad spending. It might show, for instance, that the daily $10 Starbucks fix is adding up to $280 a month. “Instead of making it an impulse decision, make it into a planned purchase,” he says.
“It is all about getting rid of friction,” adds King. The correct analogy is Uber, which provides cashless car service. By linking payment accounts and wallets to the cloud, merchants are increasingly positioned to add offers, loyalty programs and other incentives.
Banks, however, haven’t reduced friction with their online products. “We have simply reinforced it online,” says King, in words of warning. “We haven’t seen the industry embrace mobile as the bank account.” Meanwhile, there are “a lot of players coming in to create new infrastructure, with new rails, new pipes.”
Ads aren’t just valued for bringing in calls and walk ins. Local businesses increasingly place value on consumers looking up maps and directions, or participating in loyalty efforts, notes SuperMedia Director of Mobile Development Chris Folmer, who was speaking on a panel at The Local Search Association conference April 16 in Las Vegas. “There are lots of ways to drive true value,” he says.
Loyalty programs represent a real growth opportunity. Consumers are already engaged with the client. They need to maintain the relationship,” says Folmer. He notes that SuperMedia is rolling out a number of new loyalty programs. The programs are great acquisition tools. They are “really good to talk to new clients about. They really like it.”
The traditional backbone of loyalty programs have been text messaging, he adds. Texts really deliver results, and are “exploding” for SMBs. The key is to “get people to want to engage in content.” But they can also be tricky because they are so easy to unsubscribe from. “It only takes one bad offer for someone to opt out,” he notes.
Speaking on the same panel, Placecast SVP Blair Swedeen also emphasized strong results from text-based programs. Promotions sent out when consumers are near a store result in a 2.5 x boost in frequency, and a 22 percent purchase rate. There is also a 5 percent increase in average order value, he notes.
Increased smartphone penetration has greatly expanded the universe for smart offers, says Swedeen — smartphone users will also get push offers on their Apps and emails. “Most customers want delivery across all channels,” he says.
Edo Interactive VP Jeff Fagel says that texts in fact have already been surpassed by smartphone emails. Apps are also proving to be very effective. Merchants that have a promotion on a mobile app are seeing a 20 percent boost in their response rate.
Redemption rates are also soaring. A program that Edo ran with Subway, for instance, achieved a 15 percent redemption rate across the board. It drove the value of purchases up 30 percent. Moreover, 40 percent of those customers who redeemed offers came back at least once or twice in the next 90 days.
The key is driving “the right offer to the right customer,” and keeping it simple, adds Fagel. “There is nothing as impactful as ‘thumbs in faces,’” he says, noting that mobile offers will see 10-15x redemption rates of traditional coupons.
Scoutmob, the Atlanta-based, mobile deals provider, has been taking a fresh approach to the deals space since its launch. It has focused entirely on mobile to leverage geo-location; changed the business model from commissions on deal value to flat fee; and hired dedicated sales and editorial people in each of its 13 markets instead of relying on centralized resources.
The company’s s innovative efforts continue. It recently rolled out Shoppe, an Etsy-like arts feature that lets local artists sell their goods. Over the next couple of weeks, it is unveiling its next moves, including a pilot test of the First Data/CardSpring “OfferWise” loyalty program; and integration with Google Lab’s Field Trip.
The entire deals space – including Scoutmob — suffered a major slow down in growth in 2012 after some slowness in 2011, suggests co-founder Michael Tavani. Hence, a strategic decision instead to stay put where it was, rather than add new markets, and focus on new distribution methods, new revenue streams and features.
Next week, the company will, for instance, roll out the Offer Wise pilot program in Atlanta with a limited number of merchants and consumers. The program, dubbed “Local Loyalty,” lets users receive loyalty points every time they check out of a participating merchants with an acqusition.
The points accumulate network-wide, instead of being limited to individual merchants. Users typically receive a reward on the 10th checkout. Merchants will pay a small monthly fee per redemption, and are being solicited via their affiliation with First Data, the processing giant which handles over 50 percent of U.S. transactions.
The company’s other major initiative is an integration with Google’s FieldTrip, an Android-only App (at this point) which reveals things to do on a mobile maps as users go by them. FieldTrip, which was developed by Google Maps leader John Hanke as an independent effort, launched last October.
Tavani says that inclusion on Field Trip is part of a broader effort to get beyond the “push” of email offers, and compensate for any email fatigue that is impacting the industry.
“This is the next phase of push,” says Tavani. “There is a ton of value in the discovery part of it.” Non-push efforts such as personalization really haven’t had much of an impact for Groupon and others yet, he suggests (although Groupon says it has been able to boost yield by 50 percent with such efforts.) While a certain number of Scoutmob users may be personalizing their mobile app, it is hard to tell how many are doing that.