Connecting the Local-Mobile Economy, One Step at a Time

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I’m as guilty as the next person of stringing together buzz phrases for maximum market hype. But when necessary, I also can play the crotchety old professor who tries to weigh cool new technologies against market realities. So here’s the string: hyperlocal, mobile, on-demand contextual commerce enabled by buy buttons within mobile apps. And here’s the market reality: This is startups, pundits, and tech megastars talking among themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. The conversation has to start somewhere. But it’s going to take a little while for this string to play out in the connected local economy. Even as mobile disrupts search, most marketers and merchants can’t expect to get their own app on a majority of users’ home screens. Plus, this dialog is way over the heads of the small merchants who drive a significant part of local commerce.

The challenges of selling innovative technologies to local small businesses is a recurring Street Fight theme. This webinar summarizes many of the issues revealed by our survey-driven Local Merchant 2015 report, including local merchants’ marketing adoption, as illustrated below. Granted, the survey respondents were very small businesses, and they are aggressively using digital marketing like search and social media. But just getting mobile on their radar screen will take some doing, even as would-be suppliers rate it as their biggest investment area in marketing and commerce.SMB use of media

My buzzword string originated from my participation last week in the inaugural TAP Conference put on by Button, which also announced a marketplace for developers seeking an easy way to link mobile functions within apps. Button makes an SDK that gracefully deep-links between apps so that, for example, a Foursquare user can book a reservation on OpenTable without manually navigating between the apps. Button CEO Mike Jaconi envisions the marketplace as the hub of an ecosystem where app developers of all sizes can make connections. Early participants include Uber, Airbnb, and Ticketmaster.

Button’s marketplace offers a lot of potential, even if Jaconi won’t position it as “the rest of the world against Facebook, Google, and Twitter,” each of which is rolling out buy buttons. He was a little vague about Button’s role as a partnership broker — there are no certification, multi-level marketing, or formal affiliate programs yet, though he concedes dorm-room startups will require different relationships than Fortune 100 players. Still, it says something that well-resourced companies like Foursquare and OpenTable are Button proponents.

Jaconi is also fairly subtle about jumping on ad-blocking fear, uncertainty, and doubt, though he’s quick to point out that mobile apps need as many monetization strategies as possible. I’d add that they also need customer acquisition strategies. That’s another benefit of adding deep links in a mobile world currently dominated by walled gardens from Apple, Google, and Facebook. In fact, several panelists on my “Future of Delivery” session acknowledged they were embracing Button for just that reason. Jodi Kahn, chief consumer officer for FreshDirect, the veteran company on the panel, said social media marketing was effective for customer acquisition. She noted that Facebook was practically the equivalent of email, while Pinterest was something entirely different.

The conference was lots of fun, and did provide a window into this early conversation. There will be a lot more to say later this month at our New York Street Fight Summit. But it’s not just merchants that are going to need buzzword coaching. As Pinterest’s Eva Smith acknowledged, even though 80 percent of Pinterest users’ time is mobile, most of its nascent transaction conversions are still done on the desktop.

David Card is Street Fight’s director of research.