February 4, 2021

Let’s Talk Local #08: The online-to-offline customer journey with Björn Handell

We talk about navigating marketing's shift to digital & the online-to-offline customer journey with PinMeTo’s own Björn Handell.

📍The challenges of digitalization for big companies

📍The importance of nailing the online-to-offline customer journey

📍Digitalization do’s and don’ts

To listen, search for "Let's Talk Local" on your favorite pod app, or find the episode on Spotify.

Conversation transcript

Text has been lightly edited for clarity.

Hello and welcome to Let's Talk Local. I'm Evan, and today I'm talking to one of my co-workers, Björn Handell. What do you do at PinMeTo, Björn?

I work in the team called Customer Success. And basically what we are is the people handling the aftermarket after people have become customers. So there are both specialists that care of new customers to get them onboarded in a proper way, and then there are people that see to it that the customers that are up and running get the full value out of the platform and the services that we provide. It's a little bit of everything, but it's taking care of our wonderful clients and customers.

In your role here, it sounds like you're with customers for a long period of time, from when they first start at PinMeTo through as they continue to develop their skills and expertise. How do you see the typical customer growing and learning over time?

I'd also like to mention I've been at PinMeTo for a couple of years now. I've been in a few other departments as well, so I have a decent insight into both the sort of the pre process before they become a customer, but also afterward. I've also seen the development of the market in general, and the knowledge of digital infrastructure for the online-to-offline journey, how that has evolved, how the audiences have grown, and now are way more knowledgeable than they used to be a couple of years ago. It's been an interesting journey.

You said you've seen this knowledge increasing. The shift to digital has been a big topic these past few years, and I'm wondering if you can tell me a little bit about some of the challenges of digitalization for these big companies we work with at PinMeTo, which usually have a minimum of 20 locations, and sometimes have locations that number in the 1000’s.

As you mentioned, we work with multi-location businesses, and they are naturally not small organizations. I usually think of them as between major and huge. And what we do mainly revolves around the marketing department, or the marketing side of things, basically. And the digitalization in marketing efforts over the last, I would say, 10 years, a lot of things have happened there, and it is happening as we speak.

But that said, there's also the old school way of thinking. If you find a marketing department that is very focused on their brand, their campaigns, that sort of thing, it might be that getting down and dirty in the numbers and the digital side of things might be almost a thing that the head of marketing doesn't want to do. They want to be thinking about – I'm generalizing now – they might want to be thinking about their next Super Bowl commercial, that sort of thing, because they're trying to build their brand.

And I'm overstating it a little bit because they, of course, understand the importance of having good data and knowing how to find your audience, that type of thing. But it might be that they think of the digital infrastructure underneath as a heightening factor, and really realize: "If we don't work with it, the cool Super Bowl commercial we're going to do, we won't get the full value of it unless we have tied the knots together underneath." So I think that's a fairly common challenge that these organizations have, generally speaking.

I just want to specify a bit, because we've been talking about “digitalization,” but can you tell us about what's specifically becoming more digital, or what digitalizing means for these brands?

So first of all, we should maybe mention that since we work for PinMeTo, the part of this that we work with is the online-to-offline journey, and fixing the data underneath there. So regardless of if a customer user likes Google Maps or some other tool or application, they can use that. And this doesn't really matter. The customer journey should just work.

In my previous jobs, I worked within web and the digital side of things since the last millennia. So it's been a while. And the issues and the problems that companies have are very, very similar. One thing I think that people do a lot is they get really, really caught up in features, or with what their competitors are doing, and they have an unclear view of their own goals. That said, you may see it the other way around too, maybe they have some clear goals, but they don't really know what's out there or what's possible to do. It varies quite a bit.

When you talk about the online-to-offline journey, can you explain that for people who might not be familiar with what that is?

Let's break it down. It's pretty simple. I usually have this story to tell: Say you step off a train somewhere in a city that you don't know, and you're going to stay there for a couple of days. You realize you have forgotten something, like toothpaste or socks or something, that's missing in your bag right now. And you think that stores are going to be closing pretty soon because it's that time of the day and you just want to buy some stuff and there's no one to ask. What do you do? Most people will say, well, I'll just pick up my phone and use my favorite search app or map service of some kind.

