Jan 312016
 
Google places is an important service for small business

An ongoing frustrations of this blog is Google’s failure to execute in local business search despite the massive advantage it has in that field.

One notable aspect of Google’s failure is the locksmith problem where thousands of fake businesses have slipped into the company’s database. The result is thousands of consumers being ripped off and honest local businesses being overlooked in search results.

Spam in Google’s local business search is not a new problem, Search Engine Land reported it as being an ongoing issue in 2009 and the New York Times ran a feature on it two years later highlighting how genuine local businesses and consumers suffer.

Now, five years on, the New York Times has revisited the problem of Google business listings and finds the problem hasn’t changed a great deal with locksmiths and other local search engine results being hijacked by scammers filing false listings.

It’s hard not to conclude that the local listing service isn’t really a high priority to Google’s attention deficient managers and it isn’t surprising given maintaining databases is nowhere near as sexy as being involved in moonshots or as lucrative as the company’s core adwords business.

Google’s bureaucrats think so little of the service that they give the task of maintaining its integrity to an army of unpaid volunteers. The New York Times tells the tale of one of these ‘Mappers’, an unemployed truck driver named Dan Austin, who proved so good at the role he was ‘promoted’ – still unpaid of course – and then ‘sacked’ when he demonstrated how easy it was to plant a false listing.

That weakness in Google’s system shows how crowdsourced services can be subject to abuse and how volunteers themselves are abused by companies taking advantage of ‘free’ labour.

Another weakness illustrated in the Locksmith story is the collateral damage of the ‘fail-fast’ mentality where features are released without the developers really understanding the consequences. The cost of failure may be felt by innocent parties more than the company that’s ‘failed’, as Search Engine Land flagged in its 2009 article.

Google has continued to release features into local that are open to abuse. Google has used its release early and iterate tactic to gain market share at the expense of more circumspect competitors and on the fragile incomes of small businesses.

The continued failure of Google’s local business service remains frustrating for small businesses, having destroyed the Yellow Pages and local newspaper advertising models most neighbourhood services have few places to advertise. While Google and the other internet giants remain focused on other matters, local business search remains a great opportunity for a smart entrepreneur.

Dec 222015
 
Local village

Before the web came along, advertising for the local plumber or hairdresser was just a matter of placing an ad in the local newspaper and a listing in the Yellow Pages. Then the internet and smartphones swamped those channels.

One of the greatest missed opportunities has been small business online advertising. With the demise of phone directories, particularly the Yellow Pages, it’s been hard, time consuming and expensive for smaller traders to cut through the online noise.

This market should have been Google’s for the taking however the local search platform has been drifting for years in the face of company apathy, mindless bureaucracy and silly name changes to fit in with the Google Plus distraction.

While Facebook has been playing in the local business space for a while they are now ramping up another service with a new site for local services search.

TechCrunch reports Facebook are experimenting with the local search function and while it isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as Google’s at present the rich data the social media service has been able to harvest could well make it a far more useful tool.

However it’s not Facebook’s first attempt and Apple too has been playing in this space albeit with little traction.

If Facebook or Apple does usurp Google, the search engine giant will only have itself to blame for missing the opportunity as it was distracted by loss making ventures while letting potentially lucrative services pass.

The local business search market should be a lucrative opportunity for the business that gets it right. It may well be that all the big tech giants are unable to make this market work.

Nov 022015
 
Salesforce Analytics Cloud

The Public Relations industry has been mismeasured and undervalued, believes Rebekah Iliff, the Chief Strategy Officer of PR analytics company AirPR.

San Francisco based AirPR is an analytics company founded in 2011 on technology tracking the performance of PR campaigns. Despite being relatively young, the business counts among its customers Fortune 1000 companies such as Rackspace, Experian and the New York Stock Exchange.

Analysing stories

The idea behind AirPR is by analysing the responses to stories, be they articles in mainstream media sites, social media posts or the client’s own content, PR people are able to get a much better insight into what is working in the marketplace.

“You can no longer just throw out a PR campaign and say ‘oh, we got 200 million impressions.’ No CEO is going to buy that,” says Iliff. “You’re going to have to have deep data that you can dive into and then report the things that are going to work.”

Part of the reason PR is failing, Iliff believes, is because practitioners are only making decisions on ten to twenty per cent of the data they have. To make the most of the information they have available involves a rethink on how companies get their message out to the community.

