Over 50 Percent Of Millennials Are Using Voice Commands At Least Once A Month

Over 50 percent of Millennial (18-34) use voice commands once a month or more, according to research from Mindshare and J. Walter Thompson, and Google has stated that a full 20 percent of searches on Android in the United States are now conducted by voice — meaning that brands need to think about voice search and commerce not as a distant eventuality, but as tidal wave sweeping the industry today.

At this week’s Cannes Lions event, J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian,  UK director of The Innovation Group, talked to GeoMarketing about why voice is more intuitive than text or swipe — and how brands can stay discoverable in the world of intelligent assistants.

Voice has just recently reached to point of viability. Per the findings in JWT and Mindshare’s recent ‘Speak Easy’ voice report, what is the state of voice and AI today? What do brands need to know?

Ultimately, there have been so many changes in artificial intelligence, and voice technology essentially fits under artificial intelligence. In particular, there is voice recognition; that’s when the computer takes in what you’re saying and turns it into text to one degree or another of accuracy. Right? Then there is natural language processing. Which is much more complicated, because that’s understanding intent — and there is more work to be done there, [but] we’re getting there.

Nonetheless, what’s incredible about voice recognition it is currently on par with human voice recognition. So, if you were writing down what I’m saying, you, on average, should have about 95 percent accuracy. That is exactly where [voice] AI is today. We’ve gotten there, and we’re quickly going to surpass that, and we’re going to be looking at something like 99 percent accuracy – which is all the difference in the world; that’s the difference between hardly ever using it and using it all the time.

So, what’s [important to know] is that this is happening now — and it’s going to be picking up even more quickly. In our report, we are already seeing, amongst our global respondents, that 37 percent of smartphone users are using [voice search or voice commands] at least once a month.

That’s a really healthy number, especially considering that in the UK, Alexa didn’t even hit our shores until the fall — so as a category, it is brand spanking new, and yet already we’re seeing [more than a third using it]. And [intelligent] voice assistants in particular are coming fast and furiously: It’s projected that there are going to be more on the planet than humans by 2021.

In your keynote at Cannes, you identify three of the major trends in consumers’ desires related to voice-activated connected devices. What are they? What are people looking for?

In [the report] we identify nine, but there are three of the nine that we’re really focusing on [talking about] today. People want voice assistants to: ease their cognitive load, help them as a ‘digital butler,’ and to create intimacy.

For the ‘digital butler,’ that just means that they want a useful service. Not just voice for voice sake — they want it to solve problems and they want it to be proactive. The more that technology gets smarter and is more effective, the more that productivity is going to be an expectation.

With easing the cognitive load, what we found is that a major reason for taking on voice technologies is how efficient it makes [users] feel; they talk about how more efficiently they can manage their daily lives. And this makes sense: We’re humans; we’re built to exchange information orally.

Swipe and text, on the other hand, are not intuitive. Actually, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to test what’s happening in the brain when we’re using voice as apposed to text or swipe. Is it indeed easier, and could we prove this from a physiological point of view? We teamed up a company called Neuro Insight to hook 100 people up to devices called SST — they’re very much like EEG but more accurate and better measure of brain activity.

To sum up, when our respondents took in information by text [their brains] worked far harder than when they took information in by a voice. What the implications of that are is that humans follow the path of least resistance — it’s just in your nature. If you’re sitting there as a consumer and you have two ways of accessing information, ultimately, once you get used to it… you’re going to opt for voice over text because it’s easier.

So, are people actually transacting over their voice-activated devices? E.g. saying ‘Alexa, find me a sun dress’ and then purchasing it that way? Will we start to see more of that?

It’s slower, certainly. Especially through a device like Echo, right now, users are primarily listening to music, they’re asking questions. They might say, ‘send me an Uber to pick me up.’ Set an alarm.

But [the commerce element] is surely coming in terms of trying to get at what brands need to think about for the future. Really, right now, they need to think in terms of being discoverable.

53 percent of global smart phone users are excited by the prospect by their voice assistance anticipating their needs — making suggestions and even going so far as to take action, even buying something on their behalf. Like, if my [digital assistant] knows that Charmin is my favorite toilet paper brand and just orders it for me.

What works really well over voice is just one good answer. That’s scary for brands for the reason I just said: If someone loves Charmin, and the assistant knows that, how, as another brand do you get into that very loyal relationship just that keeps repeat purchasing your favorite toilet paper?

Right. How can brands approach this challenge?

What we are seeing is that there is a couple of options there. Firstly, could there be paid recommendation? Could you, as a brand, pay to have the voice assistant recommend your brand? Especially when there isn’t that bond already formed. It;s not the best option, it’s not maybe the cheapest option, but it is an option that theoretically a brand could pay to get to the top of the list.

