WebThe Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach California provided the ideal backdrop for this year’s premier local search event. The Orange County oasis is set along the Pacific Coast Highway and offers unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. Upon arrival, I was welcomed by the Spanish-inspired architecture and amazing weather, which set the scene for a memorable conference.

The Local Search Association Conference (LSA|14) ran from April 27-29th. Many well-known people from a variety of tech related companies either spoke or were in attendance over the three day period. The featured speaker was Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist, Steve Wozniak. As one of the most influential technology pioneers of the modern era, Wozniak offered some great perspective on a number of relevant topics. He discussed his thoughts on the future technologies, like mobile, wearable devices and local marketing opportunities for national and SMB’s. He also spoke about what it takes to become a great entrepreneur and ways to nurture creativity and innovation within organizations. His smile lit up the stage and all in attendance were very inspired by his session.

Wanderful Media was fortunate enough to have two speaking opportunities during the conference. Our CEO, Ben T. Smith, IV was a speaker on the panel discussion: The Advantages of Being Vertical. This panel was moderated by Neal Polachek, digital media analyst and board advisor as BuzzBoard and Greg Sterling, senior analyst at Opus Research. The discussion focused on the benefits of verticalization and the reality that this is the future of local advertising.

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Ben said that if one looks at his company’s offering and user experience, they would find a completely different approach than what is provided through a horizontal offering. He noted that depending on what category a consumer is searching – salons, home improvements, dining, etc. – the core idea of the user experience is different. He said there’s no way an enterprise offering can provide a different promise to each consumer each time, in each category they’re searching.

When asked how Wanderful Media is reaching local businesses, Ben simply said “mobile”. Local is becoming completely fragmented, but this is creating a ton of real value for businesses and consumers. Ben then elaborated on this by saying, “When you can push a button like “Uber” on your phone & a car arrives, that’s magic.” He said that mobile provides multiple ways to reach the consumer and capture their attention that bypasses the traditional search engine experience.

When asked about the cost of securing a consumer to use their vertical offerings, Ben said that the cost to get a consumer to download a broadly used app ranged between $0.30-$2.00. Another attendee asked Ben how he is acquiring local businesses and retaining users. He summed it up by saying, “Put a coin in the slot & you get a customer, plain & simple.” Whatever platform you are using to acquire new users, you need to know you target audience and have a product that matches their expectations.

Ben was also a speaker on a second panel discussion: How Digital Offers & Couponing Help Customers Find Locations. Laura Rich, CEO of StreetFight was the moderator for this panel discussion. The discussion focused on the oft-mentioned “Starbucks example,” where relevant mobile offers and coupons are given to consumers at just the right moment, spurring action – and how the mechanics of digital offers can make people try new locations and become more loyal.

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Prices and sales remain key drivers in getting people to buy things and there is still a lot of white space in the marketplace. Deals and offers are one of the best ways to attract people in to small businesses, both as new customers and repeat business. “Retailers were originally taking print circulars and sticking them on websites,” said Smith. Today, one of the most exciting developments is the ability to push an ad to a consumer at the just the right place and time.

Facebook integration is key to “tying it all together,” added Smith. “We get the geo/location data from the mobile app – but Facebook provides the demographic context required to make the data acquired by Wanderful actionable.” Connecting the dots between where a consumer has been and their current location is huge. There is a lot a value that can be extracted from a users activity on their mobile devices. “Go into location services, click that button and it will tell you where you live and where you work. That information is getting better and better. I might not know for sure that you walked across the threshold of Walgreen’s, but I’m pretty sure you did,” Smith said.

Mobile is changing the entire landscape, making the acquisition of customers very scalable, and delivering more value to the end user experience. Ben said that mobile helps push retailers to look beyond price. “Price is really important in the circular, but it’s not all driven on price. When you have something unique, you run it because it sucks a certain demographic into your store at the right time. Some of it is driven off of unique availability.”

“It’s much like managing your SEO – it’s not trivial and requires significant investment,” said Smith. He added that mobile customers typically only use 10 apps on a frequent basis. “The better way to approach mobile is to consider geo/location data as a way to augment and craft customized marketing messages,” he said.