How Panera Bread Is Turning ‘Fast Casual’ Into ‘Rapid Casual’

In deciding how and what technologies to adopt, fast casual dining chain Panera Bread has sought to manage the “identity issue” that it and all other marketers face: how to put tech in service to the main business and not the other way around.

Panera Bread President and CEO Blaine Hurst sought to provide a glimpse into the brand’s collective thinking about tech adoption during Apple VP Jennifer Bailey’s presentation at the NRF Big Show this week.

In setting up Panera’s premise, Hurst noted that over 70 percent of the brand’s customers who visit its 2,000-plus locations are using Apple devices. So it made sense to become an Apple Pay launch partner three years ago, just as the rise of voice activation made sense for Panera to begin accepting orders from Google Assistant last fall.

That requires a certain familiarity with the tech that’s available and even a bit of clairvoyance when it comes to where to put resources in order to adopt new digital platforms for a brand like Panera. At the same time, Hurst is clear about striving to maintain the balance and focus on the business and not just on the newest tech.

He sought to draw a distinction between Panera’s approach and more tech-centric retail startups like Wayfair, where the tech is such an essential part of its DNA, as explained by Ed Macri, Chief Product & Marketing Officer at Wayfair, who took the NRF stage just before Hurst.

“I heard a lot of people talk about restaurants companies, and they say, ‘Well that’s a tech company that actually does serve pizza,’ Or, ‘That’s a tech company that happens to serve sandwiches,’” Hurst said. “Is that what Panera is? I don’t think so. Unlike my esteemed colleague from Wayfair, how many of you come to Panera just to pay with Apple Pay? Probably not. It’s the food. It’s the experience. It’s that total integrated experience that makes the difference. However, I can guarantee you if the tech fails on you, you won’t hang around long. You won’t use it. It won’t be as convenient.”

Desire-To-Friction Ratio

Panera’s mission, then, involves adapting to the new guest experience using that technology. Citing a phrase used by current Panera Chairman and previous CEO Ron Shaich, Hurst pointed to “the desire-to-friction ratio.” That equation recognizes how good the food is, the design of the restaurants both from a cosmetic perspective as well as from an efficiency view, such as whether wait times were managed well.

“So technology was the breakthrough for us,” Hurst said. “We had great desire, but we discovered we had a lot of friction. The overall experience sucked. Great food, lots of friction. Technology was the opportunity for us to transform that so that we had lots of desire and a whole lot less friction.”

How has that realization worked out for Panera?

Hurst offered a set of numbers that suggest its success since launching the Panera 2.0 tech solutions program in 2014: “We’re $5.3 billion  restaurant company in the United States. We’re the eighth largest restaurant company in the U.S. We now process more than 1.3 million orders a week using our digital platform. We did last year, we did just north of $1.25 billion dollars in digital sale, and yet, we just launched three years ago. That represents now nearly 30 percent of our total sales.”

Loyalty Matters And Mobile

A large part of those digital sales a tied to Panera’s loyalty program, which has roughly 30 million members.

“It represents the largest restaurant loyalty program that I am aware of today,” Hurst said. “And over half of our transactions are logged using a digital identifier, using their loyalty ID. If that order is placed digitally, we see a 75 percent of those orders placed on mobile apps, particularly mobile, on mobile apps include the loyalty ID. That’s huge for us. If you think about the amount of data that we could mine from that.”

Loyalty/rewards has been viewed as a key value of brands seeking to compete with all the various on-demand choices consumers have access to via apps. In an interview we did last year with Bloomin’ Brands Chief Brand Officer Chris Brandt, the executive specifically cited delivery apps as containing the primary challenge his company needed to meet.

To match loyalty with efficiency, Panera’s Rapid Pick-up featuring was one of the key programs to emerge from the company’s 2014 tech upgrade. While “order online, pick up in store” is one of the table stakes concepts of omnichannel marketing, it wasn’t always an obvious tool.

But in a relatively short amount of time, Rapid Pick-up now accounts for more than 10 percent of our sales at Panera, Hurst said. And a majority of that, obviously, is mobile. And rather than strictly being an “on-the-go” offering, Rapid Pick-up is changing the nature of in-store ordering as well.

“You can order also directly from the table [using Rapid Pick-up],” Hurst said. “This is a crazy idea, that you can just walk in, sit down, using your mobile device, place an order, and we bring you your food. How simple is that? Talk about changing that guest experience.”

Apple’s Influence

Hurst credited Apple’s own approach to customer experience as having a distinct impact on how Panera views its own outlets. Panera is currently working with a digital team in New York to incorporate in-store kiosks in a store design format.