But here’s what’s happening right now: Look at this idea of algorithm optimization. It’s like the new SEO; brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices. The question is, how do you build into your product and services such as the voice assistance sees you as the best option? That’s something we think brands should be thinking about right now.

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YP Digital Presence Promises Businesses ‘Complete Location Information Control’

YP’s been on an aggressive product rollout the last few weeks, and its latest, ypPresence Plus, promises to tie them all together as businesses struggle to ensure they have the most up-to-date details about their locations across all digital channels.

The concept of Digital Presence Management refers to the process of overseeing and correcting all information about a business location across desktop, mobile, social media, interactive reviews, mapping/navigation platforms, store pages, directory listings, and anywhere else a consumer can encounter and seek knowledge about a brand’s place.

“A strong digital presence begins with a website and continues with a consistent, up-to-date business profile that consumers can access online and on mobile devices,” says Stu MacFarlane, EVP of Product and Marketing at YP.

“It can be time consuming and difficult for business owners to manage their information in all the places it appears,” MacFarlane adds. “ypPresence Plus gives business owners control over their listings, ensuring that consumers across the web have the information they need to feel confident about contacting the business.”

It’s About Local Discovery

YP is billing ypPresence Plus as the latest in a series of enhancements to YP’s portfolio of integrated solutions, including the recent launch of ypWebsite Pro, which is meant to help local companies create a central internet hub. With ypWebsite Pro, local businesses have the ability to earn top rankings in organic search results and get found on local directory sites.

The addition of ypPresence Plus is designed to ensure that as local places see their discoverability rise, consumers will be able to find real-time data about those business locations.

“Local business owners can lock in critical business information for each location so it can be showcased across more than 60 sites, including the ready-to-buy audience on yellowpages.com,” a YP representative tells GeoMarketing. This helps build credibility with search engines and ensure core information is accurate when a consumer is ready to make a purchase.

YP is working with Digital Presence Management specialist and Knowledge Engine Yext as a partner on ypPresence Plus. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More on that relationship here.)

“We’ve heard from clients that ypPresence Plus works, delivering accurate online information, which helps drive clicks, calls and customers,” the YP rep says. “In a study of more than 1,400 clients, ypPresence Plus delivered 98 percent accuracy across publishers for core content.”

One client,Jan Steinlage, marketing director of Kansas and Missouri based Saylor Insurance Service, says that “ypPresence Plus saves me time so that I can focus on other areas of marketing and growing our business. It gives me peace of mind knowing that our business now has a better online presence, which is something I did not have the time nor expertise for.”

The Costs Poor Digital Presence Management

For years, YP has explored the ways consumers zig-zag from device to device, platform to platform, online-to-offline when searching for products and services.  The fragmented customer journey makes it harder than ever for brands to be where local consumers are looking and to gauge success.

If a business has inconsistent or wrong information related to a location, the loss of that consumer’s spending isn’t just a one-time problem; it represents a basic loss of trust that another brand can capture and retain.

Considering that on average, business owners will see their information changed, without their consent, every six days on one of 60 leading sites consumers find a business on, it’s critical that business ownerstake control of their online data, YP notes.

Without actively managing it, vital business information, such as a business name, address and phone number, may be listed incorrectly on sites that consumers visit frequently.

Since consumers use multiple sources in their search for local businesses – everything from websites to search engines to review sites to social media – it is imperative that the data is accurate and consistent.

In terms of quantifying the problem, research by comScore conducted on behalf of YP found that YP users reference an average 5.6 sources of information. Consumers also say that they are much less likely to contact businesses that have inaccurate or incomplete information online.

While the rise of connected intelligence through voice-activated digital assistants like Siri and Alexa may soon call the idea of a brand’s website into question, brands need to ensure they have a handle on the details that define their outlets — and on their terms.

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xAd Rebrands As GroundTruth In Expansion Effort To Broaden Location Data Services Beyond Ads

As the location technology landscape continues to grow amid rising demand to power technologies such as artificial intelligence and a wider array of industries such as real estate and healthcare, xAd has decided to rebrand itself and will now be known as “GroundTruth.”

The new name reflects the 8-year-old company’s evolution from its origins as a hyperlocal ad mobile ad network to a programmatic location marketplace.

Now, with the rechristening, the company seeks to broaden its vision amid an international expansion and last February’s acquisition of its first consumer-facing tech property, the meteorological info service Weatherbug.

As GroundTruth, xAd is also vowing to “decouple” its advertising and media sales services from its location data analysis so that its insights can stand on their own.

“The name xAd was too limiting for our business,” said Dipanshu “D” Sharma, CEO of GroundTruth. “The power of location data doesn’t have to be limited to media and can be realized in other applications from real estate, traffic and out-of-home planning to layering in weather to determine its impact on visits, something we recognized after acquiring WeatherBug. As GroundTruth, we’re able to realize our ambitions beyond media.”

xAd’s transformed into GroundTruth

According to the plan, GroundTruth will continue to support marketers and agencies through products like its geofencing data visualization tool Blueprints, which debuted in 2015, and Footprints, which rolled out in 2014 to provide real-time data on consumers’ mobile movements near brick-and-mortar businesses.

