The Internet of Now

Those of us old enough to remember the first desktop computers have watched the Internet emerge as perhaps the defining technology of this generation, the one thing that mankind has invented to date which far exceeds the ability of any one person to understand or encompass. It has put large parts of the recorded wisdom of the ages at the disposal of us all, it allows us to keep up with our high school classmates and watch adorable kittens problem solve on demand. To date it has reordered communication, research, education and entertainment to name but a few.

However it’s not done yet. There are two emerging trends which overlap and complement each other which will further disrupt and perhaps enrich our lives. As an example let me take you through an hour or so of last Saturday evening: I arrived back from a business trip on a United flight from New Orleans to San Diego. On the last leg connecting through Denver the gate was changed on me three times, prompting much confusion and several weary exoduses by other hopeful travelers through the vast airport. On the flight I had a snack and a glass of wine. The stewardess didn’t know what snacks she had on the cart, it took two attempts to run my new debit card. After fumbling through a menu and the cart I eventually paid for the culinary delight and continued to watch the movie which I had previously downloaded to my iPad. I hadn’t checked luggage but if I had I would have been searching the displays and baggage belt for my bag…which looks exactly like every other bag on the plane.  When I arrived at the airport I fished the parking card out of my wallet and paid with my Amex at the barrier. All the way home my radar detector beeped and burped at every potential cop (an essential addition to life in SoCal) as my Wayze ap gave feedback from fellow travelers on 15 north.

What’s impressive to a relatively old coot like myself is how well much of that stuff worked. I was able to pay for everything electronically, I could download the movie (albeit at home as the WiFi in the terminal or on the plane is lamentably slow). I did check in on line, I did download the movie, I didn’t get a speeding ticket.  What is also striking is how much better most of that could have been.  The next big online waves are visible on the horizon and headed our way.

As the internet of things crystallizes most of our personal and domestic technology will get connected to the Internet. That will likely mean that I’d be alerted to those gate changes as they happened, see what’s available on the cart and pay for it perhaps by just putting my finger on the payment pad, my car will know I’m down and might be warming the engine up while I wait for the bag which I can clearly see is only moments away. I would then drive out (no need for parking tickets) my radar detector would contribute seamlessly to the network of fellow citizens seeking to stay one step ahead of the fuzz, indeed with the right smart car perhaps it could drive me home while I nap at the wheel, on the way home my refrigerator might remind me we were out of half and half (we were). On long trips I tend to use a car service as it’s cheaper than parking and sometimes it’s good not to have to stress the journey after the flight. Saturday evening I could have used my Uber app on my phone to magically summons a town car the moment I hit curb side I could also have used my phone to turn up my Nest smart thermostat at home.  What’s interesting about the last two items is that both of those companies are regarded as ground breaking in the next wave…and both of them have recently received stratospherically high valuations and investments. So there is clearly something going on and someone values that very highly.

What’s happening is that more and more of our devices are getting online and the time it takes to get something done or delivered is also dropping dramatically. We are only a few short years away from being able to routinely talk to our devices and have them give us useful data back. That data might be linked to suppliers so that the stuff I need is already on its way from my Amazon (perhaps by drone).

As our devices come on line and out world becomes increasingly more convenient and real time so some aspects of our lives are likely to get more and more real time too. Have you ever broken down roadside and spent what feels like hours negotiating rescue from AAA or Bob’s Tow ‘n’ Go. Have you ever looked at the mess after that great dinner party and thought “I need a maid and I need her now!”  Have you ever had a spare slot in your schedule and thought “Hair…I have to get my hair cut before that interview tomorrow…who can see me now”…or stared at the lake of backed up sewage in your guests bathroom and prayed for a big red “plumber” button on your phone. It’s going to happen…and sooner than you think. Along with the rise of the internet came the fall of traditional media…especially local media. Local businesses have largely lost faith with the traditional which used to bring them new clients but have entirely failed to come to grips with the complex and potentially disastrously expensive mess of new media. In the same way you wish you had a big red “Plumber” button there are thousands of plumbers out there with gaps in their schedules wishing they had a big red “customer” button…and they will…soon.