“We’ve got a very clean design because that speaks to who we are, that’s an integrated voice, with the voice of who we eat our food as it should be,” Hurst said. “It’s clean, no artificial ingredients, et cetera. We know that this clean design, where food is a hero, a more intuitive, realtime adaptive, context-sensitive, user experience, has phenomenal upside for us.”


One of Panera’s newest cafes is in Downers Grove, Illinois, and Hurst offered it as an example of what it will be soon rolling out across the country. But he again emphasized that balance between maintaining a clear brand identify and adopting new ways of getting customers what they want.

“The message to the team hasn’t changed,” Hurst said. “Our mission is to complete the job the guests hired us to do in a compelling and unique way that makes a difference, that makes them want to cross the street for us, or use our app to have their food delivered, while tracking their driver to the door. That’s not going to change either.”

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How Planet Fitness Lifted Franchises’ Messaging Engagement 200 Percent With Salesforce ‘Distributed Marketing’

Planet Fitness, a gym chain with 10 million members and 1,400 franchises, the challenge of crafting seamless national-to-local messages across email and social media something all multi-location brands can relate to.

The company began piloting a program dubbed Distributed Marketing with Salesforce Marketing Cloud to make the ability of communicating “customer experience” more automated and tailored to local consumers.

Chris Lavoie, VP of Information Systems at Planet Fitness, worked with Salesforce to improved how he and his team manage partnerships with franchise owners, how they collaborate and how they streamline critical processes such as opening new stores.

As a result, Planet Fitness has increased franchisee engagement almost 200 percent, boosted email engagement with 1.9 million emails sent to members per month and have handled 300,000 social customer service cases in the past six months.

“We’re excited about Distributed Marketing from Salesforce because it’s the next step for companies like ours to empower franchise owners to communicate with their members through curated marketing journeys and on-brand content. This kind of solution will have a big impact on driving Planet Fitness memberships and member engagement,” says Lavoie.

Distributed Marketing from Salesforce is aimed at letting corporate marketers  “pre-build personalized customer journeys” which can then be shared to their partner networks. From there, partners using Salesforce Sales Cloud, Service Cloud or Community Cloud and the retail focused Journey Builder can  manage  programs such as on-boarding new clients, holiday promotions and renewals.

“I would think of it as a consumer experience solution,” says Meghann York, director, Product Marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud. “We have all this great research about how consumers are expecting ‘connected customer experiences’ and how they want to have very personalized interactions, whether they’re opening an email, or calling up your service department, or getting an email from a financial advisor or a gym.”

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Button’s Mike Jaconi On How Buzzfeed And Walmart Are Demonstrating The Complement Of Content And Commerce

Social news site Buzzfeed is expanding its existing content alliance with Walmart and the retailer’s e-commerce platform,, via the Button Marketplace, an app engagement and partnership platform that connects mobile content and commerce brands.

The expansion involves Buzzfeed Tasty, the publisher’s food and recipes video portal, which the Button bills as a “blending of content and commerce.”

“This partnership represents a natural combination of the two on mobile in a way that is exciting for customers, serving yet another way Tasty, Walmart and Jet are evolving the shopping experience to meet customers where they are — no matter when or how they want to shop,” Button’s Natalie Gerke writes in a blog post. “With Button’s technology and expertise in app-to-app partnerships, Tasty is able to drive users directly into the respective and apps to complete their transaction, known to be the highest-converting channel within today’s digital retail industry (apps performing 4x better than mobile web).”

Here’s where Button’s Marketplace comes in. The platform provides the connective tissue between complementary mobile apps and websites — such as Buzzfeed and Tasty — to promote loyalty and payment when its users seek to buy something related from a Walmart or

Just by way of explanation of how other ways Button creates complements between commerce and content, last May, The Weather Channel app began featuring Button Marketplace apps from Uber, Groupon,, Caviar, and Resy.

As a result, its users would be able to hail a ride, sign up for a deal, get a food delivery, or make a reservation without leaving The Weather Channel to connect with those functions. In addition to maintaining engagement, The Weather Channel could potentially drive revenue through affiliate deals to promote those separate app functions.

As Walmart seeks to combat rival Amazon to be the primary online and offline shopping center for consumers, the extension to other apps within its own mobile base could help it prove its own greater convenience to consumers.

Michael Jaconi, founder and CEO of Button, offered his take on the intersection of commerce and content and how apps can make those connections more seamless, particularly for brick-and-mortar brands trying to enhance their omnichannel strategies.

