Mike Blumenthal & Mary Bowling take a Deep Dive into Google’s new Messaging product that allows business to directly interact with their customers
This is our Deep Dive Into Local from July 17th, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Welcome to the Deep Dive with Local U with Mary Bowling and myself, Mike Blumenthal. This week we’re going to talk about Google’s recently released messaging product, which allows businesses to let their customers directly reach out to them via SMS, or Allo, or via the Android communications platform — SMS platform — to interact directly with their customers. Have you had a chance to look at the product, Mary? I know you’ve been traveling a lot.
Mary: I have not really looked at it beyond knowing that when I look in a local knowledge panel sometimes there’s messaging opportunity there for me. So, I guess I have more questions than answers right now. If you don’t sign up for that, it does not show up in your local knowledge panel?
Mike: Correct. And you can turn it on or off relatively easily….
Mary: Through your Google My Business app?
Mike: It doesn’t appear to be in the app yet. It seems to be strictly desktop at this point. Of all the three products they’ve introduced, this is the least developed. In other words, it’s still early. And there’s obviously a lot of plans, so one of the issues is it doesn’t automatically shut off if you’re closed.
Mary: Oh, that’s interesting.
Mike: So if you want to not use it, then you have to login to the GMB and shut it off when you’re closed. But you can turn it on and off at will. It initially rolled out primarily as a single business product. You can have multiple businesses communicating with the same SMS number although you have to go in and set each one up individually. It’s not designed to work at scale, but if you had a four- or five-location business, you could certainly funnel all of those businesses into the same SMS number. And then you’d have to remember to shut it off if you don’t want to be answering it after hours. Google is going to be tracking and showing average response times. So if you’re a business that can’t respond quickly, I think it behooves you not to turn it on.
Mary: Oh, I agree.
Mike: And I think that as a business, you have to understand where in your funnel it fits and what its goal is, right? I think that one of the dangers of the massive splitting up of communication channels — used to be, you had the phone or people would walk in. That was it. And now you’ve got email, and SMS, and Facebook messaging. And now you have Google messaging and Yelp messaging and all these others. And you run a danger I think, of splitting your attention so that you don’t do a good job of answering any of them. So the first issue for me is understanding how you’re going to get it answered, who is going to answer it, how many hours a day you’re going to take the answer, what time you’re going to stop answering it, those sorts of things.
So you have to answer that question in the affirmative that, “Yes, we can handle SMS at one of our numbers reliably.” And then the second question is what’s its role? I see it in some ways perhaps as even hurting the sales cycle, right? If somebody’s moving down the sales funnel and they make a decision to click to call you or they click to get driving directions, those are good actions. I see this as potentially disrupting that in some sense, right? So may go, “Oh, let’s text them and then they’ll text me. And I’ll get back to them.” And all of a sudden, they moved on, right? So I see it as potentially in some situations as disrupting sales as well as disrupting attention. So I think you have to decide where it fits in your business. I think a use case where it’s ideal is a very small business like a plumber, or a carpenter, or a roofer that’s on the road all the time, and he’s currently driving most of his calls to voicemail. But he is checking his SMS regularly. And, I mean, in that situation, I think it’s a great way to improve your customer communications. By the same token, I think in the medical industry, it could be a total disaster, right?
Mike: The rollout plan is interesting to me. Google rolled it out in the United States first, Brazil and India second with no announced intentions of Australia or the rest of the developed world — Europe or Canada — which means Google sees this primarily for the next billion users coming online, for the next 20 million businesses coming online. They don’t see it primarily as a tool in the developed world, although I think in the right industry, correctly managed, it could be.
Mary: Yes, I would have to agree with you on that. And then, for a lot of businesses, you’re probably going to have to try it and see how it’s working for you, how your customers are trying to use it before you can decide the best way for you to use it to stay in touch with them. I mean I could see a small…you’re talking about a small one-man business. I could see chat…
Mike: One-person business. I assume it could be a woman doing the plumbing as well.
Mary: Yes. Oh, true. One-person business. I could see how texting could absolutely drive you crazy if you’re trying to fix something and you’re continually interrupted with text messages. You have to figure out how you can manage that for your business. And is there a way to set up the chat to have, like, an auto response?
Mike: The current functionality…there is only one auto response capability which is a welcome message which is only available on certain Android phones. It’s not available on SMS, so it doesn’t work on iPhone. And there is no intelligent chat that could start and, for example, qualify somebody at this point. There are no bots, there’s none of the sophisticated stuff that you see with Facebook Messenger. Which is why, again, it’s focused primarily as a tool for the developing world where SMS is a heavily-used tool, and Google is looking to create a driver for businesses and customers to use their product.
