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Andrew Levi

“On the Road Again!”- Summer Travel & Mobile Marketing the Perfect Journey

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

Turning pages in an atlas map is a thing of the past as consumers ping Google Maps and popular apps like Waze to determine the best routes to explore during the holidays and summer break. However, navigational tools aren’t the only aspects of modern vacations that have been transformed into being partially or solely mobile-centric. According to TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer Connected Traveler report, 42 percent of travelers worldwide use smartphones to plan or book their trips. In addition, about half of these connected travelers use their mobile devices to book activities for their trip, 72 percent use them to look for restaurants while on vacation, and 34 percent want their accommodations to offer mobile check in.

These ever-increasing numbers showcase just how in-demand mobile offerings are for the travel & tourism industry and provide a major opportunity for hotels to engage consumers, develop brand loyalty and meet sales objectives.

There are several mobile marketing tactics companies can deploy to provide much sought-after information to consumers, such as hotel reviews, restaurant locations, as well as excursion details and prices. Hotels should consider the following options and determine which fits best for their potential marketing efforts, as not every solution is a one-size-fits-all.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps can provide detailed information about the company, its service offerings and serve as a place for consumers to learn more and interact with the brand. A great example of a branded app that serves as a resource for travelers is the Four Seasons app. Through this innovative platform, customers can save specific preferences about what they like during their stay. For instance, guests can make room requests, order room service, customize their mattress topper and generally handle most tasks with a touch of a button instead of calling the front desk. In addition, it offers local city information and the ability to check out. This platform shows the power that a branded app can have on becoming an invaluable resource for travelers. Brands can also participate in a multi-branded app program if they do not want to invest in an individually-branded one. These apps can provide the same benefits to the company, but will allow the consumer to have one all-inclusive app as opposed to one for each brand they interact with.

Aggregator Apps

If a hotel chain does not have the resources or desire for a branded app, then it should at least ensure its information is available and consistently updated on aggregator apps. A few examples of these include Expedia and Priceline. Through these types of apps, travelers can gather flight and booking information all in one place. It is also important to remember consumers typically turn to aggregator apps to write reviews. Therefore, executives should regularly monitor the information posted about their hotel and be aware of customer feedback in order to make improvements and ensure their guests are happy.

Social Media

In today’s digital age, it is also necessary for brands to engage travelers via social media channels, especially since most users access these platforms via mobile. Many times, consumers will turn to social media as a resource to gain information in lieu of websites or when they want to interact directly with a brand. Successful brands like Hilton have capitalized on this approach by extending its Twitter-based @HiltonSuggests concierge service to anyone traveling, regardless of whether or not they are staying at a Hilton property. Travelers can ask about restaurants, activities, tours or other suggestions and a local expert will tweet back, which ultimately creates a memorable experience and loyal fan base for the brand.

SMS Short Codes

Texting is the most popular and frequently used app on a smartphone, with 97 percent of Americans sending a text at least once a day. Not only is texting highly ubiquitous, but it can be a fun and highly effective marketing tactic. SMS text programs involve a 5-6 digit phone number and a keyword that allows consumers to opt in to receive future messages. To do this, brands should offer some kind of incentive for customers to send the initial text message with the specific keyword to the designated short code, such as “RedBusTour” to 55555. Once the text is delivered, the user will receive a message inviting them to opt-in to receive a link to the microsite, which contains the incentive. Consider using this method to offer travelers a discount on a city attraction or special offers for nearby restaurants via desk displays at the front desk or in their rooms. Consumers are more likely to interact with a brand if they can gain a reward quickly and do not have to do more than send a text to redeem the offer.

Regardless of what mobile marketing tactics are implemented, it’s key to remember the hotel’s main website should be responsive and mobile-friendly in case customers search via their smartphone browsers first. If a brand has a specific app, providing an option for the visitor to download directly from the website can help generate awareness and drive more users, especially to those visitors that don’t realize the app exists.

In this new age of tourism, hotel chains have a real opportunity to reach travelers and visitors via their smartphones. Take some time this summer to explore what mobile marketing tactics will reach your target audience most effectively. By engaging in this new, crucial strategy, brands can improve their overall marketing and business goals, as well as increase sales and engagement with customers.

A Brand’s Hidden Problem: Ineffective POP Display

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

 

Today, brands have numerous options when it comes to reaching their target audience via marketing efforts, including digital, broadcast, print and in-store opportunities. For years, in-store displays have taken a backseat to other methods that appear to be more successful in reaching consumers. For example, 76 percent of businesses use promoted posts and search engine marketing due to the prevalence of digital media and consumers’ preference in searching for information online, as seen in Content Marketing Institutes’ 2016 benchmark study. However, by not deploying in-store displays and marketing materials, brands are missing a major opportunity in the customer shopping journey.