The sea change has already happened, we just haven quite understood the magnitude of it yet.  Pretty much everyone with an income has a smart phone with internet access.  We are well used to talking to service providers to book jobs…what’s stopping us from smoothing out the last points of contact between customer and provider to produce the Internet of “Now” for all kinds of service providers. The answer is money, technology, vision and delivery…which is where Search Initiatives comes in…we have all four.   What we do today is connect tens of thousands of service providers (Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, landscapers, electricians and beauty spas with millions of thousands of potential customers. We do that by exposing carefully crafted and targeted ads through the crazy matrix of search, social media, real time display re-targeting to customers with a real need. We do that in real time and at enormous scale. The person to person contact is delivered through the good old fashioned phone call…the one medium understood and trusted by all those involved.  What we are doing right now is very fast…is it real-time-on-demand and now to the point where we are able to immediately match need to provider so that all the clients who need plumbers are perfectly match immediately with the nearest plumber with immediate availability…not quite. But it’s coming and when it does you may rest assured that Search Initiatives will be the folk behind the big “NOW” button on your phone…and on your plumbers phone.

So as you get used to the idea of your refrigerator reminding you to pick up milk, or your watch telling you that you are 1,000 paces short of your exercise goal, get used to the idea that waiting to get help with all of the other things your life throws at you is going to be a thing of the past. Welcome to the Internet of Now.

A Momentary Loss of Reason?

I don’t usually use my little soap box for more than raging at the thunder in the online space. I’m an immigrant to this fair country, I can’t vote and I mostly leave the Politics to those who can.  Back when I used to sing with a large barbershop chorus in New England my fellow singers would tease me about singing the star spangled banner at various events. In response I used to say “you are here by accident of birth…I chose to live here… damn it” or words to that effect. So it was with a weird mixture if incredulity and real sadness that I have been watching the machinations in Arizona over the past week or so.

ArizonaLike most good Americans I hold dear life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…also freedom for religion and freedom from religion. I gave up praying to the thunder a while back…but I still understand the inclination and have been known to lament “I miss God” from time to time. Democracy is an odd way to run a country…but still better than all the other options. We all hold it dear but many of us don’t vote. If we don’t vote that holds the door open for the activists (on all sides) who are prepared to get out their vote to set that agenda. Sometimes things can go horribly wrong and we end up electing a former wrestler as Governor or deciding to teach creationism as coequal with evolution.  The good news is that what can be voted in can also be voted out, and we tend to have a self-correcting system where things get voted in because the sensible majority just weren’t paying attention can be voted out in short order by the same reasonably sane majority.

Alongside this political horse race runs the typically much less volatile game of business.  I run a business….not a huge one (yet) but none the less one of some size. I think I’d find the vast majority of my fellow entrepreneurs in agreement that no matter what our personal opinion might be on any given matter it makes utterly no sense to attempt to codify religious bigotry, intolerance or homophobia into the law of the land…or the state in the case of Arizona.

Why would you do that? Even if you are so unreconstructed that you might feel that way, why would you attempt to bring that into that which pays the bills?  You may have a “sincerely held religious belief” that women are second class citizens, Jews are the devil and left handed people should be stoned for wearing both synthetic and natural fibers at the same time or on a Sunday…but this is America and you don’t get to monkey with the law to suit your own “sincerely held” bigotry. If you don’t like gay people or Armenians or left handed people you don’t have to marry one or invite one home to meet Mom…but you don’t get to not serve them in your restaurant, not fix their broken pipes or not rent them a room in your apartment block.  You are (supposedly) part of a civil society, one in which we all pay for the roads, the schools the fire department and the F16s. You don’t get to pull up your teensy weensy draw bridge because you think gay people are “Icky.”  I (like many I imagine) might find your intolerant and idiotic “sincerely held” views completely objectionable…but I will defend to the death your right to have them and express them. What you don’t get to do is foist your sad and idiotic bigotry on the rest of society….to cause chaos which the rest of us have to fix.  Were we asleep at the switch?…I guess so. Are there a lot of people in Arizona who find anyone who doesn’t think and act like themselves “Icky” no doubt…but turning Arizona into the one state where you can discriminate without fear of recourse “just because” is idiotic.

Business leader are scrambling to get the Hail Mary save of a Governor’s veto to stop this bill, indeed several Republican law makers who actually voted for the bill (presumably to appease their activist constituents) are even now also pressing for a veto to save themselves from themselves. Arizona is a big, hot, rich supposedly grown up state, with hundreds of thousands of federal and military jobs. It’s also home to millions of private sector jobs in companies who need this kind of religiously driven distraction like they need a hole in the head. I suspect the Governor will do the right thing and veto this ridiculous legislation and I imagine heads will roll….well we can at least hope so.

