H&R Block’s Tax Prep: Allying With IBM Watson, Walmart, And Exploring Voice Search

After one of the most fraught changes in the tax code in three decades, H&R Block has sought to assuage nervous taxpayers with a series of humorous TV spots starring Jon Hamm.

But that’s not all the Kansas City, MO.-based tax prep chain has been doing to ease consumers minds.

To face off against online tax software purveyors as well as local accountants, H&R Block has been working to connect customers to one of its 10,000 branded U.S. locations by building on existing partnerships with IBM Watson, which used artificial intelligence during the 2017 tax season to personalize the tax return process. (H&R Block has 12,000 total global outlets.)

“H&R Block with Watson turns our 600 million data points and 60 years of tax expertise into a personalized tax preparation experience that is accessible and understandable – an experience you won’t get anywhere else,” said Meg Sutton, director, client experience and product management for H&R Block, at the time.

The IBM Watson brand name has appeared along with Hamm in his series of commercials.

But AI is not all H&R Block has in its file folders. Last month, H&R Block struck an exclusive deal with Walmart. The collaboration involves selling H&R Block’s DIY desktop tax software at Walmart stores nationwide and on the retail giant’s website.

Even with intensity of this year’s tax time, H&R Block is also looking to next year and determining how the use of voice search and voice activation might help enhance its existing omnichannel offerings.

In addition to responses from Sutton, we also heard from Amy Hu, VP, interactive marketing and online experience, and Dan Rieger, VP, field operations for H&R Block, on the chain’s marketing programs.

GeoMarketing: When did H&R Block begin working with IBM Watson?

Meg Sutton: We first introduced H&R Block with Watson last year when our tax professionals used the technology to help deliver the best outcome for each unique tax situation, while helping clients better understand how different filing options can impact their tax outcome.

The collaboration between H&R Block and IBM represents the first time Watson was applied to tax preparation, enabling millions of filers to benefit from the industry-leading expertise of H&R Block’s tax professionals, who will now partner with Watson to improve the client experience and aid in identifying credits and deductions.

What is the nature of the collaboration and how does IBM Watson fit into this current campaign?

MS: We have found that clients who come into our offices typically want to be involved in the process to better understand their tax situation and make sure they’re getting every credit and deduction. H&R Block’s tax professionals will now leverage the power of Watson.

By utilizing the leading cognitive computing technology, deep analytics built from over 600 million data points, and a dedicated client monitor, we are creating our most personalized tax experience ever.

H&R Block tax professionals in the office or working remotely with clients are backed by technology to evaluate your situation against the tax code, thousands of yearly tax law changes, and then work with Watson to identify all credits and deductions to find you the best possible outcome.

In terms of the broader use of artificial intelligence technologies, has H&R Block explored the marketing role for voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Okay Google, Siri or others to connect with consumers who either have a quick tax question or want to make an appointment at an H&R Block outlet?

Amy Hu: Discoverability has been essential in attracting potential customers and will continue to grow in importance. We know the “how” of this will change and want to be ready meet consumers with new technologies such as voice search.

Currently, we’re exploring voice search and have our eye on other voice technologies for the future.

Separately, on the Walmart partnership, is this the first time H&R Block has struck an exclusive deal with a retailer to sell its software or other products?

MS: Yes.

We’ve noticed that some big box stores have often engaged banks to have a physical “store within a store.” Will H&R Block also have tax preparers physically setting up shop within Walmart (or other non-related brick-and-mortar locations?)?

Dan Rieger: Every year we assess where our clients want to be served and adapt to their needs. As a part of that strategy, we currently have physical locations inside some large retailers, businesses, grocery stores and military bases. We also have an H&R Block branded retail office located within five miles of 95 percent of Americans – covering all demographics and income levels.

Powered by WPeMatico

1-800-Flowers CEO Chris McCann At NRF: Voice Is The UI Of The Future

There is a “fifth way of change” in technology that is transforming retail discovery and shopping, Chris McCann, president and CEO of 1-800-Flowers, told the audience at the NRF Big Show this week.

The change he referred to is the role of Connected Intelligence and voice activation and digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Okay Google in spurring what he calls “conversational marketing,” And for 1-800-Flowers, it represents coming full circle.

In terms of outlining the path to voice search and conversational marketing, McCann pointed to three periods that have spanned 1-800-Flowers’ retail existence since it opened its first outlet in 1976: first there was the retail store, followed by the use of telephone delivery to bypass walking into a brick-and-mortar location.

The third wave was the web, and McCann touted 1-800-Flowers as opening one of the first e-commerce features on AOL in the 1990s.

