The StreetFight Summit last week (Jan 15-16) was a celebration of all things hyper-local … loyalty platforms, publishing platforms, daily deal publishing in a crazy collage of capabilities designed to empower local businesses. Amidst the optimistic top-note at the conference, there was also a realistic recognition that 2013 is likely to be "The Hangover Year" as Dave Payne, CEO of ScoutMob described it – an evolving landscape with players that overlap in a confused mix of platform competencies.
Overall though, the new thinking at the conference revolved around ideas that are attuned to the importance of balancing technology (of which there is an abundance) with the human element needed to create truly transformative business practices. Here are some takeaways from the key players:
From big media to community media
Jim Brady, Editor-in-Chief at Digital First Media presented a compelling view of how local media is transforming itself to be a true community oriented outlet that is impossible for larger news outlets to duplicate. In creating a new business model for hyper-local media, the shift to community is at the very heart of the transformation. Brady described "The Open Newsroom" initiative where ordinary people in the community members can participate in the newsroom without constraint. The heart of Digital First Media rests with the communities they serve.
Focus on unique customer experiences.
Sarah Chubb Sauvayre, President of GiltCity was on a panel titled: "Daily Deal Comes of Age" that discussed the need to balance promotion with a profitable business model. While her co-panelists, Sumir Meghani, Regional VP, Groupon and Dave Payne, CEO, Scoutmob discussed how daily deals can be made profitable via better discounts, Sauvayre singularly emphasized that the engagement model at GiltCity is around unique retail experiences had real value to consumers. This approach decreased reliance on pure price wars and provided a sustainable, value add strategy for customer creation.
Market intelligence for everyone.
Perry Evans, CEO of Perch, "dedicated to empowering small businesses to succeed with everyday local marketing" introduced Perch, a new free app that provides businesses with local social media and promotional competitive monitoring. Powerful stuff.
In chatting with Perry about Perch one could see his genuine desire to empower small businesses rather than just offer a platform. "We need to help local marketing focus on differentiation versus just presence using technology." His grand vision is to create new model to merge technology with services to extend the firepower of local businesses because: "You can't platform your way into marketing." Perch is one more brick in his vision.
From customer acquisition to retention.
The battles around web presence have more or less been won. Now attention has shifted from acquisition to retention - not so easy to do in today's algorithmically driven daily deal orientation that dominates local marketing now.
Universally, there was recognition that while new customer acquisition via discount deals is the lifeblood of all local businesses, improving CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) is the next pivotal battleground, driven by encouraging retention. "Retention is certainly one area that hasn't been given an injection of innovation … If customers aren't happy with the product, you can't sustain it." said Belly CEO Logan LaHive. Loyalty marketing is the engine for retention and that's where much of the new action was centered. It remains to be seen though how innovation in loyalty marketing can transcend the current "deal-based" models that dominate today.
Local is hard.
Walt Doyle, GM of PayPal Media Network echoed what was a constant conference theme which is that hyper local has huge upside but it remains a challenge given the complex diversity of technology players. "Local is so hard; it's not a game one can win alone," he said. "You have to have lots and lots of partners."
That reality is at the heart of the problem because "data order" from the "platform chaos" is still evolving. Doyle rightly put the spotlight on the customer experience which is data dependent; "Nothing trumps purchase history — who they are, where they bought, what they bought." Operational efficiency, therefore, comes from knitting together a clear data map of customers and prospects gleaned from multiple sources so that local marketers can deliver relevant messages to the right customer on the right device at the right time. Data well developed can vault a business from simply pushing out platform based deals to creating user experiences that are sustainable over the long haul.
Hyper-local marketing battles have always shifted in tune with technology. In the 1990's, the battles centered on communication and in the 2000's, the battles moved to web marketing. Now, somewhat predictably, the battles focus on digital/ social/ mobile marketing. But irrespective of the technology – the real battle always was around differentiation and that's where the battles can make or break a business.