So how does, let's say Google, how does Google know what the closing hours are for this particular store? And the answer is someone has to tell them. Especially if it's hours that deviate from normal, but normal hours too. Someone has to tell them. And how does Google know the longitude and latitude? How does Google know if there's wheelchair access, that sort of thing? How can I pay with Apple Pay? Can I can I use credit card? Is it cash only? All of these things, someone has to tell Google.

Many times I find people who think that Google solves this themselves, or Apple Maps solves this themselves – but they don't. They have bought this information, or got this information, from somewhere. And then it's been – in Google's case – curated somewhat by users, but probably not entirely, and it's probably not completely correct. There's going to be a story about your location, and unless you, as a business owner, take control of that, it's going to be more or less wrong. And that might cause an online-to-offline journey that is bad.

I'm sure most folks have experienced this type of bad online-to-offline journey.

You search for something, you go there, it's not there. That's not fun. Or you go there and you expected the door to be open, but it's closed. That's not good for many reasons. First of all, if you're the business owner, you won't get the revenue. That's the most obvious one. And you also might get a disgruntled customer that you will never win back.

And then just for SEO purposes, having faulty information out that might deviate completely on different networks, that has implications.

So there are all kinds of things that go into this. A long answer to your short question, but it's basically fixing it so when someone does something digitally that has the possibility to end happily at a location in the real world.

And you told me a story when we were doing the interview prep about how there's a location that was actually in London, but its listing said it was in Dubai, or something like that.

We go and meet these big chains and organizations with many, many locations. During the process when we get them onboarded, they provide us with their location data. So: "These are the locations that we have, this one is here, and this one is there." And so the longitude and latitude for a location was supposed to be in Dubai. That's where this store is. But it pointed to a place in Latvia. And that's a long drive. I can tell you it's probably not satisfactory.

I have another example of a location that was supposed to be in Paris, but it pointed to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Hopefully no one followed those directions, because you'd drown. And that's not satisfactory either.

I think that's because someone who entered the longitude and latitude didn't know how those work. If you're not like a sailor, or don't know navigation, these are not intuitive tools and numbers. You need to know what you're doing. Human error, or just maybe copy paste the wrong one or something like that, who knows.

I have many such examples, but yeah, it could be wrong – completely.

And as you touched on, this risks not just not getting that particular customer at that particular time, but it also risks losing that customer forever, because – depending on how pissed off you are, like if you end up in Latvia when you should be in Dubai – you may not ever be trusting that brand again.

This isn't rocket science. People just expect it to work.

I have an example I think of myself, with my family. We rented a place to stay – this was pre-covid, it's not something we do right now – but during vacation, we rented a place to stay, and we were going there with our car. On the way, we realize we needed to stock up on food because we're going to stay there for a couple of days, and we don't want to go out and eat every night. And I then use my favorite app, it could be the voice search in my Apple CarPlay center, or Google Maps, or Waze, or whatever, but I'm trying to find my way to the nearest supermarket, and the best one is the one that's closest to me. How hard is it for that particular brand to market themselves to me at that point? Well it's pretty simple. They just have to have a door to walk through, and I have to find it.

Going back to the story about a Super Bowl ad – using that as an example of someone doing really, really cool stuff on the brand level of things. And that's great. Then maybe I have heard about the brand that I find. If I'm in a different country, it might be a new brand, but I've still heard about it. So I find something on the search function that I'm using, and I try to go there. If that customer journey does not work, I will not give them my hundred dollars or euros, which I otherwise would have. It's pretty easy money, but it should just work.

That's just one part of it. And what we do is digitalize this part of things, but the issues and the problems that companies have, they are similar in other types of projects in those similar areas. It doesn't necessarily need to be about location marketing and local SEO and all those types of things that we work with. It could be a little bit of everything. The challenges are very, very similar.

We've both given a few examples of why it's important to have this data accurate, and of course, we're a little biased. We work at a company that helps that.

We're tooting our own horn, of course we are. But I will point out that you could use these experiences for other things as well. So just think about the simple, basic stuff underneath before you think about the fancy stuff that's supposed to go on top, because if you don't have the foundation, you won't get the full effect of the shiny stuff, and you probably need to do both. There's nothing wrong with being cool, and building your brand. You absolutely have to do that, too. But for it to have the full effect, you need to have the infrastructure for people to use, especially in this digital day and age.

Right. And you touched on that at the beginning, the idea that companies are now embracing digitalization. Are the companies understanding the value of this online-to-offline customer journey? Or if they don't understand from the get-go, is it easy to make that case to them? Do they come around to it pretty quick when you talk about what we've been talking about?