The fourth wave of retail change is represented by the impact of mobile and social media and 1-800-Flowers reacted to that by being one of the first brands to launch artificial intelligence-powered bots on Facebook Messenger that allowed customers to transact through that heavily mobile social channel.

“As we all know, the customer is always in charge,” McCann said from the podium. “And it’s the customers who are leading us into these new technologies. It’s not us looking at the technology and saying, ‘We need to get involved in it.’”

1-800-Flowers’ AI-powered concierge.

Retail Tech’s Tipping Point

1-800-Flowers could also lay claim to be one of the first store brands to launch a voice-based application on Amazon’s Alexa platform. The idea was to get involved early and learn right along with its customers, McCann said, noting that company was fortunate that Amazon chose to feature 1-800-Flowers in one of its commercials promoting the Echo and Alexa.

“I think we’re at a tipping point, as technology companies like IBM, Google, Apple, and others that are developing these capabilities at ground breaking speeds,” McCann said. “And so it’s wise, based on the culture of our company. Why, back in 2016, we saw this world emerging and though it’s time to get involved as early as we possibly can.

“When we launched our bot, we were one of the first companies who were launching fully transactional bots in Facebook Messenger platform,” he said. “And why did we do that? Because they have over a billion active Messenger users. That’s where the consumer is choosing to spend time. They’re not necessarily coming to our website. They want to transact with us in Messenger. And we were fortunate that Mark Zuckerberg featured us in his F8 Conference that year, when they really announced Facebook’s personalized time bots.”

Two weeks after that, 1-800-Flowers debuted its own AI-powered concierge built on IBM’s Watson capabilities called “GWYN” (“Great acronym,” McCann said, saying it stands for “Gifts When You Need.”) Alexa is there to help with the top of the customer experience, such as helping to choosing the right product, for the right customer, for the right occasion, for the right time.”

Speeding Tickets Are Better Than Parking Tickets

In explaining 1-800-Flowers’ approach and philosophy about new technologies, McCann emphasized that mistakes do happen, but that it’s better to fail fast rather than move cautiously, since other brands will surpass you.

“We’re feeling the pressure to go even faster and faster, because I think mass adoption of these conversational commerce technologies is happening at a speed much faster than anything else we saw,” he said. “We think that mass adoption of these capabilities is happening in a span of about 18 months, so to stay in sync with our consumers we urge the people in our company, all of our team members, to get speeding tickets, not parking tickets.”

And so, with voice activation, 1-800-Flowers is back to where it started with taking telephone orders. “It all comes back to voice.”

“Our company a couple of years from now will look radically different than it does today, on how we interact and how we engage with our customers,” McCann said. “We’re leveraging AI technologies to deliver more personalized customer experience.

“We’re continuing to move the needle forward there. Voice is the UI of the future. You see studies now that show that Google’s voice recognition is at 95 percent or better on a better recognition rate. And with those technologies behind our marketing, we believe we’re in the midst of another transformation of our company.”

Powered by WPeMatico

How Local Businesses Can Take Advantage Of Their ‘Frenemy’ Relationship With Amazon

As large and small retailers head to the NRF’s Big Show this weekend, the question of Amazon as a friend/enemy or “frenemy” will hang over most of the discussions as the industry seeks to find a way to adjust to the e-tailer’s hegemony and influence with consumers.

Earlier this week, Amazon touted the benefits to SMBs during 2017. Among the highlights Amazon pointed to was that more than 300,000 U.S.-based small and medium-sized businesses joined the Amazon Marketplace.

The company also said that more than 140,000 SMBs selling on Amazon surpassed $100,000 in annual sales, while Amazon Lending surpassed $3 billion lent to small businesses on Amazon since the program started in 2011.

“More and more small and medium-sized businesses are choosing to join the Amazon Marketplace and sell right alongside Amazon to reach customers around the world. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are succeeding on Amazon – they sell half the products that Amazon customers buy, and more than 140,000 small and medium-sized businesses surpassed $100,000 in sales on Amazon in 2017,” said Peter Faricy, VP for Amazon Marketplace. “These businesses are reinvesting in their local communities – creating jobs and supporting local suppliers. We are proud of how the Amazon Marketplace helps empower so many small businesses, not just in the US, but around the world.”

Amazon’s Gravitational Force On Retail

The growth of e-commerce and the decline of store sales has largely been blamed on the gravitational pull Amazon exerts on the space.