Just last month, xAd initiated its new performance-based ad format, dubbed Cost-Per-Visit, which guarantees marketers’ ROI, since they don’t have to pay unless their ad generated a walk-in.

“As a brand, xAd represented ‘location advertising’ with ‘x’ being ‘x marks the spot for advertising,’” GroundTruth CMO Monica Ho told GeoMarketing. “But we found over the last year-and-a-half it actually became limiting. People, especially those professionals who were not often involved in our category, struggled with what the name was.

“When we explained the vision of the company, we always focused on advertising primarily,” Ho continued. “But the rebrand signifies the evolution of our product set and our offerings. It also represents where we want to go as a company in terms of making core investments and sharpening our strategic focus.”

GroundTruth’s dictim: Build off something real.

The Rebranding Process

The rebrand was produced in collaboration with global brand strategy firm, Siegel+Gale. Aside from the new name, visual identity and there is something of a brand position in the form of a dictim: Build off something real.

While the challenge of switching gears is always a daunting gamble for an established brand, the company says the timing couldn’t be better: GroundTruth picks up from xAd with a first-party database of 95 million active monthly users and 17 million active daily users, across 100 million places and points of interest across 21 countries — in other words, it has significant reach and scale.

In terms of employee growth, xAd had 83 employees at the end of 2013 and 450 employees at the end of 2016 — before the purchase of Weatherbug. Meanwhile, since its launch in 2009, the company now known as GroundTruth has raised about $116 million over six funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.

The process for remaking the brand name and positioning began about 10 months ago, Ho told us.

“We needed a brand and a platform that represented our larger story and gave us the room to grow in the future,” Ho said. “But we also thought long and hard about name that would accurately and fully represent the ideals and values of the company.”

And how was GroundTruth decided on as the new name?

“We thought GroundTruth was perfect, simply because it represented a ‘fundamental truth’ about seeing things from the ground level and up,” Ho said.

Third-Party Verification Secured From InfoScout

In addition to widening its view on serving clients outside of the confines of ad campaigns, GroundTruth commissioned market researcher InfoScout to verify “the precision and coverage of its data” at select retailers.

According to the independent survey based on a representative U.S. panel, GroundTruth is able to interpret physical location with more than a 90 percent accuracy rate.  The “Accuracy Audit” analyzed 10,000 matched panelists who shopped at a sample of key retailers, consistently submitted receipts to InfoScout, and used location-based services via GroundTruth.

“InfoScout has the largest purchase panel in the U.S.,” Ho said. “We matched our data with InfoScout’s purchase panel, which represents 1 out of every 500 retail visits in the U.S. We were able to see 1 out of 3 retail visits that we saw in our platform and matched it to their purchase receipts.”

The importance of third-party verification was a crucial step in the process of transforming xAd as a media sales marketplace based on location to being a provider of data and insights based on consumers’ geospatial patterns. After all, clients don’t trust a partner who simply “grades their own homework.”

As a media seller, xAd relied on its five-year partnership with attribution specialist Placed — which last week was acquired by Snap — as well as online audience measurement firm comScore to verify its the location data that powered its ads. But as it looks to build a business beyond those industry ad metrics, it needs to maintain an ongoing system that can say whether or not its location tech is accurate.

“When we’re interpreting the location data that comes across our system, you need to be able to differentiate whether that person is in a Target store or if they’re nail salon next door,” Ho said.

In just its early trial period, GroundTruth has “made significant headway” in brand safety, assessing viewability, and guarding against ad fraud, Ho said. The company will to continue to investment in third-party verification and validation of not just its data, but GroundTruth’s entire platform.

“InfoScout is just the first step in that process,” Ho said. “There will be more coming,” she added, possibly hinting that GroundTruth may be accredited by the Media Ratings Council, which was established by Congress in the 1960s to serve as a watchdog for TV ratings’ validity in the use of broadcast advertising. The MRC has since gone on to serve as a clearinghouse for all manner of ad measurement procedures, including online and mobile, and recently oversaw the IAB’s geo-data and location ad standards.

(Location) Data As Service

The emergence of Data-as-a-Service, as a more narrow adjunct to software business models, is particularly important in the location space. As different signals provide varying levels of actionable intelligence, data quality and accuracy remains a major issue for tech company’s clients.

Perhaps more than any other targeting or analytics capability, getting location wrong even by several feet can severely diminish the value of geo-data.

As Sharma, who also founded xAd, has described it, location technology is a utility that can not only tell all kinds of vital details about a business’s place, as well as who’s been there, but it can intently extrapolate deep knowledge about consumers’ behavior and shopping profiles as well as power connected intelligence devices’ responses to users’ queries.

