Category Archives: Technology

“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

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.

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

Local Onliner Bookshelf: ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’

We’ve all seen that the true tech visionaries defy conventional wisdom to define and create new markets. If Steve Jobs is the Michael Jordan of tech visionaries, than perhaps Elon Musk is the Steph Curry.

Musk has caught everyone’s attention, focusing on the big things that change people’s lives (payments, transport and power). At this point, he’s largely responsible for building everyone’s favorite electric car (Tesla), revolutionizing space transport (Space X), playing key roles in the new generation of electronic transactions (PayPal) and he’s also played, on the side, in solar power (Solar City). His vision for “Hyperloop” supersonic travel recently earned him a 90 minute audience with President Obama.

Business Week Writer Ashlee Vance’s new biography, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” is quite a read. Based on over 200 interviews, Musk is shown as a true innovator who paired good timing with a relentless drive and work ethic. The book also details how Musk, like so many tech leaders, was slowed by personal issues and a super competitive nature that seemingly doesn’t know when to stop.

The dual stories of modern space transport and electric car development are properly the focus here. But, of course, I wish the book spent more time on the early Zip2 years from 1995-97, when Elon and his younger brother Kimbal were just out of school and launching Zip2 in Vancouver’s Gas Light tech district with $28,000 of their father’s savings. Zip2 was a pioneer in integrating maps with business listings.

While the Zip2 section is a short part of the 400 page book, many of us in the local community got to know Musk at this time, and some of his signature characteristics (i.e. his charm, his micromanagement of projects, his reputation as a strict taskmaster). Desperate to keep his company afloat, Musk is described by Vance during this period as something less of a visionary than a “huckster.”

After a merger with Barry Diller’s Citysearch derailed amidst angry accusations of misrepresentation on both sides, Zip2 jumped deeper into the arms of its newspaper partners. The newspapers bet on Zip2 to help them become the next generation’s Yellow Pages for local SMBs.

The newspapers’ sales staff was basically unprepared to tackle low-priced digital listings, however, and the papers were also unable to drive enough traffic to the listings. Musk and the VCs and newspapers luckily were able to unload the failing operation to Compaq Computers for $250 million. (Compaq naively thought it would succeed in local sales by leveraging its computer sales network to moonlight as local ad sales people.)

But from nothing comes something. Musk took some of his $22 million share from the Compaq sale and moved on to develop what eventually became PayPal. And then, almost simultaneously, Space X and Tesla.

The book fascinatingly details the deceit and treachery of the VC community and executive colleagues. It also breaks new ground in detailing how Musk went to the brink, spending his $200 million + PayPal fortune on Space X and Tesla. Indeed, he was so broke, he took to flying on Southwest Airlines and had papers drawn up to sell Tesla to Google (Larry Page is said to be a best friend). It was only at the last minute that he was rescued by a major deal with NASA to use Space X rockets.

The book may not have the fluency of the greatest Innovator bios. Some of these would include James Gleick’s Genius about Richard Feynman, Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs, and Brad Stone’s The Everything Store about Jeff Bezos. But it’s a fascinating, well written and well researched tome, confirming that what it takes to be successful at the highest levels is a thick skin, a mission to rapidly succeed, important champions, independence, and immense capital.

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.

At BIA/Kelsey NEXT: Local’s New Linking Technologies and Intersection’s LinkNYC

We always like to call out the “laboratories” of locals, and efforts to embrace and leverage the latest technologies. At BIA/Kelsey’s NEXT conference Dec. 9-10 in Hollywood, we heard a lot from the laboratories, and their various goals.

Interestingly, most were not focused on simply extending media properties, or making them more efficient (except, perhaps, the automation and programmatic guys).

Instead, we saw a heavy focus on the new linking technologies, which take data from everywhere; personalizes it; and pushes it out across different channels, especially mobile. Google Now, Facebook, Microsoft, Groupon, Mogl, Intersection, Button, Orange, Quick.ly, Workwave, Retailigence and Wanderful Media were among the progressive companies presenting (and Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland talked about Apple’s new focus on extending Apple Search across all its media and commerce channels). The linking efforts would ideally produce “a Tesla” from the combination of cost value, experience value and platform value, noted Cisco Research Fellow Andy Naronha.