According to POPAI’s Mass Merchant Shopper Engagement Study, consumers make 82 percent of purchase decisions in store, focusing not only on shopping list items but also impulse buys when they walk the aisles. This behavior can lead a customer to try new products as well as potentially persuading them to switch brands.

While in store, point-of-purchase (POP) displays can directly impact a customer’s purchasing decision as the signage or fixture can focus the consumer’s eye on that particular brand. There are various types of POP displays that brands can deploy depending on the desired customer engagement they are seeking, such as shelf displays, floor stands, endcaps and floor mats.

While all types can grab shoppers’ attention, a large part of ensuring they will be effective is by confirming they are deployed correctly. This includes installing the signage or stand properly, as well as tearing down the displays when a promotion ends. Unfortunately, all too often displays sit in storage or are not set up correctly, as demonstrated in POPAI’s Compliance Initiative Study that notes 58 percent of POP displays are not installed properly to satisfy a brand’s standards.

When this happens, the effectiveness is significantly diminished, impacting customer transactions and brand loyalty. This in turn can hinder the relationships between brands and retailers, as product sales are not as profitable as they could be and ineffective POP displays are taking up valuable real estate within the store.

Furthermore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine exactly how POP displays affect each shopper. Right now, most businesses can only speculate that a compliantly executed display could lead to an increase in sales, and most do not have any formal way of tracking this process. Instead, they rely on comparing the program cost against the net sales gained or they simply do not track at all.

In order to ensure no marketing dollars are wasted, workflow management solutions, like POPTrak, allow businesses to track the entire POP display lifecycle in real time for each of their unique displays. Beginning with a quick scan of a QR code, NFC chip or a text message activation, brand marketers, merchandisers, distributors and other operational staff members are able to quickly view and monitor the process of receiving materials, video setup training, deployment, and validation of successful execution via mobile video and pictures.

In addition, to truly capture engagement with each POP display, brands should enable mobile shopper engagement options on the POP displays that allow consumers to interact with the brand or product directly through their smartphones. A platform that tracks the activations, such as KIOSentrix, can provide an additional level of validation that the POP displays are not only installed correctly, but are also catching the attention of shoppers. The two working in conjunction allow marketers to truly have a 360 degree view of how their POP displays are being deployed and their effectiveness in reaching customers throughout retail locations.

With an ever-growing amount of brands competing for consumers’ attention in store, businesses cannot afford to risk their POP displays being installed incorrectly or in some cases not at all. And with the help of today’s latest mobile technologies and platforms, brand executives can assess and understand their marketing challenges in real time, which can only improve these antiquated processes more readily and across all operational departments.

The future of in-store display management is here. Are you ready?

Summer Travel — How Travel Organizations can Capitalize on Increased Traffic & Tourism via Mobile Solutions

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

Gone are the days of Mapsco and printed city attraction lists. Nowadays when any consumer leaves their house, the chances that they have their smartphone on them is practically a guarantee, especially when traveling to a new city. Our smartphones have become a necessity and act as a sacred lifeline between us and the happenings of the lively city, cool restaurants nearby or the best shops in town to peruse.

In fact, according to TripAdivsor’s TripBarometer Connected Traveler report, 42 percent of travelers worldwide use smartphones to plan or book their trips. This leaves a major opportunity for businesses in the travel and tourism industry to engage consumers on their smartphones and provide much sought-after information such as hotel reviews, restaurant locations, excursion details and prices, etc.

Tourism companies of all types, such as hotel chains, airlines and city attraction groups, should explore ways to engage and interact with consumers, rather than only marketing to them. Consider deploying the following mobile marketing tactics in your summer promotional campaigns.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps can provide detailed information about the company, its tourism offerings and serve as a place for consumers to learn more and interact with the brand. A great example of a branded app that serves as a resource for travelers is the “I Love NY” app. As the official tourism app for the state of New York, it displays thousands of attractions, events, hotels, parks, restaurants and more that allow consumers to plan the perfect travel itinerary – all from the convenience of their mobile device. Additionally, it helps travelers navigate the city with its maps, stay informed with location-based alerts and share activities with friends and family via social media channels. This platform shows the power that a branded app can have on becoming an invaluable source of information for travelers. Brands can also become part of a multi-branded app program if they do not want to invest in an individually-branded one. These apps can provide the same benefits to company, but allow the consumer to have one app as opposed to multiple for each brand they interact with.

Aggregator Apps

If a tourism organization does not have the resources or desire for a branded app, then it should at least ensure its information is available and consistently up-to-date on aggregator apps. These apps collect basic information and provide all of the data in one place. For example, Expedia and Priceline gather flight and booking information, and display it in one place for consumers. It is also important to remember consumers typically turn to aggregator apps to write reviews for city attractions or restaurants. Therefore, executives should regularly monitor the information posted about their organization and be aware of customer feedback.