Mary: Yes. And you can see how in a developing world where people may not have websites that talk about their products and show what they offer, that being able to get in touch with the business very quickly and having the business respond quickly, is pretty darn important.
Mike: Right. So it could work really well with the website product they rolled out and with Posts. All three things speak really well. I think Posts, of the three products, is the most valuable to businesses in this country.
Mary: Right now, yes.
Mike: Right now. Because I think that the knowledge panel is seen broadly by people. They are familiar with it. My Posts are seen both in the local finder and in the knowledge panel. And I see it as a great way to communicate very low in the funnel though. I mean, it occurs typically after somebody has decided to explore your business in more depth, right? It’s not high in the funnel, but still it’s one last chance to convince them that you are a decent company.
So I’ve been looking at different kinds of Posts over the last week, and I saw three, what I thought were three good examples and one terrible example of how not to use it. The three good ones one was being B&H Photo, right? You go to B&H Photo because you’re a big boy looking for toys, expensive toys. And they use it to pitch their newest toys — drones, or really big lenses. You know that kind of stuff that guys love, right? Sexist, but true. I suppose there are women who love that stuff, too. But B&H is a great store if you’re interested in gadgets, and they used it to really highlight the gadget nature, which is what you would expect from them, right?
Just Mind, which is a counseling clinic in Austin, does a great job of stating the problem and offering a solution either in the form of a specific type of counseling or in the form of a counselor. The one area where I thought Just Mind fell down just a little bit was a lot of his pictures were cropped by Google. The pictures on Posts have to be lowered in the frame a little bit so when they crop stuff off, they crop off less relevant stuff. It’s what I call center-weighted. But his messages were compelling. The first hundred characters were compelling. So you could see what it was about. And now in the case of B&H and Just Mind good calls to action. In the case of B&H, it was the “buy” button. In the case of Just Mind, it was a “reserve” button. And I think Barbara Oliver, who is very strong in consultative selling, does a good job with it. She is all about educating her customers and for her the standard call to action is “learn more,” and she takes them to a longer article. The article could be on her website, or it could be on Facebook. I noticed she was driving people to her Facebook page. But for her, it’s all about education so she uses “learn more.”
And I don’t know about B&H, but I was able to get access to Just Mind and Barbara Oliver’s analytics on Posts. And they were seeing somewhere…on their better posts, they were seeing a 2% to 3% engagement with the call to action. On the average post, they were seeing about a 1% engagement. Obviously, the number of times posts gets seen, is a function often your knowledge panel or your listing stands out in the local finder. So it’s kind of varied. But I was seeing somewhere between, on average, about a 1% engagement, which I have nothing to measure it by. So I’d be curious to know what B&H’s engagement rate is. But I reached out to them see if they’d tell me, but I haven’t heard back. So the messaging comes on the heels of Posts. I think it is less generally useful than Posts, but I think there are certain businesses…an example of a business case where I see messaging is useful would be those types of businesses that have 24-hour answering services. But they close at 5:00, right?
Mike: So DUI attorneys or towing services, those kinds of places I’d see it as very valuable there. It seems like it’d be a no-brainer in that situation, right? Someone’s being arrested, they go do a Google search, boom! They message immediately.
Mary: Do you see a clear way for big brands to use Posts to benefit their locations without causing the locations too much work?
Mike: I think I wrote about this two weeks ago. Google did open up a application for multi-location businesses to apply, to test Posts across multiple locations. So as it currently is construed, it is very focused on the single location. It is not focused on multi-locations. But one would guess that they are moving towards an API for it given that trial that they opened up. So, right now, I would test it if I were a multi-location chain to see what kind of engagement I can expect. I would pick two or three locations and try it.
A couple of tactics around it — one is, I don’t see any reason you couldn’t, depending on the business some businesses more so than others, but it made sense to me to have three or four standard Posts that would rotate since they run out every week, right? Make it every reason… There’s some things that are just need to be said over and over again. You can just rotate those. There’s no scheduling of it yet, which is a big drag on a multi-location chain. And there’s no cross-location posting yet, so that’s another big drag. But events with Posts stay persistent, so if you post an event that isn’t occurring until September 15th, that Post will stay up for the duration of that, which is powerful.
Now, I was looking at museums’ use of Posts the other day and most of them are using it as an event notification. They should be using rich snippets because it’s going to be neater on the page, but those that hadn’t figured out which snippets seemed to be using Posts for that. But a couple were using it to provide greater detail about some of their events, they’re visiting exhibits, which I think is a good use for it.