Once we start talking to them, they are fairly understanding and they are fairly knowledgeable about it. But this has evolved over the years. I would say the first time I heard about this was like 2015, when I started working with the local stuff on the level that we do now. And at that point, I think many customers didn't know about the problem. They didn't know that they had to supply Apple Maps with their data for it to be correct. They just thought this is something Apple Maps fixes somehow, magically. Or it's not possible to influence anyways. Maybe. I don't know what their thinking was, but something like that, they didn't even try to to address it. And the same thing goes for Facebook or Google. So this was a problem left alone. And also maybe because their friends who had a similar job somewhere else didn't do it either, so why bother?

Over the years, I think the knowledge has grown. Some people I talk to are very, very aware that this is an issue and it should be fixed. Maybe they don't know exactly how you do it, but they're definitely on the side of "Yes, we should handle this." And then, of course, if they’re slightly less knowledgeable, they may realize it's a problem but really have no idea how to handle it. And they maybe don't have a budget to do it, they don't have a buy-in from the management, but they come around.

So depending on where on the maturity scale they are, it's grown and moved, I would say.

For these companies that are working on digitalizing, I was hoping you could give us some examples of best practices, things they should be doing to get the most out of this.

Should we start with what we should be doing, or shouldn't be doing? Want to end on a happy note?

Sure, we could use some optimism in this dark Swedish winter.

OK, so: "Do not." These will vary a little bit between detailed and more and more general. One detailed one is if you're going to sort of attack the online to offline journey and try and fix that, do not try to hack the different networks. And when I say hack, for example, one thing I see on people, who've tried to fix their Google locations manually, which you can do, they many times sort of deviate from the rules and recommendations that Google has. And this is true for other networks as well. But I'll just have this as an example.

One thing we see quite often is people have tried to stuff keywords into the name. So instead of having just a realtor or whatever the name of the business, it says "Best realtor in Florida!" or something like "Really good prices for blah, blah, blah!", something like that. So it's more of a tagline. This is not a good idea for many reasons. It will not get you better search results. At best, nothing happens. And if you're slightly unlucky, what's going to happen is you're going to get a worse rank, you're going to end up lower down. Or at worst, you might have that listing or that location suspended, or you might even have the entire account and many locations suspended, depending on how big of a violation it is.

So do not try to hack the networks by trying to figure out smart ways to move around the rules or recommendations. And also do not look at what your competitors are doing and say "They are doing it, so I'm going to do it, too." Because that's not a clear indicator that it's a good idea.

We have some excellent data to back this up, too, because we've seen companies that have good data, and then Google does their big core update, which they do a couple of times a year, and the ones that have sort of compliant and good data and get a boost out of that, and the ones that don't either get bad results or no results. So this has been true time and time again. It's not something we are making up. But we don't really know what goes into the Google algorithm. I think we should be open about that.

I have another "Don't." Something going into any sort of digitalization project or improvement thingy. And that's to not assume that your master data is good. Because I've seen this many times when we talk to customers and ask them, so do you have good base data that we can start working with? And they say, of course, yes, we do. And then a couple of days or weeks later, we get that data and it's, well, should we say, less than perfect being very, very polite. Or should I tell you the truth? The truth is it's somewhere between bad and catastrophic, normally. I'm going to be frank, I have seen a few examples that are good over the years. And I've looked at the data for big global chains, for like 200 of them or more, and I see maybe two were good. Or three, something like that. And the rest were not very good. And of course, some of the errors will be completely critical, like the one I mentioned, driving into the Atlantic Ocean. Some will be less so, but it might cause bad customer journeys, which is bad in itself. But it also just might hurt you, and consistency, and your rank, and those sorts of things might be hurt in the long run as well.

Your data is probably not going to be perfect. And this is because large organizations things happen over time. Many people put things in, and there were reasons. But you need to realize this is going to be something you need to work with a little bit.

The last bad tip I thought of was, when going into a project, either like the ones we do or just generally speaking, do not get too hung up on features from different vendors. Like "I really want that." First, decide what results you want to get. What were the main goals of the project, and the process to get there? And we're here now, and we want to get there, what needs to be true for that happen? That type of thinking first, and once you've done that, sure. We work with technology, both of us, so we like features. We like tech. We think it's super cool. It's always fun to look at new stuff. But we also need to keep our eye on the ball, which is the actual goal. And then once we know that, we could start thinking: "Will this feature help a little bit. Yeah, sure. Let's bring that in." But do not start with the features. That's a bad idea. Start with the long term, or the medium goal, and work backwards from there.

