Category Archives: Verticals

The Evolution of Content Farms (and New Ways to ‘Feed to Beast’)

“Content farms” like Demand Media, Associated Content, Examiner.com and Merchant Circle were once the big bet for filling out blogs. They’d “feed the beast.” Most of the content, however, turned out to be overly-generic and unenlightening. Sites that focused on verticals and required specialization were especially out of luck.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. In recent months, things have evolved quickly. Here’s what we are seeing:

1. Nozzl provides continuously streamed articles on specific subjects via a “player” on your website. Nozzl, launched by vets of Portland’s Oregonian, is inexpensively priced at $5.99 per month.

2. Quintype, a free alternative to WordPress, makes content available on given subjects from publishers seeking broader distribution.

3. Sociative curates sites from all over the Web and social media, and distributes them as custom feeds to blog owners. We’re especially intrigued by Sociative, a three-year-old San Francisco company that has determined that there is an “ocean of content” on many subjects. For instance, it provides a highly customized newsfeed of “foodie” content for The James Beard Foundation, which is dedicated to good cooking.

What Sociative is trying to avoid are the stories that are overly familiar –i.e. the Associated Press story that is reprinted on dozens of websites. It also seeks to avoid stories that are syndicated, via machine learning, from a small list of popular sites. (There’s more on this at NextWaveSMB)

Artificial Intelligence Helps Fill-In Schedules for SMBs

Marketing automation is playing a key role in making local scale for many marketers. It’s been front-and- center for companies like Demand Force, InfusionSoft and SignPost. Another contender is Frederick, a 20+ person marketing automation company based in San Francisco that was recently acquired by Booker.

Frederick takes a Big Data approach to data it receives from Booker and a host of other platforms. Using a combination of artificial intelligence and automation, it works with SMBs in a number of vertical categories that rely on frequent visits from customers (i.e. health & beauty, auto repair) to fill appointment slots. It also helps reinforce and engage customer relationships via reminders, review solicitations, upsells and cross-sells.

The company’s goal is to build a 1:1 marketing plan for its customers. In doing so, Frederick CEO and co-founder Corey Kossack tells us that the company looks at a number of variables, including customer transaction history, service sale-through rates, staff utilization rates and daily occupancy information.

While there hasn’t been a long track record – the company was founded in 2014 — customers are averaging revenue growth of 30% year over year, says Kossack. “What we have found is that structured data can be used to drive better results than segmenting a Constant Contact list,” he says.

Frederick’s application of Artificial Intelligence is what Kossack believes is its differentiator. “We are unique here in that we make decisions on behalf of the business based on proprietary algorithms,” he says. “Frederick is like a living, breathing marketer, studying millions of data points to determine what to do next.”

Swipely Rebrands as ‘Upserve’; Analytics Lead for Restaurants, Not Payments

Upserve CEO Angus Davis

In 2012, payments seemed to be the horse to ride in on for marketing services, as SMBs saw the coming era of mobile payments as an opportunity to dislodge credit card companies with cheaper payment processing, coupled with complete suite of analytics, promotions, and loyalty services. Key candidates included Google Wallet, ISIS, PayPal, First Data,Groupon’s Gnome (a little later), LevelUp Swipely and Punchey.

Today, the space has evolved, with some companies dropping out or treading water – while new entrants, like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, have focused mostly on the payment side. What’s clear is that when it comes to marketing services, payments haven’t emerged as the anchor of a broader SMB marketing platform.

Against this backdrop, Swipely — a name that conjures up credit card swiping –has announced that it is rebranding to “Upserve.” We had a broad talk with CEO Angus Davis about the rebranding, where payments are, and his company’s next directions as it focuses entirely on the restaurant business. Davis notes that the 3 ½ year-old, Providence R.I.-based company has enlisted “thousands” of restaurants of varying sizes: 100+ locations, 20-30 locations, 2-4 locations and single unit. Cumulatively, they’ve served 11 million meals a month – which it reports is an annual increase of 172 percent over last year.

“Payments are the last reason that restaurants are motivated to buy the product,” says Davis. While payment processing credits reduce the amount that restaurants pay for Upserve, they are “not a reason to get excited to work with us.” Restaurants are more focused on anything that helps them provide higher level hospitality services. They get that via the insights that Upserve provides into diners, diner behavior, food, service and servers, he says. For some restaurants, the analytics may be more important than features like online ads and loyalty programs (although the latter is offered by Upserve).