Social Media

In today’s digital age, it is also necessary for brands to engage travelers via social media channels, especially since most users access these platforms via mobile. Many times, consumers will turn to social media as a resource to gain information in lieu of websites or when they want to interact directly with a brand. This occurs regularly with airlines where travelers will reach out via social media to see why their plane is delayed or to complain about poor customer service. Consider regularly posting helpful information for those traveling and monitor the conversations that are taking place. Being transparent and utilizing social media as a customer service tool, like Southwest, will help brands build a positive reputation among the traveling community.

SMS Short Codes

Texting is the most popular and frequently used app on a smartphone, with 97 percent of Americans sending a text at least once a day. Not only is texting highly ubiquitous, but it can be a fun and highly effective marketing tactic. SMS text programs involve a keyword and a 5-6 digit phone number or “short code” to engage individuals and invite them to opt in to receive future messages. To do this, brands should offer some kind of incentive for customers to send the initial text message with the specific keyword to the designated “short code,” such as “HOTEL” to 55555. Once the text is delivered, the user will receive a message inviting them to opt-in to receive a link to the microsite, which contains the incentive. Consider using this method to offer travelers a discount on a city attraction or hotel night rate when they line up at the front desk. Consumers are more likely to interact with a brand if they can gain a reward quickly and do not have to do more than text to redeem the offer.

Regardless of what mobile marketing tactics you choose to deploy, remember the organization’s main website should be responsive and mobile-friendly in case customers search via their smartphone browsers first.

As the lifeline of consumers, tourism brands have a real opportunity to reach travelers and visitors via their mobile devices. Take some time this summer to explore what mobile marketing tactics will reach your target audience most effectively. By engaging via smartphones, brands can improve and greatly impact the decisions of consumers and become the go-to resource for tourism-related information.

How Brands can Revolutionize Store Aisles via CPG Mobile Marketing

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

The consumer purchase journey continues to become highly segmented with shoppers browsing multiple channels and engaging with more types of content than ever before on their smartphones. However, according to the Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric, only 16 percent of consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands even use mobile advertising.

With a growing “mobile only” internet population and an estimated 250 million mobile phone users in the U.S. alone, not only do brands need to prioritize mobile, but they should also think about how they can enhance their mobile content to provide more personalized, engaging experiences. A great way to do this is by utilizing the real estate on the packages themselves!

Brands can deploy calls-to-action on their products that direct consumers to a microsite with additional information, coupons and deals, loyalty program sign-ups and much more. CPG marketing via text codes, QR codes and near field communication can be highly effective in increasing consumer engagement with the brand and driving product sales.

In order to be successful, brands must deliver the right message to their target audience. In a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario, to deliver the right message, brands need to fully understand what their target audience is looking for. For instance, moms with primary-school aged kids may be interested in tips and recipes to get their kids to eat more broccoli, while health-conscious individuals would want information related to the nutritional value and source of the ingredients. Microsites can meet the needs of these various audiences by offering detailed information and advice based on their preferences and behavior. This interaction will go beyond the brick and mortar experience and position the brand as the go-to resource for information and further develop brand loyalty.

At the same time, using the right channel to deliver this information is also critical. Consider deploying one of the following marketing channels on products and packages:

  • Short codes use a keyword and a 5-6 digit phone number to engage individuals and invite them to opt in to a text program. To do this, customers must first send a text message with a specific keyword to the designated number, such as “VEGGIES” to 55555. Once the text is delivered, they will receive a message inviting them to opt-in to receive a link to the microsite.
  • QR codes, or quick response codes, are two-dimensional barcodes in the form of a black and white patterned square that consumers can scan using a reader application via their smartphone. Once the app reads the code, it automatically opens the mobile device’s web browser and loads the microsite.
  • Near field communication (NFC) functionality is essentially the transferring of data wirelessly. Once two NFC chips come in close proximity of each other, such as one located on the package and the other in the consumer’s smartphone, the package chip will transfer the information to the receiving end instantaneously.

Although it may require some trial-and-error to fully understand your target audience’s channel preferences, the payout in the long run can be exponential. There’s much to be gained by offering a final in-store push and another differentiator for your brand compared to competitors. The CPG industry has long been behind in the marketing game, and this year it’s time for brands to step up their efforts and consider the positive impact that mobile marketing can have on their brand loyalty and annual sales.

Security of Beacons

Should We Be Worried About the Security of Beacons?

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

If you are tuned into the technology world, then you might have heard that Make Magazine was able to hack into the CES 2016 beacons in January for the second time. By breaking into the Scavenger application source code, hackers were able to connect to the Radius Networks cloud service and obtain the list of beacons used at the show. Once the list of beacons was known, they wrote a software-based script to duplicate the iBeacon packets broadcasted at the conference which, in turn, tricked the locally-installed application into thinking the hacker completed the scavenger hunt without attending the conference.