“Data and insights have always been a part of the company,” Ho said. “But in the past, we’ve always forced the data/insights together with a media and ad sales component. The rebrand marks the fact that we’re ready to decouple data/insights from ad sales.

“We will always offer a data and targeting solution” Ho said, referring to the above-mentioned products like Blueprint. “But the way the category is unfolding, and marketers and agencies, as well as areas outside of those buckets, such as analysts, can use our data on its own. And this is about allowing that flexibility.”

xAd’s Footprints

Scratching The Surface

Both Blueprint and Footprints were core technologies at xAd and they’ll certainly remain so at GroundTruth, Ho said.

“We only scratched the surface in the past, because these technologies were always tied to media purposes,” she said. “So we want to continue to invest in our core tech, but in different ways based on the variety of audiences we see as potential customers.”

As for how products like Blueprints will evolve under GroundTruth, Ho described it as something that’s always been an internal tool that to integrate accurate mapping data with its location targeting.

“In the future, we’ll expand Blueprints to be more open, more crowdsourced,” Ho said. “In those future cases, one of our partners or someone outside our category could look at location data and unique segments, we’ll let them identify the area they’re looking at. From there, they’ll be able to pull unique, custom data sets and behavioral insights from something like Blueprints.”

Next Steps

As it has in recent years, GroundTruth will have a presence at this coming week’s international gathering of the global ad industry in Cannes.

But don’t expect a heavy marketing effort to ensure the name is known far and wide, Ho said.

“We’re going to communicate to our existing client base,” Ho when asked about the communications effort around this move. “But the next few months will be an internal focus for the most part.”

In the meantime, GroundTruth will steadily seek to expand its work in non-ad areas. While real estate,  health care, traffic/smart city planning has generally been far afield from the company’s purview, Ho is quick to note that projects in those categories is not at all unfamiliar work.

“Real estate is not necessarily a new area for us,” Ho said. “But we’ve have certain scenarios come up in the past, where we’ve been asked to provide store planning. Or analysts have asked us for behavioral data and insights tied to certain places. We’ve had so many opportunities, but at the time, we chose not to invest further. Now, with the new brand, and the new technology focus on data-based solutions, we’re really diving in to coming to market with a new set of offerings and products that can address issues not tied to advertising.”

Just as with its promotion of the new brand and direction, GroundTruth is not in a feverish rush to get its positioning solidified within a month or two. As Ho noted, it will take time to sink in both for its staff and the wider marketplace of new and existing clients and allies.

“This is a big change,” Ho added. “Our move into data and insights is an important one. And until our employees really embody and feel empowered by the brand, that’s when we can make good on this new promise and direction. There will be a bigger marketing push later in the year. There is a lot more to come.”

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Why Twitter’s Direct Message API Update Matters For Brick-And-Mortars

Twitter has updated its direct message APIs, allowing businesses to add buttons in direct messages — a feature aimed at making it easier for users to interact with brands outside of DM conversations, whether drafting a Tweet, following a businesses’ account, or opening another website within the Twitter app to get more information.

The company has also added two new features for developers, aimed at helping them “understand how a conversation started and which app created a message,” Twitter’s Jon Cipriano wrote in a blog post.

Essentially, the rollout aims to take the power of an engagement in direct message and extend it beyond that one conversation: It makes it easier for fans of a brand or local business to subsequently tweet their support, navigate to a mobile site (and perhaps make a purchase), or even ask for location info and find their way to a store. And on the developer side, it potentially creates a greater understanding of what led a customer to send a DM in the first place.

Additionally, Twitter acknowledges that plenty of larger businesses are engaging customers in messaging through a bot. This makes sense; after all, chatbot interaction is at an all-time high, with CoverGirl’s “Kalani Bot” even seeing 14x the engagement of the actual influencer the bot was modeled after.

“For many businesses, delivering a great customer experience through a bot in Direct Messages depends on helping people complete a task other than sending a message,” Twitter’s Ian Cairns wrote in blog post, explaining Twitter’s decision to add buttons to help businesses drive more actions. For example, “at the right point in the conversation, people might want to Tweet to share a coupon or offer, challenge their followers to a game, or tell the world about new content they just discovered. The… combination of public and private messaging on Twitter makes it easy for people to become brand advocates by Tweeting about an experience. And by combining this feature with the new Direct Message Card, those Tweets can then help other users discover and start talking to your bot.”

Making (DM) Moves

Twitter has made quite a few updates to its Direct Message recently: This API update comes on the heels of the company’s April announcement that it would open direct message location sharing for brick-and-mortars to customers.

As we wrote at that time, the update was critical for local businesses on Twitter — many of whom rely almost heavily on social media for low-cost marketing with a personal touch — because it allowed them to use the Direct Message feature to draw in customers with location data by telling them where the closest store is.