Shifting PR thinking

“We’re trying to shift people from thinking about PR in a linear fashion to get into thinking about it in a networked fashion. A really good PR strategy or narrative looks like a spider web, there’s all these things connected to each other.”

Making those connections is creating a new set of demands on the PR industry as new tools and communications methods evolve.

“The PR professionals of the future who are be best placed to be successful will be the ones who take an interest in the analytics, who understand how to talk about so they can improve the storytelling.”

Stopping the pitching

In Iliff’s view part of the PR industry’s problems lie with how new entrants are taught is how to pitch to journalists, rather than to evaluate what works for their clients. “The second someone comes into an agency on a green level they should be bought into the analytics conversation and be taught how to measure it.”

“Instead they are taught ‘your job is to create storylines and pitch to journalists’, which by the way ninety percent of what you pitch no-one’s going to return because it’s irrelevant.” She says.

“Journalists give you credibility and they’re a third party endorsement but they can’t tell the story the way you want to tell it. There’s a disconnect between the role of journalist is, the role of the journalist is not to sell to your customers, the role of the journalist is to tell the story from an objective viewpoint that puts you in the context of where you fit in the industry. I don’t think people get that.”

“You should be writing the story, following it through and understanding the metrics around it so you can go back and create a better story. It’s like that connective tissue between parts of PR instead of siloing.”

Breaking the data silos

The siloing of the analytics functions of PR and marketing remains a problem for the industry as well, Iliff stays and her advice to communications professionals entering the fields is to understand the data aspects.

“Get a Google Analytics certification, it’s very simple to do,” she states. “Take a couple of Coursera courses on basic statistics and how to analyse data – what’s the difference between prescriptive, descriptive and predictive data – very simple things that if you know how to talk about so you can have a discussion with the engineers.”

As the media industry evolves as it becomes even harder to pitch to fewer journalists working for a shrinking number of traditional outlets, Iliff thinks the future for the PR industry is with making its own content.

Focusing on owned media

“I think in the next five years a lot of things will change because of a couple of things, one is that we have access to data so owned media programs will become stronger for the people who are focusing on it and it will become a huge component in driving leads and sales. So people will stop spending so much time pitching.”

“Things like owned media will be used in a more comprehensive and compelling manner to offset a lot of the things that aren’t working on the earned marketing side.”

“My hope is that brands just hire an internal storyteller like Dell has done and Adobe has done and HP to tell you the story and connect with their customers. That’s the closest point between A and B.”

Taking PR seriously

Ultimately Iliff believes PRs will be taken more seriously in business is if they show they can use the data they have to show companies how to more effectively communicate.

“The only way you’re going to get a seat at the table, the only way you’re going to be taken seriously, is if you have data and you have the most relevant data.”

With data analytics reshaping most industries, it’s hard to see how the PR sector can resist those fundamental changes. How public relations practitioners apply that knowledge to their work is going to be key to their relevance in the business of the future.

Oct 082015
 
Amazon-dash-one-button-shopping-iot

I’m currently attending the Amazon Web Service Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

One of the constant themes in writings about Amazon is founder Jeff Bezos’ focus on delivering the best service and cheapest prices to the customer, even if it does sometimes rely on some less savoury tactics to chase out smaller competitors.

That ethos is on show at this convention with AWS Senior Vice President, Andy Jassy saying at the post opening keynote press conference,  “our strategy is to be customer focused, not only do all of our strategies and tactics work backwards from what our customers want but ninety percent of our roadmap is driven by what customers tell us matters to them.”

He did however fall for the temptation of dissing some of his competitors in the IT market saying, “most technology companies, particularly old guard companies, have lost their will and the DNA to invent. They acquire most of their invention that’s expensive and it really doesn’t fit that well together.”

“We’re extremely long term orientated,” Jassy continued. “We don’t call you on the last day of the quarter and say ‘boy, have we got a deal for you’. You won’t see us auditing our customers and fining them. We’re trying to build relationships with our customers that will outlast everyone in this room.”

Jassy’s points are pertinent to the current business world, the old model of seeing your customer as being a milk cow – something the older software companies were terribly guilty of – is dying. The future needs a lot more focus on treating the customer with respect.

Sep 302015
 
lethal-generosity-products

Businesses would be wise to stop telling people what they should want and let customers tell them what want says Shel Israel in his latest book, Lethal Generosity.