And stats cited by  Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of marketing consultancy BuyerLegends and co-author of  Be Like Amazon: Even A Lemonade Stand Can Do It, would seem to suggest that this is not a case of mass paranoia: Amazon captured 89 percent of all online holiday spending in the five-week period beginning on Thanksgiving, according to an analysis of credit- and debit-card transaction data by Earnest Research in New York.

In comparison, Walmart, which purchased Jet .com in 2016 for $3 billion, remained a distant second a 4.4 percent, Eisenberg notes.

Amazon has continued to move aggressively in expanding its promise of near-immediate delivery and physical pick-up options for its online shoppers by rapidly opening up fulfillment centers in major cities. But as Eisenberg suggests, there is a lot that local businesses can do to take advantage of Amazon rather than be crushed by it.

The Instant Pot Model

The first thing retailers need to do is come to terms with the fact that Amazon is determined to reach every city, town, and block with ease over the next few years.

“You can’t even say ‘Amazon dominates,’ because it’s beyond that when it comes to retail and retail search,” Eisenberg says. “When someone wants a product, they’re going to Amazon. It’s their choice to be there or not. I think retailers have to be there. Yes, you can keep them as a ‘frenemy.’ But keep in mind two things.”

The first is that when brands are exceptional, and they behave like Amazon, they can grow massively without having to compete with the e-tail giant.

One example Eisenberg offers is the phenomenal success of the Instant Pot.

While Amazon has been adding its own versions of many products sold on its platform, it isn’t going to compete with Instant Pot for two reasons, says Eisenberg: Instant Pot is priced fairly and has built a cult-like community around it. The latter is something Amazon would not be inclined or able to do.

As a result of all those factors, Instant Pot thrives in Amazon’s world.

Another example Eisenberg points to is Anker, which makes cell phone accessories, which has similarly built its brand through Amazon despite facing  white labeled items sold under Amazon’s banner. Amazon doesn’t slight or mind Anker because it adheres to what Eisenberg says is Amazon’s “four pillars”:

“They take care of their customers, they get the products to them quickly, they’re constantly innovating and creating new products, they price their products fairly, and they sell well,” Eisenberg says. “So if you live by Amazon’s rules, they leave you alone. But if you’re an Energizer or a Duracell that have gauged consumers on batteries, Amazon will create a private-label knock-off and price it to allow it to take over that market.”

The Amazon Advantage

That product proposition can also be applied to local stores, Eisenberg adds, though many of the benefits are still a few years off.

“The advantage to local businesses is – and I don’t think you’re going to see that today — that you will be able to get global reach,” Eisenberg says. “Amazon has out-Googled Google by becoming a better product search engine. They’re also potentially be competitive in retail services such as plumbers and contractors.”

That’s a space that Google, Yelp, and Facebook have been aiming to capture as well. And that competition from Amazon will give those local businesses a good deal of leverage, especially as the marketing battle among voice-activated assistants heats.

“We know that Amazon is betting the farm on Alexa and implanting that beyond Echo devices,” Eisenberg notes. “Alexa will be more deeply embedded on other people’s phones, it will be on watches and wearables, it will be on refrigerators, and most importantly, it will be in cars. It will have an important place in self-driving cars at some point.”

In the not-too-distant future scenario Eisenberg paints, a consumer will be traveling in their autonomous vehicle and decide they need a shirt for a conference they’re attending next week. They’ll tell Alexa to find it. Considering that Alexa knows the person’s size, where you like to shop, and has their payment info, the voice activated assistant will have the details in seconds. After scanning listings near the route, Alexa will ask if it should navigate to a selected store.

The store will get the sale and Amazon will be able to take a piece of that advertising business, while taking another piece through its payment system. And because Amazon can’t do everything itself, it will be a win-win for retailers, Eisenberg says.

“There are more things that Amazon can offer in terms of services that can’t fit into a warehouse or fulfillment center,” he says. “It’s also more cost efficient to rely on a retailer than on its fulfillment center.”

Eisenberg’s view is already borne out by at least two local retailers that shared their stories with Amazon.

“Since selling on Amazon, we’ve been able to grow our business from three to 40 employees, right here in Delray Beach, Florida,” said Michael Dudley, managing director of Salon’s Choice. “We recently launched on Amazon in the U.K., and are now shipping thousands of orders a day through Fulfillment by Amazon to customers around the world.”

“We launched on Amazon two years ago and are now operating in more than seven countries around the world,” said Phil Williams, CEO and founder of Coffee Gator. “2017 was our biggest year on Amazon, with sales growing by more than 100 percent year-over-year, and we expect 2018 to be even bigger.”