GeoMarketing: How has the nature or state of app engagement changed since Button launched over three years ago?

Mike Jaconi: The phrase coined years ago by Apple – ‘there’s an app for that’ – still rings true today. Since starting Button in 2014, apps and consumer engagement with them has grown significantly. In fact, as Button’s recent report we released with App Annie shows – 2017 Index: The Mobile Consumer – consumers prefer apps for their convenience, whether it’s saved personal and payment credentials or because they’re easier to navigate. The growth is apparent, as the App Store and Google Play now feature a combined 5.9 million apps, and smartphone sales are expected to hit more than $330 billion by 2021, three times the forecasted $102 billion this year. For any retailer or service provider looking to acquire new users, apps will be imperative to their success when it comes to a mobile strategy.

How has Button itself evolved over the past year?

Over the past year, our growth has skyrocketed and our product has evolved to make it even easier for Publishers and Merchants to partner in mobile. We’ve welcomed a range of new partners across a variety of industries including Walmart, Buzzfeed, Target, Walgreens, The Weather Channel, and many others. The platform is now driving hundreds of millions in spending annually, and retailers of all types are coming onto the platform to diversify their mobile marketing budgets. Button is the most cost-effective acquisition channel our partners have in mobile – and with the duopoly of Google and Facebook only growing more powerful – Button is becoming an even more vital ingredient in retailers’ growth strategies.

Looking at brick-and-mortar perspective, how necessary is for stores to have an app? Is it all about promoting loyalty? Or are there other aspects stores should consider?

Mobile commerce is continuing to grow faster than any other channel of spend. Amazon, the guiding light in retail, saw more than a 50 percent YOY increase in sales on the Amazon app this past holiday season.

For brands to succeed with their most loyal audiences, they need an app to serve these consumers — and an acquisition strategy to make it succeed. With apps being retailers’ highest-converting channel, this is an essential pillar of retailers’ growth strategies in this era. Brands must also remember that apps aren’t using mobile to strictly make purchases, but also to price compare while in-store, access savings on the go, and research items they’re interested in when they don’t have time to shop. Retailers that don’t have a comprehensive mobile acquisition strategy will lose out on these valuable “moments of intent” that so frequently pop up in mobile.

Sticking with brick-and-mortars, how well are they using third parties such as Google Maps, Foursquare, Uber, OpenTable?

Creating the connective layer between digital and physical is a strategy we’ve worked to create since day one of Button. When it comes to finding a place to eat, consumers look at reviews on an app like Foursquare to find the best around them.

By creating that seamless connection between inspiration and the ultimate action, we’re making it simpler for consumers to get to the places they want. We’re also helping to make the apps themselves more useful — they go from being a place to get information to a place where you can take an action! Google Maps has also made a similar connection for consumers with the integration of Uber and Lyft.

Retail is following the natural extensions listed above, and I expect the next three years to show more progress than the past 20 when it comes to connecting online behavior to offline retail spending.

How does Button view the rise of voice-activated digital assistants like Alexa, Okay Google/Google Assistant/Google Home, Siri, Cortana, Samsung’s Bixby?

These new digital assistants are here to stay.  I’m still torn on whether commerce at scale will be possible through them without a view layer – and Amazon’s Echo Show is likely the result of Amazon coming to a similar conclusion. That said, whether a voice prompt or the “tap of a button” – the uniqueness of Button’s platform – the index of matching “actions”, “products”, and “places” will make the voice revolution an exciting part of the Button story. More to come on that in 2018.

Looking to the end of the year, what is Button focused on as it looks to position itself for 2018?

2017 was an exciting year for Button’s Marketplace, which grew with many of the world’s leading and most innovative brands turning to Button to power their mobile partnership strategy.

When companies like Walmart, Uber, eBay, The Weather Channel, Buzzfeed, and many more select Button as their partnership platform, it inspires other brands to follow suit. Our integration roadmap is full with many more leading retailers, and the publishers they’re bringing to work with us represent new verticals and new models we have never worked with before.

This was always our dream – to fix a bunch partnerships that we knew we could fix with better technology built for mobile and with the user in mind, and secondly to build the platform that the business models of the future could be built upon. That’s what’s coming – and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

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‘Facebook Events’ App Is Now ‘Facebook Local’

Facebook has revamped the separate Events app it released last year into with a broader mission designed to promote discovery and reviews.

The new version, which is being rolled out on Apple iOS and Google Android devices is called, simply, Facebook Local.