This brings up several questions that have been circulating the retail industry regarding beacons:

  • Can beacon packets be duplicated? The simple answer is yes. Since both the Bluetooth Low Energy Specification and all major beacon formats are publicly available, beacon packets can easily be duplicated through both hardware- and software-based beacons.
  • Can hardware-based beacons be hacked to send different packets? It’s possible, but not likely. Depending on the hardware provided by the vendor, most modern hardware-based beacons require some form of authentication to change their settings. However the level of security supplied is unique to each vendor.
  • Do I need an application to detect beacon packets? Yes, currently most operating systems, including smartphones, contain hardware and programming interfaces that can detect beacon packets, but a third party application is required to process the information received.
  • Do hardware beacons receive responses from the responding devices, and can they detect that a device, such an iPhone, is near? Most beacons being deployed today do not receive responses from the receiving device. Beacons, by definition, are omni-directional and sessionless. However, the next generation of “smart” beacons will be capable of two-way communication and a wealth of more sophisticated capabilities. This blog will focus primarily on “basic” beacons.
  • Can beacons implement a proprietary format? Yes, they can. However, implementation is slowed by the fact that smartphone manufacturers, such as Google (“Eddystone”) and Apple (“iBeacon”), have vested interest in promoting their own beacon protocol, so they are expected to be slow in providing robust application programming interfaces (APIs) that support proprietary formats.

So why are businesses and consumers interested in beacon technology?  It’s a combination of locally installed “smart” applications and the ability to mass produce low-cost, hardware-based basic beacons that provide both extreme value and convenience to both users and retailers, but this technology can also be abused by hackers and software companies alike.

 

Let’s take iBeacons as an example – As defined by the Apple iBeacon specification, all iBeacons must broadcast a universally unique identifier (UUID), Major number, Minor number and a TxPower value. The UUID number typically identifies the beacon owner, while the Major/Minor values are used to further define each beacon with the owner’s ecosystem. The TxPower indicator is a measure of the signal strength that should be received by the consumer application when the application is one meter from the iBeacon. It is important to note that a beacon UUID need not be unique, it is not assigned by any governing organization, and depending on the intended use, can be duplicated across multiple beacons.

When a vendor’s application is installed on a smartphone, and the device comes within roughly 100 – 150 feet of an iBeacon, it reads the UUID, Major/Minor number and TxPower transmitted by the beacon. It then processes this information, calculates the device’s approximate distance from the device based on the actual received signal strength, and sends this information to the vendor’s cloud service. In addition, typically, with the user’s permission, the GPS location of the smartphone is sent as well. From here, information is sent back to the application, such as “Thanks for visiting, here is a great offer from our store!”

However, since beacon packets can be received by multiple applications on the same phone, consumers need to be aware that the information gathered by one application to provide services to the user could easily be used by another installed application to either track the user’s visit to the same location or return additional alternative messaging to the user.

Hence it is important retailers and consumers consider these tips for protecting themselves:

For Shoppers:

  1. Be aware that each application installed on your device could be listening to beacon broadcasts and only install applications from reputable and trusted organizations with clear “terms of use” that list what information they will obtain from your device.
  1. While not a security matter, consumers should understand that listening for and reacting to beacons will impact battery life.

For Retailers:

  1. Partner with an organization capable and knowledgeable about security and privacy concerns. Choose one that will not immediately dismiss your security concerns, but rather help you in addressing them. A great partner can provide knowhow into the technology protocol, deployment and beacon management.
  1. It is important to test and conduct a proof-of-concept before rolling out any new technology. This allows the internal teams to understand the complexities and risks of this new, emerging technology and where the gaps, holes or weaknesses might be.
  1. While it is a long shot, do not completely dismiss the potential for a security breach via beacons. Instead, consider implementing dynamic UUIDs that are continuously changing and/or implementing strong credentialing and multiple layers of encryption.
  1. Remember that while beacons deliver content and do not capture consumers’ personal information, they do connect to their personal mobile device. Therefore, develop and implement this technology in the most secure way possible. The last thing a retailer wants is for their beacons or app to allow their customer’s personal information to be compromised or offensive content presented.
  1. Consider implementing a fully integrated mobile shopper engagement platform which has the ability to leverage all desired methods of activation, including “smart” and “basic” beacons, multiple beacon protocols including iBeacon and Eddystone, short codes/SMS, Near Field Communications (NFC), QR, Wi-Fi-gating and/or geo-fencing. A unified platform ensures consistent security protocols and eliminates the requirement for integrating a patchwork of disparate systems, each of which may have their own security vulnerabilities.