Intersection – a new company formed by the merger of Control Group and Titan, and invested in by Google’s Sidewalk Labs — certainly has its eyes on the prize. CSO Dave Etherington said the company’s LinkNYC is a prototype project bringing data and media to the 3.5 million New Yorkers who don’t have access to broadband by transforming 7,500 payphones throughout the five boroughs to broadband machines. They’ll each feature a free gigabyte of Wifi, and access to digital services.

Intersection has a 15 year contract from New York for the project, which is projected to be funded by ad sales, and lets the city “reimagine real estate, technology and value…..wherever there is real estate. The more value you can bring, the more people will use it,” says Etherington, noting that the effort is working to “democratize the city” and will inspire new efforts by schools and hackathons. At the same time, ad revenue sharing is projected to bring in over $500 Million to the city’s coffers over the project’s first 12 years.

If it all works, it is definitely a better deal for New Yorkers than giving Disney the keys to a large part of 42nd street to help redevelop it, or Donald Trump the keys to the Commodore Hotel on a tax free basis to build today’s Grand Hyatt.

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Intersection’s Dave Etherington and Cisco’s Andy Noronha

Sneak Peek at BIA/Kelsey NEXT Show: 6 Things I’m Watching For

“End of Big” Author Nicco Mele Keynotes BIA/Kelsey NEXT Dec. 9-10

BIA/Kelsey’s December event has been local’s flagship, and always ahead of the curve in all of local’s iterations. It has been widely imitated, but never totally duplicated! I‘ve been producing it for a long time, but this year, handed it off in midstream. I’ll be moderating some great sessions, though, and the conference team has ended up with 52 hand-picked speakers, a Tech Expo and two full days of programming. Here are some of the things I’m most excited about:

1. The New Cut on Local and Community. Local’s still at the concept stage in a lot of areas. Why think small? Two leaders from USC’s groundbreaking Annenberg School (my alma mater) will point to the new directions in separate keynotes. First up is Nicco Mele, the author of The End of Big (2013), a tour de Force on “radical connectivity.” He’s also fresh from his stint as deputy publisher at The LA Times, where his team’s efforts to seize new initiatives in local had already produced major new revenue streams. He’ll have a lot to say about what’s going to work. Leading off Day 2 is Dr. Karen North, Director of Online Communities, a dynamic presenter who is focused on Millenial applications and behavior – you’ve heard, perhaps, these kids live on the phone?

2. Keynotes from Google and Facebook: The latest in local from the two dominators and trend setters in local. Danny Bernstein at Google is set to highlight its deep linking efforts (Google Now). He is sharing the stage with Button’s Chris Maddern and Local Seo Guide’s Andrew Shotland.

3. Big Thinking about MarTech: Big Data’s impact on local cuts many ways – analytics, leads, targeting, planning, But it’s only a subsegment of the broader “MarTech” movement. Those in the know attend Scott Brinker’s annual MarTech conference in Boston. Scott, who also runs ionactive, is going to focus on local and highlight what’s important and why for us at NEXT. He’ll be joined on stage by Surefire Social’s Chris Marentis.

4. The Mobile App-Driven Marketplace. The mantra is that it isn’t really about search right now, because Mobile apps are driving the marketplace. What’s that really mean for local? One of the best analysts I know is Mark Plakias, who has been running Orange’s think tank in Silicon Valley for several years. He’ll be joined by Quick.ly’s Paul Ryan and DialogTech’s Steve Griffith. This will be quite a session.

5. Local and The Internet of Things. We’ve been pondering iOT’s impact on local — when everything is linked, from transit cards to vending machines. So has the new venture, Instersection, which is a partnership from Google Ventures and former Bloomberg head and NYC Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. CSO Dave Etherington will provide insights on what they are up to. He’ll be joined on stage by Cisco’s Andy Noronha.

6. Close Up on The New Local Marketplaces. We’ve been saying for a long time that local marketing has gone beyond advertising. Now it’s “closing the loop” with transaction data, offer targeting and complete behavioral profiles reshaping the game. Groupon’s Dan Roarty, Microsoft’s Neal Bernstein and MOGL’s Jon Carder share their insights. Cardlinx CEO Silvio Tavares will add data and help me run this session.

Haven’t got your ticket yet? I have a *little* influence and can get you $400 off. Please use this discount code: LOCALONLINER. You may register here.