Those were the don'ts. I can think of more, of course, but should we get to the happy stuff?

Yeah, I'm feeling bummed out. What's some good stuff?

I think you always have to have someone own the issue. To get the project to where you want it, you need to have clear ownership. And this is especially true when we're talking medium to huge size organizations. The online to offline journey might be something that no one currently has specific responsibility for. It might be sort of a little bit on marketing, might be a little bit on digital, might be e-commerce a little bit. Depending on how you're organized, you should have clear ownership of it. I think that's super important. When people do that, that's a good sign that this is going to end happily.

The next one I thought of was, if it's a large organization, you might have levels above in the company that are not working with this, but you should have buy-in from management. They don't necessarily need to be involved. They can delegate. And then if people working with it have the mandate to make decisions and do stuff, that's fine. But management should be aware of it, and they should have a buy-in. Otherwise, if you run into trouble somehow, either with your data or your internal processes or something, you're going to hit a wall if the management is going to say "I don't know what this is, I don't care." Have management know about it, at least. And buy in, preferably.

The last one I thought about – and this ties back to the third "don't" – is to have some goals. And they should be measurable, otherwise they are just ideas and fantasies and visions. They should be actual, measurable goals. And it could be on that sort of detail level, or more general. That's really up to you. When it comes to online to offline journeys, it could be actual data from different networks. Again, on Google, it would be something like how many Discovery searches do we have over our entire population, or a number of locations. It could be something like: how many driving directions are we getting? And then watch that number and see where it goes, and have a target goal of what you want to happen. Or, preferably, people through the door. Start measuring how many people walk through the door of your store or your restaurant, pull into your gas station, use your charging poll, or come find you, whatever type of organization or business you are. Measure how many people are using stuff.

This is something I enjoy, when customers tell us what the average value per customer or person through the door is, they don't even have to buy something. But the average value of someone walking through the door. And they most times have a very good number. Of course, per project, you can't say it goes up until the number goes up. Can we then attribute all that to the online to offline project that we did? No, probably not, because we did other stuff as well. But it did have a positive effect. That's all I'm saying. And then put that down what you want to reach.

And then the different actions and tasks you want to do during the project, what you can measure them against is: will this help reach the goal? And if you can only say yes, well then it's probably a good idea to do it. And if no, skip it. And if it's a maybe, you need to maybe evaluate it more before you decideI'm simplifying, but yeah. Have a goal.

That's good advice for online-to-offline marketing, and good advice for life in general. Have a goal.

Or in this case, just digitalization in general. The Corona year we've been living through is interesting because, OK, for some of our customers that are sort of in the hospitality sector, it's been hard to invest in new stuff for obvious reasons. But we do have many industries that have really taken the chance and put their processes of digitalisation on steroids. So it seems like a lot of the things that you expected to happen maybe in two or three years are going to happen way sooner.

And of course, it's not only the things we work with, it's ecommerce and other stuff, too. People live in the real world and they want to maybe find a charging pole for their new electric vehicle. That needs to work.

We made it pretty far without talking about the way covid impacted digitalization. One thing I like to point out, when I'm writing articles and so on, is that that, yeah, covid sped up this shift to digital, but it's not going to go back to the way it was before. This change, this digitization push, was happening already. Covid made it happen quicker. But it doesn't mean that it's going to necessarily go back to pre covid normal. So companies that are digitalizing now, this isn't like a temporary only-during-covid kind of measure. This is a change you're making for the future, you're just being forced to make it sooner than maybe you would have otherwise done it.

Absolutely. And I mean, people use their cell phones and their smartphones all the time. If you think it's going to stop, you probably shouldn't invest so much in digitalization. But if you think it's here to stay – which I think is a good bet – then there are probably opportunities if you do, there are probably lots of risks if you don't. Because competitors are going to do stuff, they are doing stuff. So what are you going to do?

Well, "risks," it sounds like we're drifting back into negative territory, I think. Let’s end it on a high note. Thanks for joining us today to talk about this digitalisation.

Hope my words made some sense. And it's always great to talk to you, Evan.

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