With the increased use of technology, the potential for security implications also rises. While most of today’s beacons are not smart devices and are used as a one-way form of communication, there is still a possibility of a breach occurring – especially given the recent growth and increased sophistication of cybercriminal attacks. In the near future, “smart” beacons, which may be integrated with on-premise Wi-Fi and can deliver a two-way connection experience between shoppers and retailers, will also provide the potential for an even higher and more complex set of security vulnerabilities. Therefore, take security into consideration from the very beginning when implementing this new technology in your business. Don’t wait until it is potentially too late!

Andrew Levi is the founder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer of Blue Calypso, an innovator and pioneer in the development and delivery of location-enabled mobile engagement solutions. Using its patented cloud-based platform, the Blue Calypso solutions elevate the consumer shopping experience through an engaging in-store mobile immersion, while capturing real-time shopper behavioral analytics for retailers and brands.

 

Entertaining the Masses, A Mobile Marketing Approach

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By: Andrew Levi, CEO of Blue Calypso

Take a look around at any city attraction or entertainment event you go to. Whether it be a sports game, concert, bowling alley or amusement park, there’s a very good chance you’ll see dozens of people on their mobile devices answering a text or call, snapping a photo with friends or scrolling on their social media accounts.

While some entertainment venue owners can find this frustrating as attendees might be paying more attention to their phones than the actual event, they should look at the situation from a different angle. Because smartphones are practically glued to our hands, there’s a huge opportunity to market to and engage with consumers via their mobile devices. Instead of worrying if they will see your flyers, billboards or digital displays, take the message to the device their already using.

There are a multitude of mobile marketing campaigns that entertainment venues can implement, but two in particular stand out – SMS text codes and beacons.

SMS Text Codes

A text code, also known as an SMS short code, uses a keyword and a 5-6 digit phone number to engage individuals and invite them to opt in to a text program. To do this, customers must send a text message with a specific keyword to the designated number, such as “BASEBALL” to 55555. Once the text is delivered, they will receive a message back confirming their participation and can be provided several options from there:

  • A link to a digital reward, such as a coupon to show to the merchandise counter
  • Multimedia messages like videos and photos of their favorite players
  • A link directing them to a branded microsite that could direct them to real-time game updates or behind the scenes exclusive information

Two great real-world examples of this can be found through Blue Calypso’s recent partnerships with North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) and the Salem Red Sox minor-league baseball organization.

  • NTPA: By opting in, theatre goers accessed a customized microsite offering information around upcoming shows, auditions, quick links to become a member, donate and purchase tickets. In addition, the microsite enabled and encouraged advocates of the theatre to share their support within their social communities, amplifying the message through digital word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Salem Red Sox: To provide the best in-stadium fan experience possible, the team will provide game updates in the event of inclement weather, as well as offer deals and promotions to fans who have opted in.

Text codes are a popular strategy that all entertainment venues and attractions should consider regularly deploying at events. The costs to send a message to those subscribed to your list is extremely inexpensive (think a few cents per message). Additionally, text codes have an extremely high market penetration rate. Nearly all mobile phones today have text messaging capabilities, making it the most widely-used basic feature. With 90 percent of Americans owning a cell phone, according to Pew Research Center, this ensures that nearly everyone is capable of receiving messages.

Consider implementing various text codes throughout the venue to offer attendees discounts on food, drinks and merchandise. Also, this tactic could be used to enter fans into a sweepstakes or giveaway contest. Consumers are likely to participating in a marketing campaign that does not require much effort for them, but still offers a great reward.

Beacon Technology

The next level up after text codes are beacons. These are small, portable devices that can be placed anywhere in a venue or nearby location. The technology relies on a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection to transmit information directly to a mobile app listening for the beacon’s signal. These devices are highly cost effective (with the average beacon costing just $25) and are bought through mobile solutions companies that often provide the software needed to program and manage the messages being delivered.

Whether it be a universal or branded one, the customer must first download an app connected to the attraction or venue that will listen for the beacon’s signal. Once the beacon is initially connected and the customer opts-in to receive information, the user’s smartphone will automatically begin receiving messages. These are delivered each time a connected smartphone passes by a beacon, regardless of whether or not the app is open at the time.

Like text codes, the possibilities of beacon triggered messages are endless. If deploying both, utilize beacons not only as a way to push discounts and promotions, but also to increase engagement with customers. For example, a zoo could install beacon devices around each exhibit and offer fun facts on the specific animals that live there – providing potentially exclusive information to guests who have the zoo’s app.

Both marketing tools allow participants to customize how they want to engage with the brand before, during and after their visit. In addition, entertainment business owners are able to collect customer data – giving them a direct insight into how their audience wants to interact with their brand.

Today, the traditional marketing tactics can still work to engage guests at entertainment venues, but it should not stop there. Continue to deploy a balance of promotional and informational mobile marketing tactics to build a loyal fan base that will in turn increase regular attendance and incremental revenue.