Nevertheless, for those retailers who plan to take their chances in terms of opposing Amazon’s local incursions, Euclid Analytics CEO Brent Franson presented his own battle plan that calls for updating co-op data and marketing strategies.

“Building an effective data co-op for retail is challenging – 55 percent of online shoppers start their product searches on Amazon, says BloomReach – but ultimately worth the battle,” Franson wrote on GeoMarketing this week. “More choice will force the industry’s three major players – Amazon, Facebook, and Google – to improve what they offer to marketers. If the competition is better, then the Big Three runs the very real risk of significant losses. Either way, the consumers – in this case, the marketers – win.

“The right co-op structure will yield better personalization based on actual customer needs and intent. It will earn customer trust by balancing privacy concerns with personalization; for example, the co-op should outline clear rules that ensure obfuscation of certain kinds of data (e.g. PII) before sharing with the pool. Finally, it will prioritize optimized marketing for long-term value. This is about building long-term relationships that reward both the retailer and the consumer; it’s not merely about immediate conversions. Each member of the cooperative should believe in, and be working toward, that goal.”

Powered by WPeMatico

As Audio Gets ‘Smarter,’ iHeartMedia Embraces Voice Activation, Chatbots, Wearables

With Spotify and Pandora making their respective extensions into the work of “smart audio,” iHeartMedia is using its presence at CES2018 to highlight the radio network’s digital moves including letting listeners access iHeartRadio through a chatbot for Facebook Messenger and Samsung’s voice activated assistant Bixby.

In a sense, the new features represent a fuller step from iHeartMedia’s omnichannel focus over the past year. In 2017, the company started iHeartRadio All Access powered by Napster, it expanded the number of podcasts, and struck over 200 platform integrations, making its audio available in cars, at home, on wearables, via gaming consoles, through virtual assistants, and “nearly everywhere listeners want to tune in,” iHeartMedia says.

iHeartRadio is also available in nearly all major OEMs and aftermarket products as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and more. In addition, iHeartMedia can be heard in every vehicle reaching more than a quarter of a billion people monthly through its 850 local radio stations nationwide.

“In 2017, we built on iHeartRadio’s strong foundation of content access and discovery,” said Darren Davis, President of iHeartRadio and iHeartMedia Networks Group. “Consumers are taking advantage of the ease and ubiquity of virtual assistants, smart speakers, set-top boxes and other connected devices, and in doing so, they’re proving that audio is an important part of their day-to-day life. As we look ahead in 2018, we will continue to innovate – blending the iHeartRadio experience seamlessly into the way listeners use the influx of these new smart devices – and as always, make iHeartRadio easily available on the products and platforms they use most.”

The role of “smart audio” via Connected Intelligence is already being felt in the way consumers choose what and when to buy something, whether on their phone, on a Connected Home device through a virtual assistant, or in a Connected Car.

Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.

In 2017, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year, says eMarketer.

iHeartMedia’s stepped up effort to be everywhere consumers expect comes as Pandora has aggressively moved to ramp up its Smart Home strategy, most recently in an expanded collaboration with Sonos to employ voice-activation controls.

Rounding out iHeartMedia’s partners are Jibo, billed as a “social robot for the home”; Garmin’s new GPS running watch, the Forerunner 645 Music; and Roku users will now have access to iHeartRadio’s full feature set.

The company is also introducing new automotive updates with General Motors and Ford.

Powered by WPeMatico

Think With Google: 5 Ways Voice Activated Assistants Are Changing Search

Voice activated speakers for the Connected Home are rapidly becoming mainstream consumer products — and those new devices are having an immediate impact on the way consumers search, Think With Google stats show.

For the 72 percent of smart speaker owners, using their voice activated assistants has become a daily routine, writes Sara Kleinberg, Group Marketing Manager, Ads Research and Insights at Google.

“Voice-activated speaker owners told us that talking to their virtual assistant—rather than having to type—helps them get things done quickly and efficiently,” Kleinberg notes. “And that means more multitasking.”

Here are the top reasons people turn to their voice-activated speakers, according to Google:

  • It allows them to more easily multitask.
  • It enables them to do things faster than other devices.
  • It empowers them to instantly get answers and information.
  • It makes their daily routine easier.

In terms of the specific implications for local businesses, the rise of voice-activated assistants have coincided with the increased importance of location management in SEO strategy — namely, that making sure that business location information is correct across platforms is key to ranking in Google’s “three-pack” of top mapped results, as is using optimal keywords.