“Last year, we launched a standalone app for people who love using Facebook events to find things to do around them,” said Aditya Koolwal, Product Manager, in an email. “Now, we’re updating that app to help people find more things to do with their communities. The new app, Facebook Local, helps you easily find what to do, where to go, where to eat, or what you need— all recommended by the people you know and trust.”

If that sounds a lot like Foursquare and Yelp, you’re probably right. But for Facebook, the decision simply follows its years-long focus on local as it tries to counter its primary advertising and marketing rival, Google.

The release of Facebook Local comes after another high-flying quarter for the social network. Earlier this week, Facebook reported its Q3 2017 earnings by saying it now has nearly 2.1 billion people using Facebook every month and nearly 1.4 billion people using it daily. (Instagram also hit a big milestone this quarter, now with 500 million daily actives.”).

Facebook Local app in action. Source: Facebook

Overall, total revenue grew 47 percent year over year, and we had our first ever quarter with more than $10 billion in revenue. And with social media being inherently local, Facebook’s effort to make it easier for its users and businesses to connect and engage with each other is essential to keeping those numbers rising.

“For my part, when I think about our Marketer segment, we have SMBs; we have brand, direct response, and developers,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told analysts during the company’s earnings call. “We’re seeing strong growth across all those areas. “I think if you think about where the growth remains, it really is in increasing the relevance of the ads, because the ads I think are getting better in terms of reaching the right people at the right time.”

All Users Are Local

While Facebook Local didn’t come up during the earnings call, the importance of local advertising did.

Sandberg touted Facebook’s Custom Audiences and its targeting tools, as leading to better experiences for both consumers and businesses.

As an example, she pointed to an effort by the Alameda County Fair, a local fairground in Pleasanton, California. The Fair used Facebook to target people within 25 miles of their fairgrounds, focusing on ages 20-to-51 who have specific interests in concerts, music festivals, and theme parks. As a result of Facebook’s tools, the Fair saw season pass ticket sales for 2017 rise by 50 percent compared to 2016.

“That’s really about finding the people that are interested,” Sandberg said. “And if you look at the percentage of our ads business where people are using our most sophisticated approaches to finding the right audience, I think we still have a lot of opportunity for growth there, and that will improve both the quality of the ads people see but also the returns to marketers. And I think that will hit all of the verticals and all of the segments.”

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How Asahi Premium Beverages Is ‘Localizing’ Facebook And Instagram Campaigns

When it came to local marketing for Asahi Premium Beverages, the Japanese beer and soft drink company, the company typically relied on traditional mediums such as printed signage, umbrellas, and giveaways, says John Kelly, National On Premise Group Business Manager.

But as social media has advanced, Asahi, which markets such brands as Schweppes Ginger Ale, a line of vodka, and Italy’s Peroni beer, among others, found that it needed a clearer path to help direct consumers to local shops and bars where they can find its labels.

So Asahi turned to local social advertising platform Tiger Pistol, a Facebook global marketing partner, to manage its Facebook and Instagram presence.

But to help close the loop between social media users and the locations where Asahi products can be found, Tiger Pistol has struck an integration with Yext this week. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here)

Tiger Pistol’s platform will allow its clients to use the Yext App Directory to run “thousands” of localized Instagram and Facebook campaigns, leveraging the Yext Knowledge Manager to create and maintain digital information that will let consumers know where and when to shop for Asahi products.

Over time this relationship will allow Tiger Pistol users to leverage additional Yext content and data for automated campaigns linked to menu updates, store events and more.

“The Tiger Pistol integration with Yext opens the opportunity for clients to bring their corporate level advertising strategy to their location network across the country via Local Facebook pages,” says Tiger Pistol CEO Steve Hibberd. “It’s a new ‘game changing’ capability that, to date, is delivering 30-50 percent better outcomes on average compared to national campaigns using simple geo targeting.

In terms of how it works, advertising campaign templates are created by the brand and then customized and distributed for each location imported from Yext, Hibberd says.

“Campaign localization includes customized creative, copy, spend and audiences – the campaign not only geo-targets people in the area, but can leverage local or national custom and lookalike audiences overlaid with local geo-targeting.”

Yext launched its App Directory in June. It allows clients to connect digital knowledge from Yext with software systems across the enterprise. The Yext App Directory integrates digital knowledge seamlessly throughout an organization, creating opportunities for growth and time-saving efficiencies with apps for over 20 leading companies, including HubSpot, Smartling, Domo, Zendesk, with Tiger Pistol being the latest.