Andrew Levi is the founder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Blue Calypso, an innovator and pioneer in the development and delivery of location-enabled mobile engagement solutions. Using its patented cloud-based platform, the Blue Calypso solutions elevate the consumer shopping experience through an engaging in-store mobile immersion, while capturing real-time shopper behavioral analytics for retailers and brands.

 

4 Mobile Marketing Tools to Engage C-Store Customers

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The better a brand’s reputation, the more frequent the shopper

By

Andrew Levi, founder, chairman, CEO and chief technology officer, Blue Calypso
Blue Calypso retail consumer mobile engagement

RICHARDSON, Texas — It’s no secret. Consumers today are exposed to hundreds of advertisements across all platforms every day. In fact, Media Dynamics found the number to be approximately 362 ads per day. From traditional marketing methods, such as print ads and direct mail, to the multitude of digital options, consumers are accustomed to being bombarded by marketing messages and therefore are learning to tune them out.

This creates a unique opportunity for retailers to get creative in engaging with potential and existing customers. The convenience-store market in particular has the chance to move away from traditional marketing methods and implement more strategic approaches through mobile marketing. Instead of focusing on promoting deals and coupons through radio and billboards, c-stores should consider using the following tools to build and grow a loyal customer base that will, in turn, increase sales.

  1. Mobile apps. Convenience stores have the option of including themselves in a universal app or developing and deploying their own branded app. Regardless of which path they choose, there are many possibilities for implementing a mobile-app strategy. For example, c-stores can establish loyalty programs with regular patrons to track their visits, purchases and points earned through the app. This would allow customers to earn rewards for reaching a certain number of visits each month or dollar amount spent. Rewarding those loyal to your brand through the app will keep them using the technology more frequently and coming back to fill up at your station.
  2. Text codes. On the other hand, if you prefer not to develop or use a mobile app, text codes can be a great option as well. Not only are they inexpensive, but they also have a much higher adoption rate. Text codes can be used to enter participants into free giveaways or raffles to create a fun element to engaging with the brand. People love free items, like the chance to win “free drinks for a month” or “a tank of gas on us.” Taking this approach will incentivize guest participation and leave a positive lasting impact. Remember: The better a brand’s reputation, the more frequent the shopper.
  3. Beacons. Beacons are portable devices that rely on a Bluetooth connection to transmit information directly to a consumer’s smartphone via a compatible app. Because the software management on the back end allows for changes to be made in real time, stores can creatively implement programs beyond simple discounts and promotions. For example, if your store sells lottery tickets, install beacons at each pump that alert customers of the current value of the lottery to remind them to purchase a ticket inside. This is especially valuable when the lottery amount is high. Plus, it further drives in-store traffic and engagement with customers.
  4. Social media. Finally, social media is essential for any convenience store’s marketing plan. By engaging consumers through channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, stores can build a positive brand reputation and build rapport with followers. Let customers know they can contact you through these channels at any time with questions, comments or concerns and be sure respond to their posts in a timely manner. Brands that have the most social media success understand the importance of transparency and acknowledge that both delivering and openly receiving information are crucial to a solid social-media strategy.

To have success in this marketing landscape, convenience stores must remember not only to push sales and promotional content, but also to engage with customers to build a positive brand reputation and generate repeat business. As the store’s reputation increases, so does the likelihood that consumers will begin regularly shopping in store as opposed to only stopping in for gas. Remember that any marketing strategy takes time to build momentum and to see results; however, with a little patience and perseverance, convenience stores are sure to see a return on their efforts through increased customer frequency and spend.

Andrew Levi is the founder, chairman, CEO and chief technology officer of Blue Calypso, which develops and delivers location-enabled mobile engagement solutions. Its cloud-based platform elevates the consumer shopping experience while capturing real-time shopper behavioral analytics. Email: support@bluecalypso.com

The Keys to Increasing Mobile App Adoption

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Did you know 90 percent of shoppers use their smartphones to make purchasing decisions while in-store? According to SessionM, the top activities consumers perform on their smartphones are comparing prices, researching product information and reading online reviews.

Additionally, Forbes surveyed more than 1,600 millennials and found 47 percent had recently downloaded a mobile shopping app. Of those respondents who had mobile shopping apps, 54 percent said they downloaded them because it was easier than accessing the retailer’s mobile site, while 27 percent stated it was because they receive discounts and lower prices via the app.

Despite this trend, retailers still aren’t completely on board with deploying a mobile app that can perform these activities and much more. While it’s understandable to be hesitant because it can take time to gain adoption and for consumers to regularly engage with your app, the time to start is now.