Addressing the particulars of voice search is important in the same vein, especially considering that 76 percent of “near me” searches result in a business visit within a day. In fact,  we’ve previously reported that search volume for local places continues to grow — but explicitly stated “near me” requests are on the decline, since consumers now simply expect results that reflect their proximity.

But it’s the very essence of how people are searching via voice versus text that is most important for brands to recognize. And that’s a major reason that Google, which hasn’t typically had a major presence at CES, has one this year, Engadget notices, including a “skin” covering the outside of the CES monorail promoting the Google Assistant in addition to a booth in the event’s parking lot.

Just last week, Google said it had added more features—like Voice Match,  Broadcast and Hands-Free Calling— to the Google Assistant, which “now gives you the power to voice control more than 1,500 compatible smart home devices from over 225 brands,” a post by Rishi Chandra, VP, Product Management, Google Home, and Scott Huffman, VP, Engineering, Google Assistant, notes.

Source: Think With Google, CES 2018

Google Ups CES Presence

Even as Google remains the undisputed search leader, as Amazon Echo’s Alexa, followed by the forthcoming Apple HomePod smart speaker powered by Siri, the market is still up for grabs.

But not for long.

As GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain (who happens to be covering CES 2018 this week) reports, over two-thirds of consumers who currently own an Amazon Echo or Google Home plan to buy another device in the next six months — and 75 percent of Amazon Echo owners and 69 percent of Google Home owners will purchase the same brand again, according to new research from Strategy Analytics.

“This degree of loyalty may suggest that consumers are highly satisfied with the voice-activated devices they’ve chosen — or it could be simply a “recognition that the technical platforms are different and that switching would involve unwanted complexity,” Chamberlain writes. “But in either case, these findings indicate substantial consumer loyalty to one brand alone.”

Meanwhile as Google seeks to understand the changing shape of voice-fueled search, here are some of the stats that buttress previous studies that highlight the dramatic changes in the way consumers find places and products:

  • 62 percent of those who regularly use a voice-activated speaker say they’re likely to buy something through their device within the next month
  • 58 percent of smart speaker owners use it to manage weekly shopping lists
  • 44 percent voice assistant users order groceries or household items once a week
  • 52 percent of smart speaker owners would like to receive info about deals, sales, and brand promotions, while another 42 percent want to hear about upcoming events/activities featuring favorite brands

Time For A Conversation

As voice-activated assistant observers and execs have emphasized, the use of Natural Language Processing (NPL), is the most important aspect to fully connecting with consumers — something that has been fairly difficult to manage in typical product searches.

Almost 70 percent of queries to the Google Assistant are made in natural language as opposed to the “typical” keywords people type into a search box, says Kleinberg, adding that 53 percent of smart speaker owners say it feels “natural” speaking the device.

“Every industry can [add] value based on just having a conversation,” explained Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon, in a recent interview with GeoMarketing. “And while the technology that consumers are using to power nearly every aspect of their lives has indeed evolved, “it’s still almost like what’s old is new. We’re going to back to just having a conversation.”

And after decades of analyzing how word-of-mouth marketing has the greatest influence on a purchase, way beyond media and advertising channels, Google’s stat is particularly game-changing for brands: 41 percent of people who have a voice-activated speaker say “it feels just like talking to a friend or another person.”

Powered by WPeMatico

2018 Online-To-Offline Marketing Predictions

As our coverage of how location technology has evolved over the past year has shown, the use of place-based information has spurred myriad ways for brands and consumers to connect online and offline.

It may be hard to imagine the shape of things to come in 2018, but we surveyed several executives in the space to peer into their respective crystal balls on what to expect over the next 12 months:

Collin Holmes, founder and CEO of Chatmeter

Mobile localization and the arms race for A.I:

Consumers are tired of pre-fab marketing messages, and are turning to each other as sources of what to do and buy. In addition, with the introduction of ad blockers which more than half of the U.S has installed on their devices, it’s getting harder and harder for brands to effectively reach their target audiences.

This will continue the rise of mobile and location-based marketing. Consumers have become more comfortable with enabling geo-location services on their phone, due to the value they are getting from many apps being able to access their location. This has tremendous value from a marketer’s perspective, but will rely on new tech, like A.I., to provide detailed and actionable insights on massive amounts of consumer behavior data.

Multi-functions of social:

Social is evolving a lot as well over the last couple years. Seems like people are still maintaining significant spend, many are even increasing, but they don’t feel it may be contributing much to company performance. In the local space, we are seeing big growth of social on driving customers, and big shifts in the review space from Yelp to Google and Facebook in terms of usage and review generation.

