Location data and analytics are a key R&D priority both now and in the longer term for companies supplying technologies and services to the connected local economy, according to Street Fight’s latest reader survey. Those companies deem AI and voice technology as two areas that require investment now, with an eye on a later payoff.

Those are the attitudes of over 75 senior managers at local tech companies, agencies, publishers, and local data and analytics providers in their thinking about their company’s R&D, product, and marketing. I presented some of our survey findings at the Street Fight Summit West in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and am in the process of writing up the State of Hyperlocal 2018 report. Our analysis will help companies compare and adjust their R&D spending and marketing tactics, by taking the pulse of their peers as well as comparing their responses with those of their customers and prospects at local small businesses and multi-location brands that we surveyed earlier.

The figure below illustrates what industry execs listed as among their top 2 local marketing and commerce technologies that were so important long-term that they feel like they must invest in them now even though there may not be an immediate payoff. That’s in comparison with their current 12 to 18 month R&D priorities I described in an earlier post. Priorities like addressing online-to-offline marketing attribution and local presence and listings management nosed out location data for immediate attention. And, of course, location data is a critical tool proving marketing effectiveness and ROI.

 

Companies that sell to multi-location brands are the ones driving location data investment. Suppliers that focus on small business put geo-targeting and -fencing at the top of their lists, with location data, AI, and voice technology garnering significant attention. More of the companies servicing enterprise local marketers said they were investing in AI and voice, also, as well as addressable TV. According to the survey, location data and analytics is a top priority for suppliers regardless of whether they are tech providers, agencies, or publishers.

Compared with their current R&D focus, location data and geo-targeting showed modest gains in investment for future payoff. But the big movers, the technologies that fewer respondents had as a current priority but which showed up as a longer-term strategy, were AI and voice technology. Mobile wallets and payments tripled in interest but still failed to break into the top 2 for more than 13% of respondents. Augmented reality and streaming audio/video doubled in interest but appear to be niche priorities, and beacons seem to have fallen off everybody’s radar.

Since AI is the buzziest of acronyms these days, we asked our survey takers where they thought applying it and machine learning would be most useful. Customer segmentation and purchase prediction proved the most favored responses, as shown in the figure above. Respondents believe those applications, plus recommendations and content creation, are more practical than things like virtual assistants. The respondents that had AI on their longer-term payoff list tended to work at agencies, data/analytics providers, and ad tech companies somewhat more than other technology providers or publishers. 

I’ve written about practical AI, especially as applied to email for content personalization and customer targeting. That’s definitely a legitimate AI approach for today, with more predictive purchase analysis on the horizon and true, general-purpose AI probably many years away. It seems more sensible to apply AI techniques to things people can’t do – particularly at scale or in real-time – rather than to try to mimic human behavior or speech. At least for now.

Our reader survey suggests that enterprise-focused suppliers have their R&D well aligned with their customers’ interest in new technologies. Multi-location brands we surveyed said real-time location data and mobile “push” offerings were high on their list of new technologies to explore. Many also called out addressable TV and programmatic advertising, while they appear to be just starting to explore AI. SMB local merchants are also keen on push marketing and location data, and they have wallets and payments on their minds as well.

David Card is Street Fight’s director of research.

Click here for a free copy of last year’s State of Hyperlocal report.

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