“With the Tiger Pistol platform, we can deploy Peroni campaigns through our distribution channels which allows us to deliver more relevant campaigns, track performance, gain valuable audience insights, and maximize share of voice,” Asahi’s Kelly says, noting the natural affinities between social media, mobile, and local business.

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Snapchat’s Context Cards Extend Digital Presence Information From Outside Apps

The introduction of Snapchat’s Context Cards represent the clearest way for brands that manage their online listings to get in front of the image sharing platform’s 173 million daily users.

The company bills Context Cards as a “new way” for Snapchatters to learn about what they’re viewing via information from third–party app partners including Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Michelin, and Goop. Context Cards also offers connections to ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, as well as reservation platforms Open Table, Resy, and Bookatable.

Context Card in action: Using Snap’s own “Knowledge Graph” and tools like Snap Map, users can find information about places — and then make a reservation or hail a ride all without leaving the Snapchat app.

Context And Engagement

In a larger sense, Context Cards shows the expansion of the “Knowledge Graph” concept promoted by Google that aims to meet consumers’ demand for specific answers and information instead of a list of links from a search.

The Snapchat feature is similar to the mix of personalized news and place-based information that Google Now app users see via “smart cards.”

In the case of  Snapchat Context Cards, when a user sees an image of, say, a place that serves pancakes in a Snap, they can swipe up if that Snap says “More” at the bottom to see more information likes reviews about that business from partners like TripAdvisor or Foursquare, for example.

Once within the Context Cards for a specific location or venue, a user can then locate the restaurant on Snap Map, contact the restaurant directly or make a reservation (if it’s available) via Open Table, Bookatable, or Resy, and even get an Uber or Lyft to take them there — all without leaving Snapchat.

Snapchat Context Cards showcase location information and provide access to apps that will connect the user to a physical place.

It all adds up to the way Snapchat has gone from bewildering publishers, agencies, and brands as marketing partner two years ago to being an essential part of practically all major brands’ app engagement and Digital Presence Management by linking together places and related real-time information) to online/offline strategies.

No Ads, Only Organic Connection

The advent of Context Cards comes as other platforms seek ways of aligning with complementary apps. Two weeks ago, as an example, Walmart signed on to Button’s Marketplace, an app engagement and payments platform that connects matches mobile content with the ability to access related transactions without having to juggle multiple apps at once.

The Context Cards also follow the path set by previous Snap features like Geofilters, which initially allowed only users to add an image overlay telling friends their location,  and Snap Map, which debuted in June and lets Snapchatters position themselves on a map of the world while displaying crowd-sourced images and videos shared from specific locations.

Like Snap Map, ads will not appear within the Snaps found in Context at this time — that includes Snap Ads and Sponsored Creative Tools. In general, it’s worth noting that in the interest of preserving its unique user experience, ads still do not appear between Snaps in Search or Snap Map today either.

Location At The Center

The feature also puts a spotlight on the importance of location technology that Snap has relied on.

Foursquare is noted as a particular partner in Context Cards, thanks in part to its personalized discovery tools based on its location intelligence as well as its connection to a wide range of brands. But it’s not the only provider of geospatial information to Snap.

In addition to its purchase of online-to-offline attribution Placed this summer, Snap Map is also powered by navigation and geo-data visualization players Mapbox, OpenStreetMaps, and DigitalGlobe. On the advertising side, Snap also works with geo-data specialist Factual and location-based ad targeting and analytics provider GroundTruth.

Overall, Snap relies on a sophisticated combination of internal and external signals to determine relationships between venues and locations. Together with location intelligence from its partners, it been able to build a strong knowledge graph, the value and accuracy of which will continue to grow stronger.

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How Walmart Plans To Connect With App Content And Services Through Button Marketplace

Walmart is the latest retailer to sign on to Button Marketplace, an app engagement and payments platform that connects mobile content and commerce brands.

In addition to adding Walmart, the Button Marketplace has also added more than 30 diverse new retailers to the platform. These include fashion companies such as Gap, Express, and Under Armour; digital travel brands such as Hotwire, HomeAway, and VRBO; retail giants such as Target, QVC, Walgreens, and Sears; among many others.

The Marketplace is run by a company called Button, which provides the connective tissue between complementary mobile apps and websites to promote loyalty and payment.

Just by way of explanation, last May, The Weather Channel app began featuring Button Marketplace apps from Uber, Groupon,, Caviar, and Resy.  As a result, its users would be able to hail a ride, sign up for a deal, get a food delivery, or make a reservation without leaving The Weather Channel to connect with those functions. In addition to maintaining engagement, The Weather Channel could potentially drive revenue through affiliate deals to promote those separate app functions.