“Helping people find a location nearby makes perfect sense for brick-and-mortar businesses,” Cairns said at the time. “Now that businesses can easily incorporate location sharing into their customer experiences, expect to see other innovative location-aware use cases in Direct Messages.”

Now, with this latest update, businesses have the chance to more easily expand their social following — and give those engaged customers more online (and perhaps offline) experiences to choose from.

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Google Maps’ Local Guides Updates Points System To Improve Shared Business Info

Given that 80 percent of US internet users turn to a search engine and the business reviews that accompany the links and location information, it stands to reason that the dominant Google Maps would seek to encourage its 30 million Local Guides to add even more details.

In order to coax greater frequency of higher quality photos, reviews, as well as corrections of outdated or erroneous business information, Google is rolling out updates to the Local Guides program. The incentives include a new point system, new levels that unlock different kinds of perks, and new ways to earn points.

“Certain kinds of contributions that have a higher impact for Google Maps users — like being the first to add a place to the map or leaving a review — earn you more points,” explained Google Local Guides Director Laura Slabin in a blog post. “In addition, Local Guides now earn points for rating places and checking facts from other community members. All points earned are shown immediately after each contribution, and are visible in the ‘contribute’ tab.”

While Facebook and Yelp also depend heavily on crowdsourced business information editing, it’s clear that such information is not always correct or credible. By gamifying the process to a greater degree, Google hopes its army of Local Guides will prove to be reliable.

And the rewards for frequent and correct Local Guide activity are real. And they’re based on tiers.

For example, Local Guides Level 2 (those with a minimum of 15 points) and above are being given early access to the new product features. They are also eligible for “occasional perks” from Google and “local perks” from partners.

There are also five new levels in the points program. Those new levels of Local Guide go from 4-to-10 (a range falls between 250 points and 100,000-plus). Those users can redeem a free three-month Google Play Music subscription and 75 percent off a rental in the Google Play Movie store.

The latest features follow the introduction of other efforts designed to secure Google Maps’ position as a premier discovery and location-based online-to-offline knowledge service.

Last month, Google My Business offered a major update for restaurant clients, allowing them to include a link to their branded websites’ menu across its search and mapping products. Almost a year ago, Google Local Guides were presented with ways to upload business places’ photos with faster ease.

More recently, Google’s Local Guides teamed up with women’s fashion subscription service Le Tote, offering a year’s worth of monthly apparel and accessories shipments to the user who writes the most “high quality” reviews on Google Maps before February 14.

Additionally, users who are already a “Local Guide Level 4+” (based on previous review volume) will receive a free month of Le Tote’s services, giving them an opportunity to try out the idea of borrowing apparel and accessories.

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Google And Amazon On The Connected Home: Services Have Staying Power

Voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing — but voice is just one modality in the world of connected intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

In a panel discussion at last month’s CONNECTIONS conference in San Francisco, Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead and Dan Quigley, STO, senior manager for Alexa Smart Home, talked about the future of IA, visual interfaces, and why customer utility — and privacy — is issue number one. Below, excerpts from their conversation.

We’re reaching the tipping point with [intelligent assistants] and the connected home: All of these platforms in the home today. Are we going to see voice activated devices talking to each other in the future? How will this space evolve?

Ben Brown: Yes, I think it’s possible. I do think there’s definitely a desire for it, especially as we are interacting with more and more different voices in our lives.

But everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user. It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.

We’ve seen this in mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives, but you tend to build an affinity towards certain things over time. That will probably happen here, with [consumers choosing] Google Home, or Amazon Echo, or Microsoft, et cetera. And then purchasing [other items or smart devices] that connect to them.

Anyway, that’s why we’re all really interested in this right now. We’re all working our tails off to try to make great experiences, because it’s a pretty sticky relationship. I think we’re going to start to see that. Services have staying power.

Dan Quigley: Again, like I said, we’re at day one here in this field of experiences. By focusing on the customer and understanding what they want and listening to them, that’s how we’re going to advance the system. Think about what mobile phones were like when we first got them, and what a transformation that has been: Ten years from now, it’s going to be a very different world. A very different experience, but it is going to be driven by these [connected devices.]

I would love to have Google, Cortana, and Alexa duke it out. Let’s have a wheel-of-fortune style game-type thing. [Laughs.] I think it ultimately is going to come down to the consumer choice. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision. A lot of it is going to be based on the trust that gets earned by our companies to support them and pay attention to issues that concern them on privacy.

Dan, the Echo Show just launched. Why was it developed, and where do you see the future going in that respect?

Dan: Voice is just one modality. It has crossed the threshold of being a viable modality now — in that it’s viable in day to day interactions — but there are still certain situations where [visual interfaces] are more appropriate. For example, when I go to bed at night, the last thing my wife would like to hear me loudly say, “Alexa turn off the bathroom light.”