Google Maps is getting five times the number of reviews compared to Yelp, and two times that of Facebook. Facebook climbed to number one in total reviews, and most reviews per location. Yelp has seen a 12 percent drop of reviews being created monthly in the last 12 months.

The growth of voice search:

AI and voice search will require more careful strategies for marketers in 2018. These advancements will turn content marketing upside down. People speak and ask questions in natural language, not keyword-based searches, which means your content will either have to include FAQs or be peppered with questions and answers.

Gil Larsen, VP of Americas at Blis:

Cost-Per-Click vs. Cost-Per-Visit

2017 saw the emergence of a powerful new marketing metric: Cost-per-Visit (CPV). With this model, brands pay for an ad only when a consumer that’s been exposed to it visits a specific location. Using the CPV model not only helps brands increase foot traffic and boost sales, but also helps foster a more trusting relationship between brands, agencies and vendors. In 2018, CPV will continue to gain momentum as the metric of choice. Tech partners will need to abandon click-based measurement schemes and work towards building transparent relationships with advertisers to compete.

In 2018, brands will place greater emphasis on location intelligence. Previously, brands focused mostly on proximity advertising but now we’re seeing advertisers turn to more sophisticated uses of location data to inform their campaign. By analyzing historical location data and detailed behavioral patterns, brands gain comprehensive insights into consumer preferences and habits which can be used for hyper-targeted campaigns.

What Blockchain Means For Online-Offline Marketing

There are many technologies that will make impact next year but the most interesting one is the rise of blockchain. By enabling marketers to conduct transactions in a secure and transparent marketplace, blockchain has the potential to solve for many industry issues.

With blockchain, the end-to-end processes of booking, buying, and placing digital ad space will be recorded and stored. And because all these transactions would be available to the public and verified by common consensus, blockchain will help bring about greater transparency and end ad fraud. Integrating blockchain technology into our existing advertising ecosystems will take time.

Larger players will take longer to adapt, and organizations from across the industry will need to come together and agree on a common set of standards. We’ll see more and more startups adopting the technology, and the IAB and other industry bodies will begin setting some key standards. Within five years, the ad industry will transition into using blockchain as a transaction leger. And within a decade, we’ll likely see it become a new industry standard. It’s time for brands and their tech partners to prepare.

On Location And Viewability

To promote transparency, more technology vendors will (and should) develop visualization tools. Throughout 2017, concerns over brand safety, viewability, transparency and ad fraud have led to calls for greater transparency across the industry. These concerns have led some of the loudest voices clamoring for change to make significant budget cuts and many others to tweak their global contracts. In order to heed the calls for greater transparency, companies need to develop tools that foster trust between vendors, agencies and brands.

Gilad Amitai, Ubimo Co-Founder & COO:

Using location data in real time for foot traffic attribution has been widely adopted as a core KPI for measuring retail campaign effectiveness.

By implementing cross device matching techniques, this metric can now be used also to measure other channels besides mobile. Arguably the best indicator of this new standard is Snap’s reportedly $125M purchase of Placed. This acquisition exemplifies the recognition of the growing need to demonstrate ROI for advertisers by connecting the digital world to store purchases and visits.

Powered by WPeMatico

Pandora’s Sonos Integration Opens More Advertisers To The Connected Home

Pandora’s Smart Home strategy has been continuing with a series of steps designed to make the use of the streaming music platform easier for consumers as well as advertisers.

While listening to Pandora has been accessible on Sonos’ speakers for years, the two brands have partnered on new ways for listeners to employ voice-activation controls.

In keeping with Pandora’s philosophy that “voice is the new touch,” listeners can now control Sonos directly through the Pandora mobile app and command Pandora stations with spoken commands via Alexa. The new experience also includes support for Premium, Pandora’s on-demand service launched earlier this year.

In terms of the marketing potential for Pandora, which has an Alexa Skill in the Amazon Echo — as well as a similar presence on Google Home’s voice-activated assistant — this new integration on Sonos will be an opportunity for advertisers to expand their potential audience reach, as its app users have more ways and places to listen.

For Pandora, this expanded alliance with Sonos is another example of what it considers to be a huge opportunity to reach audiences through connected home and voice-activated devices.

“Pandora listeners love the in-home music experience we’ve created with Sonos, having logged over 250 million hours this year alone,” said Chris Phillips, Chief Product Officer, Pandora. “We have made it easier than ever to control your home audio listening experience by adding beautifully designed features inside the Pandora app to control your Sonos.”

More than 50 percent of Sonos owners across the country use Pandora throughout their home, the company said, as Pandora’s platform is available on more than 48 million activations on consumer electronics devices generally.