As consumers continue to expect and demand mobile offerings, consider implementing these three long-term strategies in your mobile app adoption efforts:

1. Shout the app from the rooftops. Just like with any other special sale or new campaign, consumers won’t know about your app if you don’t promote it. Retailers must take the time to market their app accordingly on all pieces of consumer-facing communication. From point-of-purchase (PoP) displays to online microsites and everything in between, every piece of in-store collateral and digital content should have a call to action to remind visitors about the app and direct them to download it. Consider offering an incentive (e.g., a coupon or discount on their next purchase) to generate more consumer participation in the beginning.

2. Show consumers why they should use the app. Researching consumer behavior and shopping habits, and understanding your customers’ preferences can help shape the app. Finding a value proposition that meets these wants and needs is key to successful adoption. A great example of this is Target’s Cartwheel app, also known as the ultimate coupon book. The retail giant takes clipping coupons to the next level by digitally offering the best deals via the app. The app’s popularity grew to 7 million users and counting within the first year. While Cartwheel is constantly rolling out new features, it’s gained its ground and standing in the industry because of the coupon offerings.

3.Build an exclusive app-only club. According to TechnologyAdvice, consumers are over 80 percent more likely to shop at stores that offer a loyalty program. Instead of plastic cards, use your mobile app to regularly track and reward customers. If they can get points or special app-only discounts towards their next purchase, customers will begin using the technology during every shopping trip. This is ideal for creating a loyal customer base of mobile app users, as opposed to one-off downloaders. Be sure to send special messages with offers or deals through the app consistently to ensure visitors are reminded to use it. The more often they use your app, the more it will become habitual.

If you’re still not ready to develop and deploy your own mobile app, consider a multibranded app. This solution acts similar to an individual app, but allows consumers to find additional information from all participating retailers as opposed to just one. Some multibranded apps even mold to the retailer’s signature look and feel when opened in-store and can provide the same effect as a branded app without the resources required to develop one from scratch.

Regardless of which app option you choose, it’s imperative to begin a mobile app strategy. Consumers turn to apps automatically, therefore retailers must meet them where they are in order to be successful in this digital world. Remember to take the time to understand customer preferences and what they’re looking for in a mobile app, and then tailor the experience accordingly. Even if adoption is slower at the beginning, don’t give up. A little patience and perseverance can yield big results when consumers look to your mobile app as a resource in their in-store shopping journey.

Andrew Levi is the founder and CEO of Blue Calypso, a location-centric mobile shopper engagement platform.  

4 new ways to use beacon technology in your restaurant

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By Andrew Levi, Blue Calypso

The term “beacons” is a buzzword that has been circulating the marketing industry for a few years now. While not an extremely new technology, according to findings by ABI Research, the use of beacon technology is set to hit the mainstream market this year, based on strong 2015 shipment data and contract figures. Previously, only a few major retailers were actively exploring beacon use, but 2016 is posed to be the year multiple industries, such as restaurants, begin testing the waters.

First, in case you still are not 100 percent sure on how these small, portable devices work, let’s explain. Beacons can be placed anywhere in a restaurant or nearby location and rely on a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection to transmit information directly to a mobile app that’s listening for their signal. These devices are highly cost effective and can be purchased through mobile solutions companies who specialize in providing software programs that manage the messages being delivered. The customer must first download an app, either a universal or branded one, that will listen for the beacon’s signal. Once the beacon is initially connected and the customer opts-in to receive information, the beacon will automatically begin pinging the smartphone. Messages are delivered each time a connected smartphone passes by a beacon, regardless if the app is open or not.

Initially, you can begin deploying beacons by using them to send marketing messages, such as special deals and coupons, to customers. However, here are four additional creative approaches to take your beacon usage a step further.

1. Digital sign flippers

Instead of using employees to hold giant signs out front or hand flyers to potential patrons to garner their attention, beacons can essentially accomplish this same task by sending a message directly to their smartphones. By placing beacons within a few blocks in either direction of the restaurant’s location, those that have the app installed will receive an alert inviting them to receive a special offer or other promotion such as a half-off daily deal for lunch or dinner.

2. Personal call ahead concierge

No one likes long wait times when they are starving and craving the restaurant’s signature dish. However, guests might not remember to call ahead to check on table availability before they enter the restaurant. Beacons placed in the parking lot or down the street can alert customers before they walk in the door of the current wait times. While this approach might turn away a few potential diners who do not want to wait, the restaurant’s transparency will leave a positive, lasting impact for future visits.

3. Customer support team

Most restaurants ask guests to fill out an online survey of their service experience, in exchange for a coupon or special deal. Unfortunately, the majority of people will most likely choose not to fill it out at a later time because it requires an extra step to take the initiative and go to the website. So why not bring the survey directly to the customer while they are still in the restaurant or as they exit? Beacons can send reminders to diners as they exit to provide their comments and opinions in real-time, providing an irrestible level of convenience that will increase the chances for participation.

