Last week, I joined veteran industry analysts Greg Sterling and Charles Laughlin for a webinar put on by the Local Search Association (LSA), where we looked back at 2016 expectations in location-based marketing and media, and looked forward to this year’s predictions. Having worked for years with both Greg and Charles, it made for an insightful, fun-filled session.
Thoughts on 2016: Email, Social Media, Beacons
We started out by looking back at predictions posted at the end of 2015 — compiled from numerous publishers, marketing technology providers, agencies and advertisers. A couple of them resonated with me. In particular, one of them caught my attention: “Email remains a primary marketing focus of SMBs and social media (Facebook) becomes the #1 marketing platform for SMBs after email.” On one hand, SMBs are utilizing email more actively for engaging with their customers, and this is good progress. On the other hand, there seemed to be a rush to judgement that Facebook would be a savior for SMBs seeking high-performing marketing channels, and yet there has been much debate as to the actual ROI of Facebook campaigns. A 2016 prediction that seemed to have fallen flat was that “beacons” would become a fixture in the SMB market.
The Local Ecosystem in 2017: Voice Assistants, Enterprise Tech
Turning to 2017 predictions, the analysts put the 60+ predictions submitted to LSA into 5 key buckets.
In order of importance for “local,” it seems that “Voice Assistants as Next Disruptor” may have the greatest impact on the local market. If usage of voice assistants closely follows the penetration of voice assistants, then voice search will be significant in 2017 and beyond. The consequence for SMBs is that they will need to be clear about how their business gets surfaced among a set of voice search results. Today’s voice search results suggest that proximity, combined with ratings and reviews, are the most important factors. Importantly, voice-assistants will be deployed throughout the local landscape — from in home, to in office, to in car. This will be a hugely competitive market with Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple battling for the leadership position, and those companies working with SMBs will be compelled to understand how best to make sure their customers are surfaced in local voice search results.
We also continue to see enterprise tech flow downstream to SMBs, and this will have a substantive impact on the competitive positioning of businesses that offer SMB solutions. With dozens of upstart companies who’ve built their businesses in the “cloud” entering the market to combat large established players, we’re likely to see highly disruptive market situations as SMBs attempt to figure out which provider can offer them a compelling solution. Importantly, the boundaries between solution areas are evaporating as companies pursue opportunities to gain wallet share. Recently, we’ve seen companies such as Square and Weebly working together in Australia. The press release says it quite clearly “Together, Weebly will enable its small businesses to access Square’s financial solutions in an effort to help these companies transact both online and off. Their integration combines payments, eCommerce, marketing, taxes and other small business services.”
2017 will be a fascinating year in the local/SMB market. There will be winning partnerships and ones that fail. What will distinguish winners from losers will likely be those that can most clearly demonstrate a value-proposition that can be realized. While SMBs continue to get more sophisticated, they nevertheless need simple and compelling solutions that address their market and customer challenges.
– Neal Polachek, Board Advisor, BuzzBoard