“Sonos owners have enjoyed their favorite Pandora stations in any room since the service joined the Sonos platform back in 2007,” said Allen Mask, VP of Partnerships at Sonos. “It is now easier for listeners to access and control all of their music from Pandora, whether it’s from the Sonos app, with voice, and now from within the Pandora app – all working together seamlessly.”

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

In Pandora’s 2018 Definitive Guide to Audio, which was released last month, the streaming music platform has been attempting to make the case that the latest shift to Connected Intelligence-based devices represents another leap past terrestrial radio. In essence, the rise of voice-activated devices extract all kinds of data from the Knowledge Graph and therefore create even more personalized experiences for consumers.

With that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage this past summer. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

In last week’s kick off its first dedicated ad targeting program aimed at voice-activated devices with Nestlé Waters, Eric Hoppe, Director of Product Management at Pandora, told us how Smart Home devices required specific ad formats, as opposed to repurposed ones.

“We see targeting through connected-home devices as an opportunity for both brand building and a way to drive store visits,” said Hoppe. “Audio acts as a powerful tool to establish an emotional connection with audiences, and connected devices offer an even greater level of intimacy, particularly within the home where listeners are more receptive and their environment acts as a contextual trigger. Pandora on connected-devices can drive very specific results and actions through data and technology – advertisers can target more than 2,000 audience segments with the right message at the right time, based on brand objectives.”

Powered by WPeMatico

What Do Brands Need To Know About Using Amazon Alexa?

Even as Walmart rolls out voice-activated shopping via Amazon Echo’s Alexa and 40 million Millennials are ready to use Connected Intelligence-powered devices to order holiday gifts, most brands continue to wrestle with the implications of audio.

In a presentation at The LBMA’s Retail Loco in Atlanta last week, Noelle LaCharite, senior technical program manager for Amazon Alexa Machine Learning, offered some clear guidelines for how brands should navigate the use of voice-activation for marketing purposes.

Among her four-point outline for brands, LaCharite’s basic recommendations are:

Avoid Feature Creep. Keep It Simple. “Don’t overwhelm your users with features out of the box. Voice is a new way for users to interact with your product. Keep it simple and grow from there.”

As Natural Conversation As Possible. “Try to make your utterances as natural as they possibly can. Top Tip: Have a real world conversations with one another to create these.”

Core Business Functionality As A Minimum. “It’s important to do the fundamentals right. If you are a news company. Your users will naturally expect you to at least provide the news. Do the extra features later.”

Utilize The Built In Library. “There are hundreds of entities that Alexa can understand using the Built-In library. You can handle this in your skill by simply including them in your interaction model and respond with a useful response.”

GeoMarketing: What should brands know about Alexa’s capabilities as a marketing vehicle? Are you surprised at how much they know or how little they know?

Noelle LaCharite: People are not in a voice-first world yet. So, my goal is to be very aspirational in nature, and just expose the idea of “What would it look like if your brand thought about voice?”

The biggest question is what does your brand even sound like? It’s not something most brands have had to think about. But it’s actually there in some of the most well-known places. For example, most people know what the game show Jeopardy sounds like. You immediately have that tune in your head when the name is mentioned. You don’t have to explain anything. It’s almost common language, but it’s hard to put words around it. And yet, everyone immediately recognizes what it means.

You don’t even have to see Jeopardy. That’s what brands have to achieve now. Most brands haven’t even thought through what ear-cons are, those different sounds, chimes, audio signifiers that identify a brand without additional explanation. That is going to be so important for brands to grasp as consumers shift to a voice-first world.

Amazon Echo Alexa Dot

GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain recently spoke to the BirchBox CEO Katia Beauchamp about the way the way Alexa has influenced the way consumers get information. So we’ll pose the same question we did to her: Does the rise of voice-activation call into question the need for a website, or the primacy of a website for brands?

The easiest thing for people to do to be successful is just to look at what are the top 10 things people do on their website. And some of them aren’t going to be top tier ranking. Some of them are going to be three clicks down or 10 clicks down. So find out what those are and make those your first things that you do. We call it the “minimum remarkable product.”

So now, brands are going to have to figure out what’s the most popular thing people are already asking for and make that a top-level indicator of intent in order to get the best interaction.

While Alexa is mostly thought of as powering the Echo in the living room or kitchen, it’s also there on your phone, in the Amazon app. Should brands be thinking of the way Alexa can tie on-the-go and at-home experiences together?

Right, Alexa on the Echo and on your phone within the Amazon shopping app is still the same Alexa.