4. Table-side service

Beacons offer diners an opportunity to ordering from their tables and also can allow customers to pay their bills from their phones. Tailoring the in-store experience in this way vastly accomodates the overwhelming desire of today’s customers for self-service options.

It is important to note that each time the beacons deliver a message, they collect behavioral analytics. By collecting this information restaurants can adjust menus and promotions to correspond to their guests’ needs and wants. Additionally, owners should remember that no customer wants to be overloaded with information or too many alerts. When used in moderation and appropriately, beacons can have a real impact on engaging customers in a more strategic way that will provide a better customer experience and ultimately, increase overall diner frequency!

Andrew Levi is the founder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Blue Calypso.

Restaurants Should Consider Options For Mobile Apps

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By Andrew Levi

To say we now live in a mobile-centric world is an understatement. According to Flurry’s, the average user spends three hours and 40 minutes daily on a mobile device. ComScore’s 2015 U.S. Mobile App Reportfound that smartphone apps have driven the majority of growth (65 percent) in digital media usage in the past two years.

So it should come as no surprise that when considering places to order lunch or go out for dinner, consumers turn to their mobile phones for research. It’s no longer about simply choosing a place; rather, potential patrons want to read reviews, browse the menu and look for deals before making a decision.

To reach customers, any business in the restaurant or hospitality industry must go beyond just having a mobile-friendly website and engaging people on social media. They must also be accessible via the channels customers are using to research most—in other words, apps.

While consumers could turn to a mobile website, they prefer apps, spending 90 percent of the three hours and 40 minutes in mobile apps and only 10 percent in web browsers. That being said, it’s still prudent to ensure that your website is responsive in case customers do find themselves searching the web first.

Prior to deploying an app, it’s important that businesses understand and consider their options: branded, multibranded and aggregator apps.

Branded or multibranded apps

Branded apps are those owned and operated by one specific restaurant or brand. While these can be expensive to develop and deploy, the rewards can potentially outweigh the costs if done well. On the other hand, multibranded apps act similar to a branded app, but they allow consumers to find information from all participating restaurants instead of just one. Both options allow for restaurants to deliver detailed information and a multitude of services to customers, such as:

Customer service: While it may seem basic, providing all necessary information about the restaurant in one place is something customers expect but restaurants often don’t execute. From browsing the menu and knowing the hours of operation, customers want an app that can connect them with the brand and answer all of their questions ahead of time. Additionally, these apps allow patrons to write reviews about their experience and engage on social media to share their positive experiences.

Ordering and payment options: These types of apps can also allow the customer to order and pay ahead of time. Since customers are not required to have cash readily available or wait in long lines to process their to-go order, this self-service option is ideal for those who want to pick up dinner quickly or have their meal delivered.

Promotions and loyalty programs: Customers who download and consistently use the app to engage with the restaurant are highly loyal and should be rewarded appropriately. Consider sending specific app-only promotions to encourage adoption and regular use of the platform. Additionally, these apps can host loyalty programs that track customer visits and purchases, and can notify them when it’s time to redeem their rewards.

If you’re not ready to allocate the resources required to develop a branded app, multibranded apps are a good solution to begin testing out individual app offerings. Beyond offering customizable options, some multibranded apps even reflect the restaurant’s signature look and feel when opened.

Aggregator apps

These apps aggregate basic information on restaurants and provide all data in one place. Think Yelp and GrubHub. These apps offer slightly different tools, such as:

Location finders: The main purpose of aggregator apps is to inform consumers of restaurants in their area, allowing them to filter by price, type of food and other options like delivery and takeout services. These apps are a starting point for those deciding what to eat.

Reviews: While branded apps can offer a place for patrons to write reviews, most turn to aggregator apps to post their comments for others to read. Therefore, it is important that owners regularly monitor the information about their restaurant on these apps.

• Reservation systems: A fairly recent trend is the use of reservation systems within aggregator apps, such as OpenTable or Resy. These apps aggregate all restaurants nearby that allow reservations and offer to be the intermediary and contact the restaurant on behalf of consumers who do not want to do it themselves.

The downside of aggregator apps is that they do not necessarily allow restaurants to offer customizable options to their customer base. In addition, the aggregator company owns the content. While they may let the restaurant update the basic information provided or upload a new menu, they still have primary control of all content delivered.

This year, evaluate how your customers are currently interacting with your brand on their mobile devices and what information they are searching for to determine which app option will best meet those needs. Regardless of which path you choose, apps are a powerful tool for restaurants and hospitality providers, and in today’s society, they are essential for engaging with potential patrons.

Andrew Levi is the founder and c.e.o. of Blue Calypso, an innovator and pioneer in the development and delivery of location-enabled mobile engagement solutions.