What is part of seeing the future in the “crystal ball” here, though, is that you need look at the technologies that are behind the development of the “do what I need, not what I say” attitude.  Adding a screen to Echo or putting a camera in your closet to judge how you look — it [seemed] intuitive, natural. Again, I think it’s a consumer choice.

Ben, what’s your take from the Google perspective?

Ben: I would just say, I think we’re all approaching this in a way of just trying to have authenticity and interaction. I think that in the home specifically, it’s such a private space that everyone is trying to be super thoughtful about kind of the interactions that we bring forward.

When we start to bring in other modalities, it’s got to add a lot of value. I actually really like the way [personal assistants] are positioned because it’s actually very focused on saying, “I’m going to help you with that.” I think that’s a really intelligent way of saying, “no, this is not about being the all-seeing, all-watching eye in the room. This is very much about being able to help you in a specific use case.” And visual interfaces, visual [search] — it’s very much part of that future.

I think that’s the way we just have to approach it, which is as we do things, we just do them super thoughtfully. It adds a lot of value. I agree with you, I think it’s important that we all do that very effectively. And take privacy and security really seriously — because if any one of us messes that up, then it messes it up for everyone.

 

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Via Partners With The New York Times For Location-Based Subscription Promo

On-demand ride sharing app Via has partnered with The New York Times to give riders complimentary eight-week digital subscriptions of the paper to riders in New York who purchase a monthly “ViaPass,” letting them catch up on the news during their daily commute rides — a bid to help both entities boost exposure and discovery on mobile.

This isn’t the first time Via has partnered with digital or physical businesses in a bid to compete with the larger-scale Uber Pool and Lyft Line. But while the benefit of the promotion for riders is clear, it’s a reminder of the fact that businesses of all stripes need to do more in order to stay top-of-mind in the age of intelligent search.

On-Demand In The World Of Intelligent Assistants

While the nature of Via’s app and the NYT’s mobile subscription model give this effort a digital bent, promotions of this type are as old as advertising itself. But why is it more important than ever for brands to make a memorable impact in order to get discovered today?

As SessionM CRO Bill Clifford put it last month, “voice, AI, and platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home present a pretty interesting challenge. If I’m in my house and I just say, ‘Hey Google, order me a pizza,’ it’s really up to Google what they come back with. So the platforms have more and more control for operating this invisible storefront that’s driven by an algorithm. Brands need to [figure out] how they’re going to deal with that.”

In the case of on-demand ride apps like Via, that means getting customers to say “call me a Via” or “download Via” to their connected devices — rather than simply “call me a car.” In other words, as search and discovery become even more deeply tied to voice (and AI), brands of all stripes must think about how to make sure that customers ask for them when given the chance — meaning that providing personalized offers or experiences that improve the user experience are more important than ever.

“This is just a new storefront, and we don’t see it. So I think the point is, it becomes increasingly important and integral for a brand to create a direct relationship,” Clifford concluded — and while it remains to be seen if Via’s NYT partnership drives adoption, promotions that integrate digital touch points can be one integral part of that. “It’s a lasting, ongoing engagement, so that when you do ask Google, that brand is top of mind — and you’re giving the consumer control, not the robots.”

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How RaceTrac Drove Visits To Its Gas Station Convenience Stores 47 Percent Higher

A combination of rich media and location targeting last holiday season helped  RaceTrac generate a 47 percent lift in traffic at the gas station convenience store chain’s 450 outlets across the southern United States.

The December 2016 campaign was run by full-service digital agency Vert, along with design firm R/GA, and geo-data ad and attribution platform NinthDecimal.

The trio collaborated on developing “a dynamic, engaging ‘drive-to-store’ mobile ad unit that was both eye-catching and easily trackable. The rich media ad was designed to guide mobile users to the nearest RaceTrac convenience store using their current location.

NinthDecimal then built an audience segment comprised of consumers who were most likely to respond to the ad based on previous visits to RaceTrac and its competitors’ locations. Using NinthDecimal’s Location Graph data set of mobile audiences’ devices, it served the ad to those “qualified users” when they were within 10 miles of a RaceTrac convenience store.

The 47 percent lift includes both existing and new customers, RaceTrac and NinthDecimal execs said.

“By using NinthDecimal’s physical-world data, we were able to successfully reach not only our loyal guests, but also our competitors’ audiences, and drive these individuals into our locations in a measurable way,” said Jamie Rodgers, brand director of RaceTrac.

The campaign’s results come as marketers have widely embraced the use of location data as more than just a way to send an ad to the “right person at the right place in real-time.”