As an example, one of my Alexa skills is daily affirmation and it’s you can do it while you’re shopping or you can do it sitting on your couch, and it’s the same experience. That’s that contextual experience we’re shooting for. So we want people to be able to say the same thing, the same way, whether they’re standing in front of their washer and dryer, in front of their fridge, or in the aisle of some store.

When we talk to retailers, there’s a lot of interest in using Alexa as a virtual sales assistant to help people while they’re browsing in a brick-and-mortar store. Do you think of those use cases as well?

From an aspirational perspective, absolutely. We’re not actively doing anything like that at the moment, but at the core, the Echo is a customer experience device. So how could you not only delight them in-store, out of store. Because someone already has Alexa on their mobile app, we’re always trying to imagine what could you do to make any brand that you either sell or associated with be more successful.

The challenge, obviously, is, with voice, if you’re in a crowded store, it’s difficult to kind of narrow down what one person is saying. Then you have to think about using voice remotes or a push button. One of the crazy ideas could be to create a phone booth that you step in and close the door.

That’s part of the brainstorming we’re constantly doing. The possibilities really are endless and that’s what’s so exciting about the emergence of voice activation.

Powered by WPeMatico

Target Adds Google Voice Assistant Shopping Nationwide

Target is the latest brick-and-mortar brand to sign on to accept requests made by owners of the Google Home through their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express.

In essence, the arrangement represents an expansion of Target’s existing use of Google Express.

Starting today, Target shoppers at most of its 1,800 stores in the United States can access items through Google Express and with the Google Assistant (except for Alaska and Hawaii). Target will offer two-day delivery, as well as free shipping for any orders over $35, Google says in a blog post.

Coming In 2018

Most of the capabilities of shopping through Google Express won’t be available until 2018. For example, after the new year, Target customers will also be able to use their Target loyalty membership through REDcard to get 5 percent off most Target purchases and free shipping when using Google Express. In addition, in 2018, Target shoppers will be able to link their Target.com and Google accounts, so the service will remember all their favorite items.

“We’re teaming up with Google to create innovative digital experiences using voice and other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty,” Target says. “Work is underway for Google and Target teams to bring this all to life.”

In August, Walmart unveiled plans to rollout a similar voice-activated shopping via Google Express and Google Home tools for its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

These partnership on voice-activation comes roughly a year after Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post at the time of the Walmart deal’s announcement “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and  Walmart.”

Okay, Google, Target shoppers are ready to talk.

Target’s Many Omnichannel Steps

For Target, the expanded Google partnership follows a series of steps designed to tackle one of the primary challenges facing its omnichannel strategy by rivals like Amazon. In August, for example, Target acquired transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers to match one of key appeals of Amazon’s discount shopping subscription program, Prime.

It’s the latest salvo store brand has taken to meet consumers’ demands in the age of Amazon and e-commerce. Those demands include personalized recommendation and satisfying customers’ purchasing preferences, such as online shopping/in-store pickup.

But as Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

The Rise Of Connected Intelligence, The Knowledge Graph

In general, the adoption of voice-activation and on-demand delivery/pickup follows the wider capabilities stemming from the rise of Connected Intelligence and the Knowledge Graph, which have propelled personalized, one-to-one connections between brands and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby as they enter the mainstream of consumer behavior.

While Amazon’s Alexa has assumed an early position as a leading voice-activated assistant, Google has stepped up its push into the space as its aligns its services to brick-and-mortar brands such as Panera Bread, which became one of the first national restaurant chains to begin offering voice-activated ordering and payment through Google Assistant.

The voice-activated ordering is currently available in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis and at its six locations in the Silicon Valley area. A full rollout of voice ordering is expected to come to all of Panera’s 2,000-plus U.S. locations by the end of the year, the company has said.

Other national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express, including Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, and Amazon’s Whole Foods.

In the case of Target, the retailer has been aggressively — and at times, fitfully — revising its omnichannel strategy. For example, earlier this year, it decided to abandon its sub rosa e-commerce program called Goldfish, which was dubbed as the “store of the future.”

Before that, in August 2015, Target started a beacon program with Estimote to round out its in-store sales assistance. It’s unclear how vital the beacon program has been — or even whether Target has continued to use it —  since the company has not discussed those efforts publicly. Along the way, Target’s experiments with interactivity has included retail pop-ups and a showcase IoT-based connected home store in San Francisco.

Powered by WPeMatico

Inspiring the American Dream With Intelligent Design

Subscribe For The Latest Updates

Sign up for the Mortgage Geek newsletter and get access to articles curated just for you!