Just Out: Hot Agenda for LIL: SMB Digital Marketing (September 22-24, New Orleans)

On the heels of last year’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing show in Austin, we’ve just announced our agenda for this year’s big event in “The Big Easy”: New Orleans.

Our initial slate of Keynotes include:

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe
ReachLocal CEO Sharon Rowlands
Google’s SMB Revenue director Steve Espinosa
Facebook’s Leader of SMB/Product Insights Joe Devoy

Additional Featured Speakers:

Sprint’s Karen Noel, GM, Small Business
Groupon’s Dan Roarty, VP of Product Marketing

Also at the event: Search marketing leader Kevin Ryan. Ryan will be debuting his new business best seller, “Taking Down Goliath: The Digital Marketing Strategy Guide for beating competitors with 100 times your spending power.”

More great speakers (We’ll end up with 40 or more):

Yelp’s Darnell Holloway, Sr. Manager, Local Business Outreach
NOLA Media Group’s Ricky Mathews, President
Morris Communications’ Steve Gray, Director of Strategy and Innovation
The Houston Chronicle’s Warren Kay, CRO
ForwardLine’s Craig Coleman, CEO
Search Influence‘s Will Scott, CEO
BizHive’s Kim Feil, CEO
Wanderful Media‘s Doug Kilponen, COO
Perka’s Rob Bethage, Co-Founder and VP
Booker’s Josh McCarter, CEO
Agendize’s Alf Poor, President

Will we see you down in New Orleans? Check out the full agenda here. Also, we’ve extended our early sign up discount through July 4. Please register here.

Booker Launches Mobile Apps for SMBs

Scheduling/booking is coming into its own as a key feature for SMBs, as more and more businesses tie their marketing and promotions to open slots in their schedule.

Key companies in the space include Full Slate (recently acquired by Intuit,) ReachLocal’s ReachCommerce, Groupon Scheduler, Agendize, Moon Valley Software, GenBook, Schedulicity, Maxipage and Hakema (in Europe). Another company, MyTime, was founded by RedBeacon founder Ethan Anderson and is an aggregator of scheduled appointments.

Another major player in the space is Booker, which has raised $42 Million. While focused on the beauty, health and wellness space, it also works with a wide range of national-local players.

Booker announced today a mobile app partnership with Como (formerly Conduit Mobile) to take scheduling beyond the desktop. The app takes less than 15 seconds for SMBs to create.

Mobile apps make a lot of sense in this context. A customer might make 12 appointments per year for cut and color treatments at a salon. For such a customer, a dedicated App — perhaps tied to a loyalty program — coule be especially useful. The same may not always be true for “discovery” segments such as restaurants and retail, which may be better aggregated in directories such as Yelp, Google, OpenTable or YP. Customers may also prefer booking an appointment directly with the SMB, rather than going through a directory site — or at least, this is what Booker is banking on.

Booker CEO Josh McCarter is a featured speaker at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You may register here.

Priceline Moves Upscale via $2.6 Billion OpenTable Acquisition

Priceline is sort of like eBay – a company known for its origins in auctions, but more recently focusing on distinct, “buy it now” niches. It has recently fleshed out its core travel brand by moving up the value chain to travel reservations via its acquisition of Kayak. It has also gotten into the “sharing economy” by adding AirBnB-like private listings to its Booking.com brand, which is an international powerhouse.

Today, Priceline added restaurant reservations and search to its stable via the $2.6 Billion purchase of industry leader OpenTable, which works with 31,000 restaurants – mostly high end white table cloth restaurants willing to pay a hefty premium for reservations management and leads to undecided consumers. Open Table is an international leader with strong customer bases in the U.S., U.K.,, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

For Priceline, the most attractive parts of the deal are probably OpenTable’s 15 million, high end, travel-oriented customers; the company’s verified, high quality restaurant reviews; OpenTable’s strong mobile orientation; and its extensive affiliate network with 600+ local and vertical sites, which receive commissions for sending traffic to OpenTable (and accounting for 5-10 percent of OpenTable’s business.) These networks might be extended to include other Priceline properties.

There is probably some disconnect with OpenTable’s high-end customer base and Priceline’s discount set – most OpenTable customers won’t be using Priceline itself. And an effort to extend OpenTable’s feature set with Groupon-like deals proved to be underwhelming (although the company has maintained an extensive and apparently successful “Dining Checques” loyalty program). Many OpenTable customers are also not using the service in travel mode — they are local.

Still, OpenTable customers might use the other services. And the seamless Priceline app experience could also be applied as mobile becomes a paramount factor for all travel services.