Local Online Confusion

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The chances are that you are reading this on your smart phone or tablet or perhaps you are taking a break from your phone to read this on your computer or even on that charming ‘dead tree product’ called a magazine.  So much of how we live and shop has moved online.  Large companies with massive marketing budgets now have teams of online experts figuring out how to reach their audience through the complex web of new media often in tandem with traditional media.

Now answer this question: When was the last time you interacted with your yellow pages?  I don’t mean when you picked it up and walked it straight to your recycling bin, I mean when you last used it to find a local business. Thought so…me neither.  There was a time quite recently when your Sunday paper had to be lowered buy winch onto your front porch…now, if you still get it all, it’s clearly been on a severe diet.  We have been living through a massive realignment of media…print media has been vaporizing before our eyes.

What hasn’t changed anywhere near as much is the rest of our every-day issues.  We still get tooth aches, leaks in our pipes, pest infestations and we get married.  We still use dentists, plumbers, rat catchers and party rental stores.  The massive real world operation which is the twenty million local businesses in the US still do business every day.  What went away is the way those businesses use to get new clients.

It used to be that owning a home and sending your kids to college was the American Dream.  Those have become much closer to the new normal for many Americans, now owning your own business has become for many a new part of that dream.  The BIA Kelsey organization, experts in all things local, tells us that each year roughly half of all business done by local businesses is new business.  Local businesses get that and are desperately trying to come to terms with a radically altered local advertising environment.  It’s no longer good enough just to have a basic website, local businesses really need a social media plan, they may have to manage their online reputation, they may even tweet!  The complex and rapidly changing world of online media is tough for a freshly minted MBA who went to school to learn this stuff – it’s simply impossible for the average local business to navigate.

Clearly this presents a problem to a large and growing segment of the US economy.  Interestingly, a solution has emerged in recent years and Search Initiatives, Inc. is leading that revolution.

Most local businesses don’t value “clicks” to their websites, “likes,” “tweets,” or “reviews.”  Most would much rather get a telephone call from a potential customer looking for a quote or to schedule a service.  People certainly do research online but when it comes to get serious about the project at hand many shoppers would rather speak to the company involved.  That makes the 100 year old telephone a critical part of the new media economy.  Local businesses have figured out that rather than pay a marketing company, yellow pages or newspaper for websites or clicks they would rather pay for calls from potential customers.  Those customers may well have come from ads seen on search engines, social media even banner ads…but that’s not the concern of the local business who only pays when the phone rings.  Those businesses are more than happy to pay a premium for those calls.  A dentist may pay $40 for a new customer a home security company may pay over $100 for a call from a potential client because they recognize at a profound level that the potential customer on the phone is a much better prospect than any other kind.

Interestingly, these local businesses are still being sold to by the same yellow page or news print reps but instead of just selling print they are being sold online visibility packages which typically include a website, social media management and most importantly a certain number of leads delivered by tracked telephone calls.  This has driven a massive growth in the “Pay per Call” industry and Search Initiatives is leading that sea change.

Local businesses need to advertise, yet they are unable to navigate the complex world of new media effectively.  There is a pent up demand in the form of the billions of dollars which have fled traditional print media and have not yet found a place in the new media world.  What Search Initiatives does is use the complex and challenging tools presented by new media such as SEO, SEM, RTB, FBX, PPC and a dozen other acronyms which you will hopefully never have to come to terms with to drive new customers to local businesses via the paid phone lead.  It’s a concept which any local business can understand and embrace.  They only get changed if a potential new client is brought to them…if we can’t deliver we don’t get paid.

Search Initiatives has deep roots in new media and local business.  We work with the people who sell to local business to deliver the calls they need.  That means we have almost no cost to acquire a new customer.  Our millions of advertisers are managed by our marketing partners.  They provide all the customer support to our advertisers.  That leaves us free to focus on what we do best; driving thousands of valuable leads to local businesses in massive volume.

This new version of local advertising uses the kaleidoscope of new media to drive customers to local locations   Search Initiatives is ideally placed to be the one stop solution for all things local.  It’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity which represents the last green field opportunity in new media and Search Initiatives is ideally placed to lead that revolution.