The frequent goal for location data these days is two-fold: understand and predict patterns of consumer behavior based on where they go, then use unique device data — anonymized, of course, most platforms are quick to note — and then, determine if such targeted ads were able to drive that consumer into a store to complete a purchase as a result.

“In the era of data-driven marketing, it’s incredibly valuable for brands to understand the effectiveness of their ad spend down to the last cent,” said David Staas, president of NinthDecimal. “The RaceTrac marketing campaign shows how brands can leverage mobile location data to reach new and existing customers as well as deliver real world business results through digital advertising.”

The Rich Media Factor

The emphasis on rich media in conjunction with the location insights NinthDecimal is also worth noting.

For one thing, rich media, which tends to include moving graphics and sound, can also be “dynamic” — that is, they can be seen to resonate (or fail to) with consumers in real-time, allowing marketers and their agencies and platform partners to update the messaging and delivery on the fly.

When asked how much of a factor the tools associated rich media were in generating the 47 percent lift in traffic at RaceTrac, a NinthDecimal representative said “rich media offers dynamic messaging that corresponds to several live variables during the flight of an ad, changing (in real time) creative to reflect those conditions.

“In this instance, identifying the nearest RaceTrac location for users based on their current location creates a unique experience,” the NinthDecimal rep added. “Removing the hurdle and extra step of having a user search for a location by inserting a real-time map in the unit itself, certainly provides high level of value that a standard banner may not have the ability to offer.”

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As Social, Voice, And Visual Search Rises, YP Finds That Websites Remain ‘Foundational’ For Locals

While the rise of connected intelligence through voice-activated digital assistants like Siri and Alexa may soon call the idea of a brand’s website into question, the fact remains that brands need a central hub for the vital business information consumers need.

Even a Facebook page or accounts on Instagram or Twitter are not enough for local businesses who want to achieve wider SEO aims, says local media and directory services platform YP.

The company’s launch of ypWebsite Pro this week is meant to help local brands create that central internet hub. The new tool promises local businesses the ability to earn top rankings in organic search results and get found on local directory sites.

With ypWebsite Pro, local businesses get a mobile responsive, content-rich website supplemented by a full range of SEO services designed to improve rankings on Google and other leading search engines, YP says in a blog post.

But YP is quick to note that this is not simply another custom website-builder that hosting companies like GoDaddy provide. The YP offering also enables local businesses to claim, update and manage their business listings across more than 60 search, social and directory sites to ensure accurate and consistent information across the web.

“Websites are foundational to connecting local businesses with consumers, and a strong SEO strategy is critical to delivering traffic to their sites,” said Stu MacFarlane, Executive Vice President of Products and Marketing at YP.

“The ypWebsite Pro product is proving to be an extremely valuable SEO solution for our clients, MacFarlane added. “Results from extensive product trials show that over 70 percent of keywords rank on page one of Google after five months or less.”

The new product is also meant to connect the more than 50 million monthly visitors looking for on yellowpages.com. Clients that combine ypWebsite Pro with a ypLocalAds product get preferred access to this ready-to-buy audience in a way that drives high-value leads to client websites and works as a perfect supplement to SEO efforts.

It is worth noting that YP isn’t just focusing on websites these days. The company recently expanded its partnership with Microsoft’s Bing for the Redmond software company’s artificial intelligence assistant, Cortana.

“YP’s relationship with Bing and Microsoft gives us access to new features and avenues to help us optimize search campaigns to deliver more quality leads for our advertisers,” Rich Maraschi, VP, Advertising Products at YP, The Real Yellow Pages, told us last month. “Voice search is an emerging channel for small businesses to use to connect with consumers. We are working closely with Bing on the strategies for how to use Cortana to get quality, targeted leads for businesses.”

The move is part of an investment by YP to provide “better integrated solutions” that enable local businesses to build their presence, MacFarlane says.

GeoMarketing: Is ypWebsite Pro intended for specific kinds of local businesses?

Stu MacFarlane: ypWebsite Pro is ideal for the kind of local businesses that would be those interested in looking to outperform their competition, are digital market savvy (meaning that they understand the value of SEO and interested in diversifying digital marketing portfolio), and businesses with perhaps a poorly designed website or looking to upgrade or redesign their YP website.

Is there a particular profile of SMB who would benefit from it?

Some of the key customers segments (SMBs) for this product include construction/contractors, dentists, insurance, auto repair & service, plumbers, legal services, medical services, and physicians and surgeons. That said, ypWebsite Pro can be a great fit for a wide range of SMB business types. More importantly, the types for businesses that can benefit the most from it are those who are not currently showing up organically on the first page of search results for important terms in their category and geography and are missing out on potential customers as a result.

What’s the value of ypWebsite Pro generally versus other kinds of pages that SMBs might have, such as Facebook Pages or Google My Business?