A larger question we’d have is the core of OpenTable’s value proposition for restaurants: the reservations management system, which is based on dedicated customer premise equipment (known as The Electronic Reservations Book.) The average ERB using restaurant pays $249 for the service (plus $1.00 per seated diner using the OpenTable system.) But in the age of tablet-based POS and reservations services using WiFI, OpenTable’s proprietary system would seem threatened.

So far, it has held its own against such tablet-oriented companies as UrbanSpoon’s Rez and Groupon‘s Breadcrumb – OpenTable’s base of customers is too strong to quickly turn off. OpenTable itself is preparing for a transition. Yet, it has been developing a Cloud Based program that charge a $2.49 per diner charge.

Structurally, we also ask ourselves whether OpenTable is in a distinct “high end restaurant reservations silo,” where it now sits; or whether it is really part of a developing “food silo” that is based on search and discovery, would also include reviews; restaurant and fastfood delivery (i.e. GrubHub), grocery delivery (Amazon Fresh, Google) and reviews (Yelp.) Priceline might be positioning itself to be in the right of the middle of these conjoining elements. (then again….the new silo might ultimately be oriented more around delivery).

Is Amazon Testing a Local Marketplace?

Amazon has been reported to be prepping a local services marketplace test in one market. If the article is accurate, this effort won’t necessarily be adopted into a nationwide product – Amazon frequently tests product concepts — but should be watched with interest.

Amazon Marketplace – or whatever its final branding – would complement existing Amazon services in local, including Amazon Local, a Groupon-like deals entity now in dozens of markets; and Amazon Fresh, which is providing grocery delivery service in Seattle, San Francisco and southern California. (Amazon also touches the local marketplace via Amazon Web Services and Amazon Payments, both of which provide digital infrastructure support for local merchants.)

If launched, Amazon Marketplace would fit into the company’s mission of making it easier for consumers to make informed decisions on purchases and to buy goods and services. It would also help source deals at the local level for Amazon Local. Amazon may be frustrated at the difficulty of sourcing deals through third parties, and the expense of a local sales force, which is mostly used to sell to local retailers. As described, Marketplace would be an automated product.

It could also fit into Amazon’s growing advertising business, which has made a big play via Kindle Offers and much more importantly, Product Listing Ad tiles at the top of search pages – monetizing photo search for the first time. Amazon made $600 million from advertising in 2013, but hasn’t yet gone into local advertising, which represents a new frontier.

According to the Reuters article, the initial effort for Amazon Marketplaces would focus on hiring local services, rather than goods. Yelp and Angie’s List are the biggest players in the space, but may have less than 10 percent of the overall market.

Amazon may seek to implement the infrastructure for Marketplaces from Pro.com, a new, 30 person service that includes 15 ex-Amazon employees. Pro.com has raised $3.5 million, including funds from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The service matches contractors with consumers and providing job estimates. But Bezos has never sold his personal investments to Amazon (unlike Oracle’s Larry Ellison and AOL’s Tim Armstrong). It seems especially unlikely because Bezos is only a minority investor in the company.

In any case, Amazon’s launch of a services marketplace would be somewhat ironic. In April, the Bezos-owned Washington Post discontinued a service which is almost exactly like what has been described for Amazon Marketplace – Service Alley. (The greatest irony of this is that Service Alley was built – pre-Bezos — on top of TeachStreet, a start up that Amazon purchased in an acqui-hire, and then discontinued).

Facebook’s Ted Zagat at Street Fight: 6 Key Trends in Local

Facebook has made huge strides in local the last couple of years, driving significant geotargeted mobile revenue and integrating efforts with hundreds of thousands of SMBs. Speaking at Street Fight Summit West in San Francisco today, Local Product Marketing Manager Ted Zagat said the company is building its local efforts base on six key trends.

The first is personalized marketing, which provides for targeted campaigns that are 91 percent accurate. The second trend is mobile, which accounts for 59 percent of Facebook revenue – up from zero just two years ago.

“Everything at Facebook is mobile first, with mobile engineers integrated in every product team so we can think consistently across every platform,” said Zagat. Twenty two percent of all mobile time spent is spent on Facebook and its sister company, Instagram,” he noted. “That’s bigger than all the others combined. It is mind boggling how fast it is happening and the broader implications for every business.”

The third trend is to follow local best practices, including use of analytics. Major advertisers have done very well with Facebook by posting rich photo posts, which provide an 8x median return on ad spend. Small local advertisers should “try to do exactly the same thing,” said Zagat. They need to move from physical engagement to reach,” he said, noting that the counter intuitive wisdom that clicks don’t matter; actions do.

