Our ILM:10 conference probably hit something of “a perfect storm” for the 681 senior level execs and entrepreneurs in attendance. While we’ve been cheerleading the local opportunity since the mid 1990s, the big money has now really focused on the local opportunity.
Amazon’s $175 million investment in Living Social and Google’s failed bid last week to buy Groupon for $6 billion really put things in perspective. During 2010, so did mega-investments from various VCs in everything from Yelp to Angie’s List.
At the end of the day, the takeaway from such an event depends on where we are coming from. Search experts David Mihm and Andrew Shotland certainly have their own view on things, as do social execs like Mike Orren and Sebastien Provencher. Here’s what I walk away with:
1- Google remains the elephant in the room. Google Places simultaneously democratizes the web by opening up more information sources, while weakening the dominance of major review aggregators like Yelp. But we don’t know yet whether Google will use the super fragmentation to support its own competitive position as it gets deeper into SMB and vertical marketing. Neither does Google.
2- Yelp and others can’t count too much on Google to drive its growth anymore. But it has 14 million reviews to leverage, and an alternative opportunity via the whole “App” channel on iPhones and other mobile devices. The App channel represents a major workaround of search, although it doesn’t strike me as being nearly as large.
3- Facebook represents new avenues for SMBs and others to engage consumers “in context.” 48.5 percent of SMBs apparently have a Facebook page (ok, some screwed up data there!) Regardless, some Yellow Pages and event site leaders that it is already more important than search. Aside from effective brand positioning, and discount promotions, however, it is almost entirely green field. But whatever the model, “local should be a layer across all products,” according to Facebook Local Leader Emily White. We’d buy into that.
4- Location Based Services such as FourSquare and Gowalla –and LBS features for major sites — currently rely on game-loving younger men. But as smart phone and tablet penetration zooms – ComScore sees 87 million users by 2013– they have real potential for building community and rewarding frequent users with promotions etc. This space is exploding fast.
5- The tie-ins between LBS and deal-a -day group buying models and other promotions seem clear – especially those that are heavily networked or syndicated. But can the audiences be combined? LBS is currently dominated by men, and deal a days, of course, are heavily dominated by women. It is not a long-term problem.
6- We think Google’s interest in Groupon was partly driven by its disruption of traditional sales channels. There are other interesting takes on how Groupon and other group buying efforts evolve, and incorporate search, Yellow Pages and other features.
7- SMB services may use deal a day as a base for other services. Groupon is pursuing this, and so is Nimble Commerce, Tippr, Adility, DealCurrent, Closely and many others. Angie’s List noted that it is using its Big Deal as a retention tool for advertisers. At the same time, the Big Deals result in more profiles and reports. A win-win all around. Cox Target Media’s Jim Sampey noted that deal a day becomes part of an arsenal to keeping SMBs engaged throughout the month.
8- Self-serve is no longer viewed as a holy grail that makes local selling viable on its own. It won’t. But it is increasingly part of the solution for many SMBs. As Yodle CEO Court Cunningham noted, “people pay with their time or with money. Cash-strapped SMBs “pay with time.”
9- Local content drives engaged users. Perfect Market’s Julie Schoenfeld notes that it will be especially important when content is tagged with “great meta data about when and where it is written.” Amen.
10- It isn’t “online media” anymore. Or “mobile media.” It’s all advertising, whether the format is Web, mobile, audio, video or banner. As Pandora’s Cheryl Lucanegro noted, a multi-media effort can also create multiple consumer experiences: branding, direct response, engagement and multi-screen. I am especially intrigued by multi-screen, as data shows that people are using their smartphones along with TV and laptop use.