Greg Cohen, Chief Revenue and Strategy Officer at Merchant Warehouse, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Today's businesses have an overwhelming number of marketing tools available if they're willing to embrace technology. And when leveraged effectively, tech-powered marketing can have a huge positive impact on the bottom line.
To learn a little more about how businesses are using technology to enhance their marketing efforts today, we recently conducted a survey of merchants in our network to determine how they use Yelp for their businesses. The results surprised us.
The common wisdom these days holds that Yelp can have a huge impact on your business, especially if you're a restaurant or other service-focused enterprise. With 102 million monthly unique visitors, 39 million reviews and over one million businesses listed, it's no surprise that Yelp is a force to be reckoned with.
The Washington Post even reported in May that Yelp and similar review sites may have a significant impact on businesses across the nation.
However, the businesses we surveyed did not experience a correlation between Yelp scores and their bottom line. Though consumers often use Yelp to help them make decisions about which businesses to patronize, our survey indicates that most businesses don't see the direct impact on them (though it is worth noting that slightly more respondents felt it had a positive impact versus a negative one).
Part of the discrepancy between the Post study and our own has to do with the fact that individual merchants aren't able to visualize or directly track the impact Yelp has on their business. It takes a very macro lens (and a lot of data points) to see the aggregate impact online reviews have on brick-and-mortar commerce. Most smaller merchants are simply not equipped with the technology needed to uncover these correlations where they exist.
Because of this, many merchants ignore review sites like Yelp. Analytics for online-to-offline marketing conversions simply aren't very sophisticated at this point. The best an individual business can do is survey customers about what influenced them to come in and hope they get accurate and honest responses. This is time-intensive and doesn't promise to yield actionable insights, so most businesses — understandably — don't bother.
Regardless, for a brick-and-mortar business to truly succeed in this digital age, it's very important, especially for smaller ones, to figure out how they can best leverage the many tools technology offers to market themselves effectively both online and offline, while engaging current customers and bringing new ones in.
Yelp is a good place for merchants to start leveraging technology in service of their marketing efforts. GoFishDigital has a great introductory tutorial for merchants on how to use Yelp.
The reality is, however, that Yelp and other review sites are only the beginning when it comes to using technology for marketing. Here are some other tech-driven strategies that merchants should consider taking advantage of when it comes to marketing themselves in the technology age.
Mobile payment apps help merchants reach consumers on their smartphones, which are almost constantly in-hand. They also offer a more personalized and streamlined checkout process. That's why many businesses, like Wal-Mart and Lowe's, have developed proprietary mobile payment apps: to better track consumer demographics and preferences and deliver the type of personal, relevant offers that customers want.
Of course, most small merchants don't have the means to invest in custom-designed apps. That's where white-label apps can be a great option. With a white-label app, merchants can offer their customers a seamless and secure mobile payment option. The benefit to the merchant lies in its ability to target customers on a personalized level, encouraging repeat visits and developing loyalty over time. And since the app is a marketing tool and payment service rolled up in one, tracking results is simple and straightforward (unlike tracking Yelp results). This allows the merchant to gain real-time insight into transactions, customer demographics and other information that can help merchants make smarter and more strategic marketing and business decisions.
PayPal and others also offer simple dongle-based hardware and smartphone-powered software that provide a cost-effective way for almost any merchant to invest in mobile payments and reap the benefits of better consumer experiences and more sophisticated customer tracking mechanisms.
Loyalty programs are another great option for gaining an edge in today's competitive marketplace. Tech-driven loyalty apps and systems give merchants the ability to offer tailored incentives that can build a strong brand connection over time and lead to increased customer value.
Belly is an example of a loyalty app that is simple for merchants to implement and provides huge value for businesses and consumers alike. Belly helps consumers streamline their loyalty experiences, so they can use one app to score loyalty points from their favorite stores. The service integrates with Passbook to offer an even more elegant solution for iOS users.
Belly lets merchants offer customized rewards and send targeted email campaigns. With its mobile marketing features, merchants can reach consumers when they're searching for what they want by sending special offers encouraging a visit to the merchant's stores or restaurants. It's a win-win.
The Bottom Line
While businesses may not always be able to see a strong correlation between Yelp scores and business results, it's important for them to maximize the positive effects that this site can have. Leveraging SEO capabilities, mobile payments apps, loyalty programs and geo-location are just some of themeasurable and rewarding opportunities that exist for businesses to recognize the positive effects technology can have on their marketing efforts. Listen to your customers — and watch them. They will tell you how to best reach them and engage them. In our world of smartphone-driven consumption, can you really risk not exploring the potential of technology?
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.