Location marketing is changing in some important ways in 2017. The fundamentals remain as relevant as ever: businesses that operate multiple locations need to create contextual content, unleash location data, and provide compelling experiences to convert consumer searches into sales. But people are searching differently. They’re using emoji, voice commands, and social media to find what they want on demand through a variety of channels and devices. As a result, businesses need to be more nimble and imaginative in the way they convert online searches into offline sales.
Three overlapping trends are changing the face of location marketing: the popularity of voice search, the maturity of the Internet of Things, and the uptake of omnichannel discovery.
The Popularity of Voice Search
In its 2017 State of Hyperlocal Report, Street Fight asked vendors which “hot topics” will no longer be talked about in 2017. Voice search was at the top of the list. Those vendors who pegged voice search as a passing fad are already eating their words because consumer behavior is overwhelmingly pointing to an explosion of voice search.
Amazon says that holiday season sales for its Amazon Echo family of products soared 9x over the 2015 holiday season, with Echo Dot being the most gifted item on Amazon.com. Those figures say a lot about the acceptance of the Alexa feature that is at the core of a voice-activated ecosystem Amazon is building across discovery platforms ranging from vehicles to Amazon Echo in the home. One journalist who attended the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show was so impressed by how many products use Alexa that he wrote, “Alexa owns everything.” And that ecosystem affects location marketing: in 2016, Amazon and Domino’s Pizza partnered to make it possible for people to order pizzas using Amazon Echo.
Alexa is just part of the story. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are among the market leaders making voice search more mainstream. We all witnessed how Google put a stake in the ground by rolling out the Google Assistant intelligent search tool in 2016, and then Apple answered Google by making its Siri voice-activated intelligent agent a smarter and more pervasive tool for managing our everyday lives at a local level, whether we’re ordering Uber rides or finding coffee nearby. With voice recognition technology improving and influential brands such as Google making voice search easier, voice will soon become as common as text-based searches.
The challenge for businesses is to optimize their location content for voice search. Especially as intelligent agents grow more sophisticated, voice commands are getting more complicated and detailed. Instead of typing, “pizza near me” you can ask, “Alexa, where can I get deep dish pizza after midnight?” To respond, businesses need to ensure their location pages are descriptive enough to be found during those moments when people are looking.
Internet of Things
People have been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for a while. The talk is becoming reality as major brands ranging from Amazon to Disney integrate IoT with location. Disney captured the public’s imagination with IoT by introducing its vaunted MagicBands to Walt Disney World, which gave consumers and brands alike a tangible, real-world application of how IoT can simplify and enrich an experience at a location. Amazon also gets credit for reigniting the conversation about IoT by introducing Dash buttons in 2015, which are wireless devices which make any object in your home a device for ordering products ranging from detergent to soda pop. The Dash buttons caught hold quickly as consumers realized how easily Amazon made product replenishment. And now more big brands are participating as they realize what a treasure trove of purchase data exists in the Dash program.
But based on the buzz emanating from the Consumer Electronics Show, we’ve not seen anything yet with IoT. Businesses are displaying products ranging from smart bottles that connect to social media to smart hot tubs that monitor and purchase required chemicals — in effect, a hot tub that buys its own supplies. Smart products like those point to the possibilities for businesses to make shopping even more seamless than it is now.
The IoT makes customer service a more immediate, ubiquitous experience, and, as Disney has demonstrated, a more seamless one that makes life easier for consumers and commerce for rewarding for brands. Brick-and-mortar brands don’t necessarily need to adopt wearables or online equivalent of Dash buttons to be more competitive. But I believe the general uptake of IoT will pressure retailers to meet an increasingly on-demand consumer. Walmart, for instance, is experimenting with on-demand services ranging from delivery (via a partnership with companies such as Uber) to drive-through pick-up. For businesses, IoT means location marketing on demand.
IoT and voice are enabling a larger shift in search toward omnichannel discovery. Consumers are finding brands through multiple devices and channels, and many businesses are responding in kind. According to Experian, four out of 10 businesses interact with consumers across five or more channels.
Omnichannel discovery is influencing industries ranging from restaurants to healthcare. For instance, in the fast food industry, Domino’s Pizza sets the gold standard by making it possible to order pizzas through a variety of channels and methods, ranging from using emoji on Twitter to voice commands and apps. Meanwhile, Panera Bread and Starbucks provide a strong omnichannel experience by capitalizing on the popularity of apps to encourage customers to order food ahead of time for pickup.
One of the more interesting industries embracing omnichannel discovery is healthcare. The healthcare industry is adopting omnichannel in phases. Advocate Health Care (a SIM Partners client) not only shares facility and provider data across the entire search ecosystem, it also optimizes the data for different devices to be viewable by omnichannel patients. The Mayo Clinic uses a healthcare app that stores personal patient data, which makes it possible for the Mayo Clinic to offer more personalized care information based on what the Mayo Clinic knows about each patient. In both cases, the healthcare systems are harnessing data (for Advocate, physician and facility data; for Mayo Clinic, patient data) to create a more connected experience.
The key to succeeding in an omnichannel world is for brands to be present with content and data that create a “next moment” appropriate for each device and channel. A next moment is the action a brand takes after finding you. A next moment could consist of a mobile wallet offer in context of a Google search or a Snapchat geofilter that can be unlocked when a customer is in your store. Your next moment will differ depending on your intent and how consumers interact with your brand.
Content, data, and a successful user experience: brands need all three of those elements to succeed with location marketing in 2017. But with voice search, IoT, and omnichannel discovery converging around consumers, brands, and media, the context of location has changed forever.