Doing It for Themselves

I took a micro break from ThinkJudd for a mega graduation…that’s one son through college and one on the way. During my travels, I reveled in the ease and convenience of being able to use my iPhone to check in through security rather than print out a paper boarding pass.

Of the dozens of people ahead of me, at least half checked in to security and boarded the plane by scanning their phone. That prompted me to ponder the self-service adoption conundrum.

It is a widely held opinion in our industry that local businesses do not like self-service and won’t adopt it or will adopt it slowly. But if that were really true, eBay wouldn’t exist, Groupon wouldn’t be in the mess they are in right now and Amazon would still be a small online bookshop. I don’t ever recall seeing a promotion for checking in with a smart phone. In fact, I barely remember the transition to online check in, but I know it happened pretty quickly. It seems that if there is a compelling enough reason, folks will figure out how to get things (for which they really care about) done.

The multi-billion dollar question is what will be the tipping point for local online. Historically, local online advertising has been a complicated mess with the largest single player in the space being “other.” One of the most significant problems is perceived ROI. Local businesses are famously fickle in their media choices.  Absent any compelling argument, they tend to buy the last thing they were sold. If there were the local business equivalent of mobile check in that allowed local businesses to spend their scarce marketing dollars with new media and get tangible value for their money, then the mobile check-in paradigm suggests that adoption might follow.

As always, the gorilla in the room is our good friend Google. A couple of years ago, I was discussing just this very same issue with a guy who was running Google Local. I pointed out that although it’s a great idea, it might take a decade for self-service for local to really come to fruition. His reply was interesting: “That’s the kind of time line we are thinking of,too…and we are comfortable with that.”

The other key problem with local online is that if you don’t have a really good grasp of what’s going on it’s incredibly easy to blow through your budget and get almost nothing tangible in return. That’s just not going to fly with the typical SMB.

In our world, we use a Pay Per Call approach where customers only pay for leads. If we can’t generate the lead, we don’t get paid. That works extremely well and there seems to be a huge demand for it.  But let’s get one thing clear: it is not self-service. Our local clients come to us through advertising and marketing agencies that really understand the complexities and dangers that surround our space.

Those clients are stacking up fast, and it’s likely that at least some of them are going to catch on to the opportunity and figure out how to work with folks like us directly. Whilst there’s no immediate apparent equivalent to the smart phone check-in to stampede the vast SMB throng to one approach, it appears the herd is on the move with Pay Per Call.

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