A big priority for the company for the rebrand is to simply “catch up where the business and product and customers have been for a while,” says Davis. Upserve has essentially become “a management assistant that helps make smarter decisions.”

Using the service, restaurants receive a complete picture of their operations and their customers. The software remembers customers (birthdays, recent visits, transactions, favorite drinks). Its predictive software can also tell a restaurant how many diners are likely to show up at peak times, and even count how many of each type of dish will be ordered (i.e. 40 T-Bone steaks, 18 brick chickens).

It also scans social media to get a sentiment analysis of how customers feel about different dishes (“40 percent say that the chicken pot pie is too dry). Davis notes that at least half of online reviews mention at least one dish. The service can also sort results per server to determine server success with upsells, or selling wine, or perhaps, overuse of coupon codes.

New to the service this year is integration with OpenTable ERB, which will enable Upserve to work with table management. While some restaurants have switched to tablet systems for table management, 85 percent of OpenTable’s customers still use the dedicated hardware, says Davis.

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

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.

G5 Raises $75 Million; Extends Vertical Marketing Focus

We like vertical specialization for local marketing, and have long admired the approach of G5, the Bend, Ore- based local marketing firm that started with a focus on self-storage unit owners in 2005, and later added senior housing, multi-unit property managers and student housing. The 175-person company has 425 customers controlling 6,900 properties. Sixty percent of its business now comes from multi-unit property managers.

Last week, G5 hit the big time with a $75 million raise from Peak Equity Partners. The company says it will use the funds to extend its Marketing Cloud, which has gone beyond G5’s origins in search, and now also provides a full slate of analytics, search, social and advocacy.

CEO Dan Hobin told BIA/Kelsey that the key is to recognize the individualities of each vertical. Self storage takes about a month to fill a vacancy. Multi-family units take two weeks. Senior housing has a longer cycle: three months.

Most vertical owners perceive their marketing efforts as too expensive for property owners, and too cumbersome for consumers, says Hobin. It takes three days for consumers to get an apartments, from the time they look at it to the time they sign the lease, he says. “It is easier to buy a car than rent an apartment. You should be able to find a place in five minutes.”

Hobin says G5 works with all levels of property owners, but in the apartment space, for instance, most of them are the “middle level” below the publicy-owned, giant REITs which have traditionally used sites such as apartments.com. They could use G5 to complement those big site efforts, he says. G5’s emphasis on a wide range of channels, including lower cost channels such as social media and ratings and reviews, saves them money and drives more traffic to their sites. The analogy is to a site such as Kayak in the travel space.

While G5 is focused on its four verticals today, it is looking to expand to additional verticals. If it adds a vertical, it will really focus on its individual characteristcs, says Hobin. “It is difficult to enter new verticals,” he said.

On Demand is New Focus for Some Home Service Providers

Competition in the home services leads space has been heating up – and so are the tensions. Just this week, Angie’s List has filed suit against Amazon, contending that Amazon Home Services has been egregiously signing up for the member’s- only service around the U.S., and grabbing proprietary service recommendations.

On Demand home services is something that several of the companies are hoping to differentiate themselves with. We saw it with HomeJoy at our LODE event a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. Home Advisor has also been rolling out its Instant Booking on demand service.

Mizamin, an Israeli Startup with international ambitions, also hopes to get ahead with on demand home services. Its mobile app has gotten 200,000 downloads in Israel, mostly generated from a small social media ad campaign and word of mouth. CEO Yuval Aronov told us that providing home services on an on demand basis has some quirks to it. Many home pros resist keeping to real schedules and are eager to take jobs as they come up. On the other hand, certain types of jobs, such as pest control, need to be scheduled in advance.

Mizamin has built an App that enables multiple providers to receive queries in real time. When a plumbing assignment goes out to Mizamin’s roster of 40 plumbers in Tel Aviv, three-to-six usually answer, he says. The biggest channel for most plumbers have been SMS. “Some don’t use their smartphones professionally,” he says. “They are afraid to drop them in the toilet.”