As Walmart seeks to combat rival Amazon to be the primary online and offline shopping center for consumers, the extension to other apps within its own mobile base could help it prove its own greater convenience to consumers.

Michael Jaconi, founder and CEO of Button, was particularly ebullient in announcing what he believes the benefits are to the retail giant.

“Walmart joining Button’s Marketplace is one of the greatest accomplishments for the company to date,” said Jaconi, at his company’s Tap 2017 conference. “Enabling Walmart to expand the partnerships that matter most to them to the mobile channel is a core ingredient in their digital growth strategy. Now, with Button playing an important role in that strategy, I’m confident our platform will deliver the highest-converting channel for mobile buyers that exists.”

Jaconi backs up his claims by noting that as mobile commerce continues to grow, with smartphone sales expected to reach more than $102 billion in 2017 alone, retailers are seeking new avenues to tap into the growth of the mobile economy and acquire new users for the highest converting channels they have — their apps.

Back in February 2016, we spoke to Mike Dudas, Button’s co-founder, chief revenue officer, about the role that mobile was playing in blurring the lines between online and offline for retailers.

“We are focused on mobile commerce,” Dudas told us at the time. “But what’s really surprising is that mobile commerce is actually happening in store. For example, Walmart saw that something like 10 percent of their mobile transactions are happening in store on device.

“People want to walk in to a store and if it doesn’t have the good on the shelf, they say, ‘Guess what, I’ll buy it from you on my phone.’ You’re going to see retailers responding to this. You’re going to be able to buy anything and get it delivered at the biggest, most savvy and sophisticated retailers. There’s going to be a much bigger shift to transactions that occur on what some would call ‘remote commerce,’ but I would call “proximity commerce,” as I tap the phone and pay with a credit card.

“Then, there’s this whole class of transactions that occur with services like Uber, and other platforms where you can book anything from food to hospitality to movie tickets,” Dudas said, foreshadowing the dozens of partners Button has signed up since.

The Walmart deal follows its recent aim at Amazon by partnering with Google on voice-activated shopping.

Owners of the Google Home will be able to speak orders to their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express. The Walmart connection came on the heels previous store partnerships with Costco, Target, and Whole Foods, which, coincidentally, is being acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion.

In addition to adding Walmart and other retailers, Button is also concentrating on publisher apps as well. It has signed up social news outlet Buzzfeed, which will be able to tap into mobile commerce apps in the same way The Weather Channel’s app is through the Button Marketplace.

“Buzzfeed is the king of merging content and commerce in the most authentic way,” said Jaconi. “Incorporating mobile shopping for consumers within their properties is an exciting opportunity, and the variety of Button Merchants combined with Buzzfeed’s content creates endless possibilities for all partners – a win, win all around.”

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China’s Tencent And WeChat Ready To Make A Big Play For U.S. Advertisers

China’s leading social media and commerce developer Tencent is expanding its reach to Chinese-speakers in the U.S. as it seeks to challenge Google and Facebook  on matching advertisers and consumers on a more global basis.

Tencent will make its official U.S. marketing debut during the Advertising Week New York next week. The company, which runs the popular WeChat messaging app, will showcase of a new suite of advertising solutions and resources that enable U.S. marketers to directly engage Chinese consumers on Tencent platforms both in China and while they travel abroad.

These new offerings and the establishment of a dedicated U.S.-based support team provide U.S. brands and agencies with unique and powerful ways to capture attention, drive brand preference and increase sales among Chinese consumers.

Why should U.S. businesses pay attention?

As Tencent points out, Chinese tourists visiting the U.S. spent roughly $35 billion in 2016 alone.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the average spending per trip of a Chinese traveler in the U.S. is higher than any other international traveler, and shopping is a key activity for Chinese outbound tourists.

“For U.S. advertisers, China presents a dynamic, lucrative and challenging opportunity. Brands have become more sophisticated about the needs and behavior of Chinese tourists. To make a sale outside China, they understand that they need to speak to their customers before they even plan their trips,” said Poshu Yeung, VP of International Business at Tencent.

Over the past few months, a few select U.S. brands were invited to use these new advertising solutions, including the largest mall operator in the United States, Simon Property Group, and popular women’s fashion brand, Rebecca Minkoff.

