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US: Is Yelp a dark-horse competitor to Big Data?

Multiple outlets reported this week that crowd-sourced reviewing app Yelp has acquired Toronto-based Turnstyle Analytics for $20 million in cash. By Silicon Valley standards, the acquisition is pocket change - but given the geo-location marketing tools the acquisition adds to Yelp's toolbox, it gives the company a chance to pull marketing dollars away from Big Data-behemoths Google and Facebook by providing a platform for its core small-business clients to identify, understand, and influence their best customers. 
 
By Rick Ferguson
 
Turnstyle Analytics provides a simple value proposition to its mostly restaurant clients: The ability to build and analyze a database of best-customer activity enabled by customer email signups for free Wi-Fi. The acquisition will help Yelp move beyond its acquisition-based marketing services to provide marketing services built around customer loyalty. The Wi-fi-based geo-location marketing enabled by the Turnstyle platform also provides restaurants with an alternative to the sexier geo-location services enabled by beacon technology. Money quote from GeoMarketing:
 
"Unlike the hurdles associated with beacon-based proximity marketing — the need to download a store’s branded app, have a smartphone’s Bluetooth receiver turned on — consumers tend to understand a push notification for in-store wifi in an uncomplicated way. Plus, the communications from wifi signals are more expansive than the several feet necessary for a beacon to make a connection to a customer’s device. As w'’ve noted, about 49 percent of consumers say they don't mind the marketing messages sent by proximity platforms as long as there is a clear value exchange (i.e., the push notifications are relevant to their shopping needs)."
The Turnstyle acquisition follows on the heels of Yelp's recent $40 million acquisition of Nowait, a mobile app that helps restaurants manage their diner waiting lists. Together, these acquisitions point Yelp in the direction of becoming a true loyalty marketing platform - one that can provide its small business clients with far deeper insights into customer behavior than local-search advertising sales companies - the main competitor for small-business marketing dollars - can typically provide. Money quote #2 courtesy of TechCrunch:
 
"Businesses using Turnstyle are able to send out emails to customers, as well as offer them other incentives and rewards to encourage their repeat visits. It lets businesses automate their marketing, as well, doing things like scheduling message delivery for days, weeks, or months in advance, or sending out digital coupons in email or SMS campaigns. Those campaigns can be customized by changing the incentives to meet various metrics. For example, it can trigger offers when customers enter or exit the venue, after they've visited a certain number of times, or it can reach those who haven't visited in a certain period of time, offer incentives to first-time customers, send out birthday rewards, and more."
Sounds like a loyalty marketing platform to us. For all of their power, wealth, and domination of the digital advertising market, neither Google nor Facebook has yet cracked the code of using targeted messages to deliver personalized, relevant messages to consumers based on their offline-location. Both can certainly deliver one-off promotions and discount offers. There's an opening, however, for a nimble player who understands that building relationship continiuity through offers, rewards, and incentives is the key to sustainable, profitable customer behavior change. Yelp seems to be putting the pieces in place to beat the big boys where they have an advantage - out in the real world.
 
Rick Ferguson is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group.
 
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