Category Archives: Misc

Is Groupon ‘Misunderstood’? It Probably is Under-Appreciated

Newly Elevated Groupon CEO Rich WIlliams

Groupon is “misunderstood”; people haven’t updated their view of Groupon as a full blown marketplace rather than a “daily deals” company; and it actually is “the unquestionable leader in local.” All this per newly-elevated CEO Rich Williams, in a public letter.

“We have unprecedented experience in local, and what we believe is the right vision and strategy to make our goal of becoming the daily habit in local a reality,” says Williams, who has held executive ranks with Groupon for four years. While the company is going through many changes, “there are some very important things that are staying 100% the same: our mission to connect local commerce; and our vision to build the daily habit for local commerce, the marketplace where people discover and save on amazing things to eat, see, do and buy in their neighborhood. “

In his letter, which was sent to the press/analyst community, Williams concedes past strategic errors; and promises to move away from a reliance on the high volume,“empty calories” of low margin electronics sales. He also promises new marketing efforts and shopping features that will attract “millions” of new customers. And while Groupon has closed down a number of international programs – this week closing down the Scandinavian countries — it will redouble its efforts on several of the remaining international markets, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the UK.

Williams candidly acknowledges that the company has brought a lot of its troubles onto itself. It has highlighted — and then de-emphasized — one strategic initiative after another. I’d like to hear more about the status of several initiatives, including offer personalization; the food delivery effort; the Breadcrumb loyalty and POS program; self serve deals; and the extended publisher network.

Groupon also has moved away from offering exciting and creative deals. Now, its inventory includes a number of predictable and/or shoddy goods. While the company claims to personalize deals for users, I haven’t seen it. (Not to be prudish, but I recently got an email promo with a lot of sex toys in it.) Moreover, some of the pre- discount values on the site are exaggerated.

So — write off Groupon? Definitely not. At the end of the day, we’re still looking at a very large, mobile-oriented marketplace with more than 500,000 items from one million merchants being marketed to nearly 50 million consumers members. That volume speaks for itself. And it is a unique offering, if not yet a blue chip one. Based on Williams’ note, they’ll keep working to get there.

Here are six highlights from Williams’ letter:

1) “Groupon is a misunderstood company. We’re misunderstood by analysts. We’re misunderstood by media. We’re misunderstood by consumers — both those who haven’t visited our site in awhile and those who’ve never purchased from us.”

2) “Too many people still think of Groupon as ‘that daily deal email company.’ The reality here is twofold: first, we’re a marketplace — and a big one — one with more than half a million deals in three different categories. Sure, email is still important, but more of our purchases come from on-site search than email, and more than half our purchases occur on mobile.”

3) “There’s more to our marketplace than deals, including an increasing number of market rate and low discount offers, and new ways to save time as well as money. They’re just in their early stages and we want to move faster.”

4) “MYTH: Groupon isn’t growing/Groupon is going out of business. We’ve definitely grown: since going public, we’ve grown billings and revenue by over 90%; we’ve had seven consecutive quarters of double-digit billings growth in North America; we’ve doubled our customers over the past five years; we’ve increased the number of deals on our platform by 500x since we went public in 2011.”

5) “MYTH: Groupon is bad for businesses. The vast majority of our deals (82% as of the last report) are breakeven or better on the deal itself (i.e., no overspend or cross-sell required). That is simply unheard of in high volume small business advertising and customer acquisition.”

6) “MYTH: No one can win in Local — There are a number of big companies — Amazon, Facebook, Google — who’ve tried and died in local….(but) We have sold nearly a billion Groupons life to date. Add to that our nearly 50 million active consumer and 1 million merchant customers to date and you have a lot of proof of the possibilities in local.”

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

IMG_3252 (1)

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

Booze As a Digital, ‘Shop Local’ Story: Craft Spirits Exchange

A key part of the Shop Local movement in recent years has been sparked by the rise of Craft Beer, with many city and states dropping nuicense regulations inhibiting breweries from providing samples, selling food or selling take away bottles smaller than 22 ounces. At this point, the contribution of breweries, wine makers and craft spirts to local economies has been felt in hundreds of markets.

The role of digital media in promoting and selling local beer, wine and spirits has been a significant one, with social media rating products and creating buzz for products and events; directories pointing consumers in the right direction; and now, on demand services like delivering booze directly to your door (a fad, ok?)

One entrepreneur I’ve watched carefully over the years is Steve Gilberg, who created the Happy Hours website and then Facebook directory of bars and drinks, which partially inspired my creation of the Marketplaces research program for BIA/Kelsey; and then also created Wine Twits, a national happening of promoted wine with hundreds of local parties tweeting away.

Gilberg’s newest project is Craft Spirits Exchange, a website and app dedicated to promoting local craft spirits to craft enthusiasts around the U.S. He’s CMO for the Exchange, reporting to Luis Troccoli, a native New Yorker who was inspired to launch the exchange in 2013 when he moved to Florida and couldn’t get access or even news about his favorite spirits.

The Exchange is a spirits marketplace that combines bright editorial; more than 1,100 profiles of spirits products; community reviews; and marketing from local craft retailers. More than 40 states now allow direct shipping of spirits, acting as major contributors to local commerce. My own state, Oregon, has more than 60 spirits producers. Troccoli says a major role for the exchange has been to enable east coast consumers to buy west coast spirits, and vice versa.

Benzing’s MyNeighbor Provides Household Items for On Demand Rentals

The last player standing in the hyperlocal neighbor wars might be considered NextDoor, which has raised over $210 million from several major VCs on the basis of converting a mountain of neighborhoods and neighbors to targeted advertising dollars. We’d like to see an update on Next Door’s volume and frequency of usage — it is a little befuddling to us –but assume the VCs think they are on to something. There is also the sense that it could be developing an entirely new ecosystem.

