Today, Yext, a location software company with roots in local listings management, launched Xone (pronounced ‘zone’). It’s a beacon-based platform for brands and retailers to engage customers across the online-to-offline divide. We sat down with the company to learn more about Xone, and the vision for beacon enabled in-store and post-visit consumer experiences.
Location: The Foundation of a Mobile World
Yext’s core products, PowerListings and Pages, were designed to drive search and consumer foot traffic to businesses’ doorsteps. With today’s Xone launch, the company aims to create a way for brands and physical locations to engage mobile consumers beyond the doorstep; both in-store and post-visit. Yext’s leadership team, headed by CEO and founder Howard Lerman, decided to develop Xone after having a realization about the changing dynamics of online-to-offline marketing.
In the virtual world there’s a number of ways after a visit to a website that brands can re-engage consumers through advertising, whether via email, re-marketing, or other types of online channels – based on the fact that the consumer visited and interacted with the brand’s website. Yet in the physical world, beyond email opt-ins or mobile app downloading, there was really no way to engage with consumers that didn’t already have that deep brand loyalty, and nurture them along to other levels of interaction with the brand, either in-store or post-store visit.
According to Yext CMO Jeff Rohrs, this break in the online-to-offline engagement funnel was the driving force behind Xone, which at its core is designed to enable brands with the ability to engage and re-engage consumers in the physical world. “One of the main things Yext has tried to solve for throughout its history is how to drive consumers from online to offline – how do we now engage them once they’ve had that offline experience in online ways, that will drive them back to the retail experience?”
93 percent of all commerce in the US is still happening face-to-face and in-store. Despite the rise of consumer online and mobile usage, the lion’s share of local commerce is still taking place in a physical store, which Yext considers a brand’s ‘home court’.
“We look at that store, that restaurant, that business location, and we ask ourselves: ‘How can we drive a home court advantage for these brick and mortar businesses that creates value?’ explained Rohrs. “The heart and soul of what we do with the PowerListings and Pages products is trying to fix what we see as the challenges and problems in the current mapping and search engine ecosystem. Here the problem that we’re solving for is one of how do you get consumers to look up from their mobile device, but also when they’re heads down, how to get them engaged in the retail experience more intimately”
Seeding the Market
Consumers enter a physical store for all sorts of reasons – whether its self-serving, browsing and showrooming, or just scanning for products. How to get them interacting in meaningful ways with a brand while in-store has been a challenge for years, and one that technology companies like Yext are close to solving.
The Xone product, which is launching as a limited-release beta this week, consists of a combined hardware and Saas offering. The company will be providing Xone beacons for free to all eligible U.S. businesses with a physical location.
They’ll receive a beacon, set up instructions and access to training customers will need in order to learn how to optimize beacon placement in their location. Once installed and live, the Xone beacon transmits a low frequency bluetooth signal. Yext’s has partnered with app developers to listen for the Xone beacon. If a consumer has the Xone-enabled app open and Bluetooth® enabled, an on-screen message will be triggered within the app.
These messages, called a ‘Xone Tips’ can be customized to present a welcome message for the store, an in-store offer or incentive, or instructions for accessing a store’s public wi-fi network. The Xone Tips page gives brands an opportunity to surprise and delight consumers, and that, Yext hopes, will assist in strengthening the consumer-to-brand relationship.
Yext is working with brands and app developers to expand its Xone App Partner Network, which currently includes 40+ apps and reaches 30 million mobile active users. “Much like we did with PowerListings in building a global publisher network that is over a hundred publishers now, we set out to build a growing Xone app partner network” said Rohrs.
The company expects the app partner network to grow as the product and technology reaches scale in the coming months. For now, its working with a select group of local business brands and enterprise brands (those with more than 25 locations to manage) to launch Xone and observe from the rollout what works well and what may need to be tweaked for a larger scale market introduction through the fall and early winter.
“We are releasing this in beta, and on the enterprise side (businesses that have 25+ locations) we are going to be after some critical pilot clients over the next few months, implementing between 25-50 locations – because we know that with some brands there is a desire to dip their toe in the water and see how this all evolves” explained Yext Director of Marketing Liz Walton. “We have clients that have tens of thousands of locations, and in some categories like real estate we’re seeing a lot of interest because of the potential beacons bring to their listings.”
Shedding Light on Offline Commerce
Yext’s vision for beacons sheds some light on how the technology may eventually be adopted within the construct of local commerce. The company doesn’t think that beacon service selection will lead to an environment of mutual exclusivity for brands and physical locations, and that a store may eventually be utilizing multiple beacons, from multiple providers, each for specialized functions.
“They are probably going to be a few different plays for beacons in-store – one beacon could be for a brand’s wholly owned app, one could be for vertically integrated applications with companies like Facebook or Google, and yet another for Xone and store audience engagement” Rohrs explained.
The approach Yext is taking is one where their beacon tech acts like a neutral hardware conduit, a Switzerland with no allegiance to any particular brand or network. This approach is meant to allow a brand to have a greater deal of equity in what they’re building with Xone. There is a pay-as-you go advertising component to this all, but the company wants to initially encourage thinking around one-to-one marketing and permissions-based marketing – and in a way that respects the consumer retail experience.
Beyond the ability to foster and strengthen the consumer/brand relationship, Xone will also act as a tool to allow greater audience and consumer engagement via ad networks. Consumers will receive notice and have opt-out methods including one from TRUSTe.
Connecting the Dots
Once a store audience is built out to volume thresholds that ad networks require (example: Facebook requires 50), a brand can re-engage its customers through whatever ad network they’d like to. As a buy sign, someone having been in your physical location is a tremendous point of re-engagement and affords an opportunity to deepen the consumer relationship – especially more so than a lot of the cues on which local advertising is triggered.
That’s one of the core missions of Xone, to be able to increase the relevance and engagement and service ability of mobile and location oriented ads. More than 50 percent of mobile search is local in nature — if a consumer is out and about, their mobile device is supposed to be able to serve them in the moment, and the hope of Xone is to be able to increase the ability to do this, and to give those brands and physical locations the ability to leverage their home field advantage better – to build audiences that they can re-engage with and hopefully serve better in the long run, and not just sell to.
Yext’s hope is that what brands build with Xone in mind will be something that pleases consumers, is service oriented, and will provide relevant information at the moment they are in-store or post-visit, and that this workflow becomes a natural part of doing business, which will eventually be seen as a component of customer service.
Historically, Amazon has been a good example of this permission-marketing as customer service concept. Those who have shopped at the e-commerce giant know about the messages Amazon sends post-sale, that will often try to up-sell products based on your previous purchases. The relevancy of the message and offer made in the email is high since its based off the customer purchase history, and that leads to greater response rates.
“What we aspire with Xone, is drive that same kind of relevancy into in-store and post-visit engagement” explained Walton. “Xone was developed with the desire to maximize the brand’s home court advantage, to create in-the-moment and post-visit relevancy, and to be this kind of Switzerland where these brands can build audience assets based on the in store traffic they have”
In acting as a neutral technology partner for brands, Yext removes itself from the actual process of creating engaging marketing and messaging to be used by Xone. Walton explained that Yext is a technology company, not an advertising company, and doesn’t intend to get involved in the actual advertising and editorial process. Instead, the company plans to foster and develop Xone customers. “Its about helping every company harness the power of location for their business. Location isn’t just some abstract concept, its a very real moment in the consumer experience”.
With the launch of Xone, Yext aims to continue its mission to help serve consumers with relevant information by supporting brands and physical locations in ways that are valuable and beneficial to the local in-store experience. Rohrs concluded, “Our primary goal is help connect customers and businesses through the power of location.”