In this book, Israel’s previous works include Naked Conversations and Age of Context which were both written in collaboration with Robert Scoble, he looks at the technological and social changes affecting business and how they can adapt to a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Key to that evolving marketplace is the explosion of data offering businesses deep insight into their customers. as Scoble describes in Lethal Generosity’s introduction in talking about social analytics service Vintank;

VinTank was acquired by a big PR agency that wants VinTank to do for all sorts of industries what it has done for the wine industry. Are you a restaurant or a winery ignoring that data? Go ahead and keep doing that for a decade. Your competition won’t.

Israel illustrates the need to watch the marketplace in citing a campaign where Canadian brewer Molsons completely wrong footed an oblivious competitor, something similar to how one bank discovered a rival’s successful marketing campaign through real time bank deposits data described  at the recent Splunk conference.

Focusing on the customers

A customer centric outlook, not looking at competitors but focusing on what consumers want is key to success in the new economy, Israel believes. This is enhanced by technologies that allow both products and marketing to be personalised as shown in the chapter detailing how retailers and airports are using beacons and data analytics in their operations.

One good example is AirBnB, while Israel trots out the ‘biggest hotel chain’ in the world fallacy that’s pervasive among commentators, its effects on the established industry has been profound and have forced hospitality operators around the world to re-evaluate their business models.

Israel suggests the best response for businesses affected by the ‘Uberization’ of their industries is to adopt the social and analytic tools and strategies being used the upstart businesses and he provides a wealth of examples.

Seamless sales

Tapingo, the food ordering service for US college students, illustrates the seamless experience that consumers are increasingly demanding in their shopping, business and leisure activities. Israel cites how Tapingo’s merchant partners are seeing an in-store traffic boost of 7 percent and a gross profit rise of 11 percent as a result of using the service.

Shel also illustrates some of the failures in deploying new technologies, specifically London’s Regent Street Alliance that failed due to poor execution and a failure to engage the marketplace.

One of the weakness in the book – which Israel acknowledges – is its focus on US, and specifically Bay Area, case studies. While there are some non-North American examples such as Australia’s Telstra and China’s Alipay, most of the examples cited are of companies based in or around San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Focus on Millennials

Another weakness of the book is the over-focus on Millennials or Digital Natives. While this group is important that obsession risks Israel’s message being pigeonholed amongst the noise of poorly thought out pop demographics and poor analysis that marks much of the discussion around changing tastes and habits between generations.

Israel’s point that the post 1982 generation will soon outnumber older cohorts in both the workforce and the marketplace in the near future though is an important aspect for businesses to keep in mind with the safe certainties and predictable customer behaviour of the baby boom era being long gone.

However the shift in consumer and workplace behaviour is just as pronounced among all the post World War II generations as technology and the economy evolves in the early 21st Century. Focusing on the younger groups risks missing similar shifts among older members of the community.

The value of customer service

Ultimately though, Israel’s message is about customer service. Shel himself flags this is not new, in describing the competition between hiking goods suppliers The North Face and Sierra Designs in 1970s Berkeley.

What is different between today’s businesses and those of forty years ago is technology now allows companies to deeply understand their customers and provide customised marketing, products and experiences to the connected consumer.

For the business owner, manager or entrepreneur, Lethal Generosity is a good starting point to understand the forces changing today’s marketplace. The case studies alone are worth considering for how an organisation can adapt to a rapidly evolving world with radically shifting customer behaviour.

Sep 252015
 
the web is new neon sign

Click fraud is costing US advertiser 6.4billion dollars a year reports Bloomberg Business.

The promise of internet advertising was that it could provide much more targeted audiences with far better, precision results.

It turns out the truth is different, with Bloomberg citing Heineken US who did a detailed analysis of their advertising returns to find, as the company’s Brand Director Ron Amram says, “giving money to the mob.”

While that news is bad, although not altogether surprising, for the digital media industry there’s even an even worse revelation from Heineken.

Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20 percent of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.

That major brands are television is three times more effective than digital puts online advertisers in a bad position, although social media gurus have long argued companies can’t measure return on investment from their efforts.

Ultimately though the Bloomberg story shows we need a new model, applying broadcast advertising conventions to online services isn’t working. We’re still waiting for a new David Sarnoff to come along.