“There is zero correlation between online clicks and ROI,” said Zagat, citing a Datalogix study showing that 89 percent of people who saw a Facebook ad and then bought aproduct in the store did not click on the ad. The fourth trend is Reputation, which to a small store, represents brand awareness. It is really important but progress still needs to be made in this area. “We haven’t figured this out,” said Zagat.

Trend 5 is to engage in light weight communication, such as mobile messaging. The U.S. is limited in its adoption of light weight services such as What’s App due to legacy pricing practices of the mobile carriers. But countries such as Spain and Brazil are showing the way. “Businesses frequently communicate with their customers via mobile messaging,” he said Trend 6 is location based marketing, which Facebook is leveraging via its “Nearby Friends” feature.

UBL, MomentFeed Partner to Leverage ‘National Local’

In the mobile era, listings are increasingly useless without context. Businesses need to be found via LAT/Long; and they need to shape their business identity using all the tools at their disposal. In recent years, it has gotten even more complex with the addition of social media, content marketing and other channels.

No one has emphasized these realities more than UBL CEO Doyal Bryant. Hence UBL’s newly announced global partnership with MomentFeed, a provider of a digital marketing platform that connects brands and consumers at the local level for top brands ranging from 7-Eleven and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to JCPenney and The Home Depot.

Together, UBL and MomentFeed are seeking to establish a new mobile social anchor for business search and discovery. Besides the Enterprise customers both companies are working together on, they will be working with UBL’s SMB channels to integrate social media with its presence and profile management.

BIA/Kelsey talked this week with UBL CEO Doyal Bryant and MomentFeed CEO Robert Blatt to get their perspective on why this partnership will be compelling.

“When we began (several years ago), it was all about the website,” said Bryant, who noted he has already sent “thousands” of customers to MomentFeed. “You built a profile and focused on being found and having it all sync correctly. But it’s changed due to what is happening with social media and fragmentation.” The change has become “core to the business,” he said.

MomentFeed’s Blatt seconded the thought. It is amazing how much we have moved from the search paradigm of 18-24 months ago,” noted Blatt. “Now search has moved to mobile devices. It has moved off the browser onto the App.”

“Your top priority is suddenly claiming your Google Plus page, and making sure the Facebook Local Page is running, and that there is a place page for each location on your website,” said Blatt. “And that there is accurate and engaging content and interaction for all three places between suppliers and retailers at both the national and local level. That’s the future of digital shop and marketing.”

Blatt feels that MomentFeed’s partnership with UBL allows businesses to get the best of both worlds. They can help businesses “do the job” on Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp (and soon, Bing), as well as the multitude of listing networks that are often vertical market specific, such as restaurants and travel.

Looking forward, the focus will be on the engagement piece. MomentFeed has taken a lead in turning Instagram into media, for instance. “We let businesses do it, curate it, and then send a follow-up letter,” he said.

Tracking business results via analytics will also be key. It all leads to a linkage between marketing activity and business results, said Blatt. The company will correlate the marketing activity around a location with the revenue and foot traffic at that location.

DataSphere: Opportunity in Mobile Advertising for SMBs

The times are a changin’ when it comes to SMB customer acquisition. Non-traditional options – including the use of social media, mobile targeting and promotional calls to action – provide opportunities for SMBs looking to take advantage of shifts in consumer behavior.

Few companies have been as energetic in capturing this shift as much as Seattle-based DataSphere, which has quietly amassed 20,000 SMB accounts, making it one of the largest SMB marketing platforms.

Changing with the times, DataSphere is moving its focus away from buying ad space on local Websites. Instead, it has developed a set of services based on mobile ad networks, which can target customers on a geotargeted and just-in-time basis.

The company is also focusing on LocalSaver.com, a coupon portal; and the LocalSaver Network, a distribution network. LocalSaver goes beyond coupons to provide SMBs with enhanced features such as landing pages, updated listings designed to maximize consumer engagement and video. (DataSphere has built videos for 90 percent of its customers.)

The rise in mobile usage, in particular, has led to a major boost in SMBs’ use of geotargeting – and in the availability of geotargeted ad exchange inventory. Seventy percent of LocalSaver traffic is now lat/long enabled, says SVP Gary Cowan.

This is an edited excerpt of a new BIA/Kelsey client brief, “DataSphere: Leveraging Mobile Advertising and Changing Course with 20,000 SMBs.”