“Tencent and WeChat’s new travel targeting and advertising solutions provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to directly connect with Chinese travelers, both in China and when they visit the U.S.,” said Kristen Esposito, Simon Property Group Vice President of Tourism and Marketing Alliances. “China is projected to be the largest overseas inbound travel market to the U.S. by 2021, so the potential for growth is truly extraordinary.”

The connection between U.S. brands and China’s social media platforms could produce a lucrative exchange that allows American advertisers to expand their reach beyond U.S. borders.

In terms of the size of China’s social media usage, More than eight in 10 internet users in China, or 626 million people, will access social networks regularly in 2017, according to an eMarketer report this summer.

eMarketer has raised its previous estimates for social network user growth in China by more than 4 percent, mainly because of older users increasingly using homegrown messaging platform WeChat to perform a myriad of tasks that reach far beyond messaging.

For example, 62 percent of internet users ages 55 to 64 in the country will be social network users this year—equating to 28.8 million individuals.

Since its launch in 2011, WeChat has evolved into what eMarketer called a “must-have” app in China. As messaging apps in the U.S. are still slowly expanding into commerce, WeChat has pioneered the format to be used for shopping, food delivery, even booking a doctor’s appointment and paying bills.

“WeChat’s further expansion into the areas of payments, shopping and general utility have proven fruitful for China’s social networking and messaging giant,” said Monica Peart, eMarketer’s senior forecasting director. “And it will only increase the attraction for new mobile users and older users, as WeChat increasingly has something for everyone.”

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Apps Dominate Users’ Digital Time — But Is Interest In New Apps Falling?

Smartphone apps are still the way most consumers access digital content and information, but as the mobile marketplace matures and other avenues of interactivity emerge (e.g., voice-activation) new entrants into the app landscape may face greater challenges when it comes to grabbing attention.

That’s the view from audience measurement company comScore’s 2017 Mobile App Report, which outlines the levels of app engagement across 57 pages of charts.

If you’ve ever looked at your smartphone and thought about how many of those various apps you actually use, the report’s main findings are not very surprising. But it does provide a good deal of clarity by quantifying how consumers are using apps — and the degrees of how they’re not.

For example, the big takeaway from the comScore report is that a slight majority users (51 percent) do not download any apps in a month. Meanwhile, 66 percent of users do not download any paid-apps in a given month, comScore found, suggesting more difficulty for developers who want to rely less on ad support.

Source: comScore 2017 Mobile App Report

App Overload

Mobile apps account for 57 percent of all digital media usage, and smartphone apps alone capture more than half of digital media time spent, comScore notes. The disconnect is that since apps are the avenue by which media brands, developers, and places reach consumers directly.

But just as there are only so many TV channels and programs viewers can watch, there are only so many notifications and glances mobile users can afford to devote to their apps.

As for the that 57 percent activity figure for mobile app usage, the breakdown shows has 50 percent devoted to smartphone apps, while just 7 percent accounts for tablet app use. In addition, desktop comprises for 34 percent of time with mobile web 9 percent.

But all hope isn’t lost for app developers, at least if future consumers continue their patterns. Not only are younger users skewing the curve on mobile-apps time spent (those 18-24 are spending 3 hours a day in apps, vs. 2.6 hours for 25-34, and 2.3 hours for 35-44), they’re the ones who are downloading new apps. Of those 18-34, 70 percent say they’re always looking for new apps and they’re willing to pay for them.

Source: comScore 2017 Mobile App Report

Age-Old App Usage Issues

Millennials’ app usage is particularly relevant, since they represent mobile natives that have grown up in the decade since the iPhone introduced smartphone apps. These younger consumers still have a lot of excitement for new apps, suggesting that there is still room for many new apps to experience growth.

It’s older smartphone users who do not match Millennials’ level of interest in app usage. It’s likely that they might catch up as mobility and apps becomes a more completely ingrained in the digital experience for everything from online and in-store payments to accessing financial services to shared mobility and driving.

In any case, comScore’s report does contain some interesting factoids that highlights the difference between generations. Make of this example what you will: 55+ year-olds are 5x as likely as 18-34 year-olds to only operate their smartphone with two hands.

Millennials, on the other hand (pun intended), are more likely to position apps on their phones based on “thumb reach” and are increasingly “considering this dynamic.”

In general, Millennials are more likely to engage in curation of apps by location and accessibility on their home screens, comScore finds.

“While they love social and entertainment apps, they are also extremely reliant on more functional apps,” comScore says. “They can’t live without their apps, but also show signs of app fatigue.”