First and foremost, a business’ website serves as the digital storefront and is an indispensable piece of their presence in this day and age. A website builds credibility and trust for your business, further building your brand. Additionally, ypWebsite Pro provides the benefit of ownership of your content as opposed to allowing outside entities to own/control the content.

How customizable are ypWebsite Pro pages?

ypWebsite Pro allows for a customized, content-rich, and compelling site with 10-15 pages of carefully researched content that reflects the client’s business. The sites are not templated or “cookie cutter” but rather are customized the client’s needs. ypWebsitePro also offers a new blog post on the website each month that is industry specific (to the client’s business) and relevant information formatted for any device.

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When It Comes To Brick-And-Mortar Loyalty, Walmart Is Up As Fashion Brands Lag

The challenges facing major retail brands has been known for a long time, but the main opportunities those marketers still possess is the ability to command loyalty at scale by dint of their awareness and widely spread locations.

But, as with anything, some are better at driving loyalty than others.

As detailed in proximity platform inMarket’s Spring 2017 Loyalty report, the brands doing loyalty well are varied — Walmart was in the lead with a score of 2.68, followed by electronics chain Fry’s with 2.54, on down to Dollar General, Fred Meyer’s Jewelers, Target, Family Dollar, 99 Cents Only, Dollar Tree, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s.

What’s Driving — And Restraining — Retail Loyalty

Before getting to the brands that are struggling with loyalty, inMarket’s methodology for ranking the brands is based on location data captured 50 million mobile devices per month via its app partners.

The company looked only at non-grocery retailers based on customer loyalty from January through May, 2017. Each retailer is assigned a loyalty score, which is determined by repeat device visitation and is normalized for comparability.

For example, a retailer with 1,000,000 visits from 500,000 devices would have a loyalty score of 2, whereas a retailer with 10,000 visits from 4,000 devices would have a loyalty score of 2.5. Note: The average loyalty score for all non- grocery retailers in Spring 2017 was 1.45.

As for the bottom 10 companies in inMarket’s rankings, shoes and accessories retailer Nine West had the lowest performance with a 1.23 loyalty score. It was followed by other fashion and apparel brands Crocs, Wet Seal, Bebe, The Gap, H&M, American Eagle Outfitters — the non-clothing names were Toys ‘R  Us, The Kitchen Collection, Disney Store.

Personalization, Not Payoffs

The themes on both lists are clear: brands that promise savings and discounts tend to invite more loyalty. The primary presence of convenience stores like Walmart and Target, along with the dollar stores, naturally tend to have more frequent foot-traffic versus fashion retailers.

“Overall, there’s a clear trend toward discount/value retailers in the Top 10,” said Dave Heinzinger inMarket’s VP, Communications. “Walmart leads the pack, but the growth of dollar stores is being widely reported right now.

“It could be because millennials have become the ‘frugal generation,’ and they now make up the entire 18-35 prime spending demographic,”Heinzinger added. “They carry tons of student loan debt and make less than their parents when adjusted for inflation. I found it interesting that both Home Depot and Lowe’s not only made the list, but ranked with the exact same loyalty score. Perhaps its because of those never-ending home improvement projects that many of us have.”

On the question of whether apparel retailers tendency to lack the frequent foot-traffic that convenience stores do, Heinzinger added: “We view repeat device traffic as a key loyalty indicator — so if a retailer is retaining customers below average for their category, that’s a sign of distress.

“E-commerce is certainly a major factor in decreasing foot traffic, but it’s not the whole story,” he added. “Many of these mall-based fashion retailers are the polar opposite of the discount/value chains that are growing in 2017. They’re often charging full price for products that might turn up at outlets at a deep discount — which seems to be better aligned with today’s consumer behavior and specifically with millennial shopping preferences.”

Another obvious point, but worth noting nevertheless, is that loyalty is often connected to rewards in the form of discounts in the minds of consumers.

But as brands struggle with balancing the ideas of “value” and “premium,” the notion of driving loyalty beyond lowering costs for regular customers has been taking hold by brands.

Speaking at the NRF’s Big Show in January, Mike Mauler, EVP and president of GameStop International, made the point that loyalty needs to be defined more around the idea of personalization, not deals.

“The true power of our loyalty program is not the points or perks,” Mauler said. “We don’t find that consumers come into a GameStop to get points. We use loyalty to enhance our knowledge of what the customer wants,” Mauler said. “We send out updates and promotions. We can send out emails letting customers know, ‘Hey, Christmas is coming, you can trade in points worth $110 that they can then buy games for your friends.’”

For inMarket, the loyalty scores also provide a forecast of what retailers are likely to face in the near future.

“Eight out of the bottom 10 retailers for customer loyalty are either closing stores, halting expansion or laying off employees in 2017,” inMarket’s report said. “While Nine West hasn’t announced any store closures yet, their financial woes have been widely reported. Based on the Spring 2017 data, we predict Nine West will announce store closures before the end of 2017.”

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