Now hoping to tap into a NextDoor-like ecosystem is a Local On Demand Economy (LODE) service named MyNeighbor, which enables people to rent and pay for items from enrolled neighbors. THe items conceiveably range from baking equipment to strollers to power tools. The service is the brainchild of local vet Brendan Benzing, who has led a number of local initiatives for AOL Digital City and InfoSpace before a more recent tenure in the music business with Rhapsody.

Benzing tells us the Seattle-based service is primed for millennials who don’t want to own things and expect to be able to rent on demand on the same basis as AirBnB, ZipCar, Lyft and other LODE services. “They represent the power of true peer-to-peer,” he says.

If services like MyNeighbor are going to be successful, “they must first compete on the basis of cost and supply,” adds Benzing. And that will depend on getting a high penetration in specific neighborhoods, hence an initial, highly-concentrated effort on community-oriented neighborhoods of Seattle. “A digital presence within a neighborhood is a welcome sign for MyNeighbor, whether it is Nextdoor, a Facebook/Yahoo Group, or even List-serve,” says Benzing. “The fact that neighbors are connected digitally indicates the neighborhood is likely a more fertile place for MyNeighbor to grow and prosper.”

Analysis: Walmart’s Pull-out from Google’s Local Inventory Ads

Building ecommerce, promotions, search, social and same day delivery services around store inventory is one of those high concept ideas that always make so much sense but have been tough to build around. Key players in the space currently include Google, Retailigence and others. Others, such as eBay, have pulled out or shrunk their efforts.

We’ve been especially interested in Walmart’s decision last week to pull its feeds from Google’s Local Inventory Ads (formerly known as Local Product Listing Ads). Launched in 2013 to complement Google’s e-commerce oriented Shopping ads, the ads allow stores to highlight local inventory and prices, and point shoppers to specific stores. Macy’s, REI and Office Depot are among users of the Google service, but most top retailers are still not participating.

Some of those that do apparently have been holding their noses. To participate with Google, they need to provide comprehensive inventory information. Walmart and others have apparently worried this information could be used against them, showing retailers where they can compete on price against it in different parts of the country.

Perhaps more importantly, retailers are worried that their feeds are infrequently updated and can contain inaccuracies and steer shoppers down the wrong path. Such feeds also may freeze the ability of retailers to engage in variable pricing strategies (i.e. “one hour afternoon specials”). In our view, Walmart’s pull out doesn’t mean that Google and others can’t succeed. But it does mean that it will need to make adjustments to work with dominent retailers that have a lot at stake.

Are there better strategies to collect and leverage inventory at local stores? We’ll be talking inventory strategies with retail expert and former Krillion CEO Sherry Thomas-Zon at BIA/Kelsey NATIONAL in Dallas March 25-27.

NATIONAL Focus: Where2GetIt’s Manish Patel on ‘Chief Location Officers’

Chief Marketing Officers will become “Chief Location Officers” if Where2GetIt CEO Manish Patel has any say about it. Patel is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey National in Dallas March 25-27 appearing on a platform leaders panel with Netsertive’s Brendan Morrissey, Yext’s Christian Ward and LocalBizNow’s Todd Webber.

Brands have made a lot of progress in localizing their efforts, says Patel. But they are still playing catch up with their local targeting efforts, considering all the opportunities they have at their disposal.

Patel, whose company works with over 500 brands, emphasizes that “Local needs to take center stage.” To do that, the industry can’t have every feature or channel in a silo. “You can’t have a mobile guy, a review guy and a social guy,” he says. “Someone from the marketing team needs to know someone at the location” who can tie together reviews, competitive intelligence, search and mobile advertising – as well as the brand executives who handle real estate and operations.

“Everything is tied into the ecosystem,” adds Patel, who will discuss best practices during his appearance at NATIONAL. “When a customer search is not successful they don’t blame Google. They blame the brand. Accurate location information is paramount.”

Where2GetIt CEO Manish Patel

Acxiom Launches Self Serve SMB Marketing Effort


Consumer data giant Acxiom is moving downstream with a self-serve leads products tailored to SMBs. The new SMB product, “MyAcxiomPartner,” allows SMBs to develop customer lists on a hyperlocal basis, using either addresses or polygon mapping.

The effort is part of Acxiom’s “Audience Operating System,” a consumer data campaign management tool that has been developed at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars. The AOS is part of a vision by CEO Scott Howe to enable Acxiom’s data to be easily and readily available to all kinds of marketers across many channels. Howe’s mantra is to use Big Data to enable more precise marketing.

Using MyAcxiomPartner, lists can also be developed based on several other criteria, including behavioral and demographic elements and over 4,000 scored models (i.e. marketing propensities such as “Mid size SUV” or “Brand Name Apparel.”) Costs begin at $100 or $200, based on criteria involved.

In a briefing with BIA/Kelsey, VP of Global Partner Development Jeff Standridge notes that Acxiom is targeting SMB owners for MyAcxiomPartner that have annual revenues ranging anywhere from “a few hundred thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.”

“We’re putting audience selection in the hands of SMB owners that don’t have campaign experience,” says Standridge. “We enable smart media purchases; for target audiences to be identified; and for SMBs to plan and execute media.”

A limousine company, for instance, can develop a list targeting several hundred likely customers for a self-serve mobile banner campaign. In this specific example, Acxiom has teamed up with 4Info for the mobile ad component, which also enables customers to upload their own graphics and deployments.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe is keynoting BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing event in New Orleans Sept. 22-24. You can register here.