Mary: Right. And when I look at some other, kind of lower-consideration purchases, I see people using coupons and announcing sales and that sort of thing.
Mike: Which reminds me of the example I saw that was terrible, which is this lawyer who came out of the SEO world. And the whole thing was … San Francisco employment lawyer, lawyer at San Francisco employment, you know?
Mary: Oh, Gee…
Mike: So I think that the hard sell is probably, I think you have to have a pitch that’s consistent with what you’re doing, right? If you use coupons a lot, then a coupon might make sense. Part of the issue there is it’s very difficult. You have to be really careful about how you construct the image because it’s going to get cropped.
Mary: Look at your images after they’re published.
Mike: After they’re published.
Mary: And adjust.
Mike: But for me, that is really going to benefit those people that do put a lot of care into the image, and put a lot of care into the message, particularly into the first hundred, and put a lot of care into the landing page that they’re driving people to. I think that the whole experience needs to be good. I do see it as a way for restaurants, for example, with Posts to — not so much messaging, I see messaging as a disaster for restaurants — but I see Posts as a way to overcome a lot of the delivery links that are showing up because you’re subscribed to various delivery services. They get their link there rather than your, you know…even if somebody’s looking for you, you don’t really want them to order through a third-party service. I see it as a way to capture some of that space for a restaurant to try to get those orders directly. Going to do a pickup? Call us kind of deal, right?
Mike: Or here’s our most recent takeout order. I see it also as very engaging for some types of businesses like bakeries that could be showing what they’re doing at that moment, or this real-time engagement of their product process, that kind of thing. But I think in the end, quality is going to rule. And I think that there is a danger of it becoming too sales-y and not useful to the customer.
Mary: Yes. I mean, I think that most small businesses, their first thought is always the sale, the sale, the sale, and that we need to be the people who teach them how to market without pushing for the sale quite so hard every single time in every single place.
Mike: Right. I mean, there are some times where a coupon is going to be the deciding factor but for the most part, the buy me, buy me, buy me, buy from me — that, I don’t believe, is going to be compelling. Again, we’re low in the funnel, but we still don’t have the sale, right? In other words, somebody’s looking at you and comparing you to somebody else. I think it’s important that you look better than the next business you’re up against by having both better messaging — back to Phil’s article about word-smithing — and I think better imagery. I think you need to use the opportunity to convince them that you are both the domain expert and trustworthy. I think those come into play in terms of conversion optimization much more than the clawing call-to-action that you need to buy this thing now. Now, again, in the case of B&H, that was successful because they’re all about high-tech gadgetry. And for them to highlight the high-tech gadgetry — totally appropriate. But I think for most businesses, there isn’t that trust level because there isn’t the brand, right?
Mary: Mm-hmm, yes. And I can see, depending on kind what of business you have — if you had a restaurant and you started putting in your Posts, your daily specials for the day, well, your regular customers are going to start looking at that quite frequently. And if you can figure out a way to consolidate that information and get them to it easily, that’d be great. But if they’re doing a brand search, that’s pretty great, too.
Mike: Yes. And I have another restaurant that does events regularly. I think for them it’s an ideal platform, Posts is an ideal platform…whereas messaging, probably not so much, right? I mean messaging for a restaurant would have to be real-time. And there are other platforms that do that already. So I think you’d want to go with a platform that ties into your reservation system. A lot of restaurants that don’t take reservations say, “Okay, we’re going to put you on the list. We’ll text you when your seat’s ready,” right? I think you’d want to tie it into that, so. Well maybe you can, I don’t know. Maybe you can tie a third-party SMS into that. So that’s an interesting question. If you were doing text for that purpose already, then if you could tie this into that system, that would make sense, right? Where somebody could text you “How busy are you? Well, it’s a 20-minute wait,” right?
Mary: Right. So, as you say, I think that there’s an opportunity for some tools whether Google develops them or a third party develops them, to be able to really manage these Posts a little bit better.
Mike: Yes. And for sure Google is going after that low funnel communication and positioning. And I think once again, it should awaken marketers to realize that the reason they’re doing it is to sell more AdWords, and that it’s going to make AdWords sales that much harder. But it’s going to make communicating by the business easier. And I think the value we can add in that is to help them learn how to be effective communicators.
Mike: So with those pearls of wisdom we can call it a wrap.
Mary: Thanks, Mike.
Mike: Thanks for joining us for The Deep Dive. Bye-bye.