Though they may not have to contend with code, small business owners are just as busy as startup founders, and just like founders, they are constantly being thrown advice from all angles, particularly when it comes to online marketing: they should be on Facebook, they should be hashtagging everything on Instagram, they need to start a website and write 23 blog posts a week to get their Google ranking up…for a small business owner who spends 12 hours a day interacting with customers and several after that working the books, all the advice is impossible to implement.
Melbourne startup Powered Local is looking to simplify it all again by helping businesses to hone in on perhaps the most valuable form of marketing: word of mouth. The startup powers marketing automation for small businesses using wifi; what that actually means is that when a customer wants to hook into the café’s wifi, Powered Local’s system asks them to check into the café on Facebook before they will be granted access.
The idea here is that the user’s Facebook friends will notice them checking into that location, and keep it in mind next time they’re looking for a new café to try out – word of mouth in the digital age.
Interestingly, cofounders Michael Jankie and Gary Tramer came to the idea after years running SEO business Searchwords, working with a similar client base. Eventually, Jankie explained, the pair eventually realised they longer believed that actively working on SEO is all that important.
“It got to a point where I couldn’t confidently convince a friend or a family member to pay me for these services. I think it’s cheap and there’s value there, but I just don’t think it’s good enough. It was really at that point where we went, this isn’t right, we want something that we not only would be happy to pay for ourselves, but we’d be happy to convince family and friends to pay for that,” Jankie explained.
“The market we work with is people who are not really time-poor but expertise-poor, being hammered by everyone from every angle. They’ve got people coming in and saying buy this, sign up to that, do this, do that and they really just want to make a coffee and let the quality of the product kind of sit on its own, and this really plays into that.
“We speak to customers and they say, someone told me we had to do Facebook posts and we’ve spent all this time doing Facebook posts and then we found out that we’ve only got 27 likes and only one person saw this post that I spent three hours on so I stopped posting.”
With the focus on SEO and social media marketing across every social platform available, Jankie said that business owners were forgetting about the importance of their existing crowd and word of mouth marketing.
“They were forgetting to think about how to get their current customers to promote them to other people, because that’s far more valuable than appearing in page one of Google. What’s actually better, in the medical field or for dentists, is for one patient to refer another patient, that’s how you’re going to achieve the best results,” Jankie said.
“How else do you pick a dentist? All the websites look the same, all the Facebook pages are posting out the same information, so at least this is some clarity from all the noise.”
With that in mind Jankie and Tramer set themselves up a competition of sorts, looking at who could come up with the best idea that would help businesses generate word of mouth. Jankie won with what would eventually become Powered Local.
The pair, who also run a business called LeadChat, began working on the idea around a year ago with the help of existing investors. They have had paying customers on for six months, with the system starting at $69 per month on a month-to-month plan.
The system is effectively plug and play, working by hooking up to a business owner’s existing internet connection, with a data platform then working to capture login details and showcase them to the business owner. PoweredLocal also integrates with a range of other platforms, allowing businesses to send users a welcome email a couple of minutes after they’ve checked in, for example.
“We just thought we’d make it simple and allow customers to use whatever platform they’re used to using, we didn’t want them to have to change anything. That’s a big part of our thinking, the whole idea of don’t force people to learn new things, don’t force people to change, keep it as simple as possible and as powerful as possible,” Jankie said.
Given the concerns around public wifi, the idea of collecting all this data might make some users uneasy, but Jankie said PoweredLocal collects the bare minimum that will actually be useful to small business owners: age, gender, name, and email address.
“A lot of our customers are sending out vouchers when it’s someone’s birthday, so that’s how they use the birthday, or they’re sending out a Mother’s Day voucher. We don’t believe in tracking every single web page that a person is looking at, or what they’re downloading or looking at anything else, we don’t even touch it,” Jankie said.
He said Powered Local had checked out the likes of competitors such as SkyFii, which collects detailed behavioural data about users, but believes they are operating in different markets: where SkyFii is looking at shopping centres, Powered Local is firmly focused on small businesses or the likes of hospitality groups or medical centres with a few different venues.
The most advanced some of Powered Local’s customers are getting with their data, Jankie said, is using Facebook demographics to plan advertising campaigns when they open a new store, or even using that kind of data to scout for new locations by searching for areas with the same kinds of customers as their existing shopfront.
“The truth is that Facebook has more data on all of us than any other source in the world at the moment, so this sort of allows them to leverage that,” Jankie said.
Powered Local aims to have 10,000 wifi hubs established within three years, with 7,000 in Australia before heading overseas into Asia by this time next year.
Image: Michael Jankie. Source: Supplied.