The Future Of App Usage

For all the talk about Google’s attempts to build up the concept of the Physical Web, where the browser takes the place of apps in anticipating users’ needs and connecting them with the resources they want, such as a restaurant reservation or a ride-hail, apps are looking more important thank ever.

“I believe that when we think about apps, the way we consume and promote apps today, will not remain the way it happens in the future,” The LBMA’s founder and President Asif Khan told us last fall. “I believe that there’s a future where apps will still exist, but the apps will be temporal, and that the delivery of the app, the promotion of the app, will be based on the physical presence type of idea.

“Once the ‘Internet of Things world’ really takes hold, and everything becomes smart and interconnected, we’ll see buildings ‘talk’ directly to the phone. And the phone can talk to the car. And the car can talk to the building and that ‘conversation’ can connect to the billboards and everything else around the user and their devices.”


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What’s Driving The Growth Of Connected Health Devices?

More than 40 percent of U.S. broadband households now own a Connected Health product, up from 37 percent in 2016 and 33 percent in 2015, notes tech research consultancy Parks Associates.

That report buttresses other industry forecasts looking ahead to tech developments in the intersection of connected devices and artificial intelligence. For example, eMarketer has forecast the value of the “Internet of Health Things” will hit $163 billion by 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

And within the the next five years the healthcare sector is projected to be “number one” in the top 10 industries for Internet of Things app development. As a separate Accenture report notes, the insurance industry is primed for AI.

The mainstreaming of on-demand technologies that have changed the way people find restaurants and share information with friends online is altering the methods that doctors are “discovered” and engaged by existing and potential patients already.  The use of reviews by patients through platforms like ZocDoc is one case in point.

Is there anything on the horizon that will serve as an alternative means of finding a doctor. Will Siri or Alexa or Cortana likely recommend nearby doctors in the future? It’s a matter of time, Parks Associates’ analysis suggests.

“The steady increase in consumer adoption of connected health products bodes well for the ongoing healthcare practice transformation,” said Harry Wang, Senior Director of Research, Parks Associates.

GeoMarketing: In terms of the Connected Home, as well as devices like Amazon Echo and smart watches, can you put the state of Connected Health in context? How big is this area versus other areas, such as wearables or the Connected Car in terms of consumer adoption?

Harry Wang: Connected Health is intertwined with connected home technology and wearable device industry therefore adoption of these technologies will help connected health industry grow.

We include wearables that directly benefit consumers’ health and wellbeing, such as fitness trackers, smart watch with health & fitness tracking capability as connected health devices (which include connected medical devices, e.g., a BPM, or connected wellness devices, e.g. a Fitbit) from a device adoption perspective, adoption of connected health products as a whole category is perhaps on par with smart home device as a whole category (thermostats, door locks), but ahead of connected cars (depending on its definition). Individually speaking, fitness tracker and smart watch with fitness/wellness features leads with 12 percent adoption each.

Are there any particular use cases that are driving Connected Health? For example, are we mainly seeing growth in Connected Health from wearables like fitness trackers?

Connected health is more than devices. Software and services are actually more exciting. Health and wellness apps are used by more than 40 percent of consumers in the U.S., and access to remote care services (those pioneered by Teledoc and MDlive) is on the rise.

Besides these general categories, the connected health market has many unique, high growth, and niche use cases that are gaining distribution channels and consumer’s mindshare.

These innovations that target specific use cases may be driven more by healthcare providers than consumer marketing efforts.

For instance, Health insurers start to fund/subsidize diabetes prevention programs, hospitals begin to contract digital rehab software makers to offer in-home technology-assisted rehab services.

Each use case has significant room to grow but as their target market is not the entire consumer population, they would never reach the traditional mainstream status.

But for healthcare providers and insurers, if these technologies can help them address the issue of the 80 percent of the healthcare spending by 20 percent population, mainstream adoption is irrelevant.

Is there anything in the Connected Health space that will help doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics, achieve greater discovery through the use of these IoT devices?

We do believe that many IoT devices/software that touch upon people’s life therefore contributing to doctor’s understanding of patient condition and helping patients self-manage their conditions will gain more adoption. Siri may one day evolve to answer health related questions from patients or Echo will collect patient self-reported data to doctors.

Applications targeting health and wellness needs of consumers will find their way to a connected home, a connected car, or a connected speaker platform.

Many remote care applications are mobile driven so consumers can talk to a doctor via video on smartphones, and healthcare system will rely more on these everyday consumer devices to engage patients particularly in preventive care areas.

Barriers still exist; it takes time for consumer and doctor’s habits to replace old ones. But we are getting there.

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