Eat At Joe's: Targeting The Last Hungry Mile

Mobile technology has introduced a new scramble over physical real estate. That last mile, or even hundred yards, between the consumer and a final purchase is a wild West. Like retail and the showrooming phenomenon itself, local mobile marketing allows any number of players into the local space on top of the point of sale in order to grab those impulses and needs that used to be the purview of out-of-home signage. When you are hungry and unsure where to go, sometimes the biggest “Eat at Joe’s” simple blinking come-on is all the last push you needed. Joe and his neon bill were banking on it.

Now local discovery, deal and dining apps like Yelp, Groupon, OpenTable and so many more are vying for that last hungry mile, and each are trying to cut their own deals with the many small businesses competing for those empty stomachs every lunch and dinner. And small-business owners are savvier than many may think. Patrick Davoudi, managing partner of Meze Greek Fusion in San Diego, tells me he has used multiple services simultaneously: Groupon, LivingSocial, Yelp and even his own branded app for loyal customers.

In recent months he has been trying a new twist on last-mile marketing via the LiveDeal mobile Web site. This is closer to a real-time location-based platform that lets SMBs like Meze target a specific radius of customers around their store with immediate offers that can drive business.

The process is simpler and cheaper than some alternatives. Diners do a search of nearby current restaurant deals. Local owners can create flash offers to encourage new business on slow nights. At this early stage in LivingDeal’s evolution, where word of mouth and SMB co-promotion is driving adoption, the scale is admittedly small. “In six months we have gotten maybe 100 customers,” Davoudi says.

But it likely behooves Davoudi to encourage LivingDeal use among customers because it is a free platform for him. The still-young San Diego-based company, LivingDeal, already claims to have 1,000 restaurants in its limited rollout in southern California. “Now that we have our feet wet and found out a few things, the company will roll out in major cities,” says Terry Johnston, director of PR. The model is a direct response to the deals model that gives a large share of the purchase price to the ad platform, not the business owner. “We don’t charge any fee so they can jump on without cost,” he says. LiveDeal will upsell premium spots.

Johnston argues there is very little administrative overhead for restaurants. Users just walk in with the offer on their phone for the place to redeem. The owner can create offers on the fly to run on the app for the next three hours, for instance, or within certain geo-locations. Happy hours can be touted as they occur. All promotions are time-limited, he says.  

For almost a decade, I covered a local digital ad market that was always promising to explode, with untold SMB dollars then going to newspapers, free circulars, and couponing. Back in the day, Google and Yahoo fought each other for this market, trying to prove the Web was in fact a local resource discovery tool.

Now that that case has been made, many small-business owners are still not sold on search. They either don’t understand how it works or don’t have the time to manage it all. I have spoken to several restaurateurs in the last year who seem quicker to understand and embrace mobile tools. They use the platform themselves and, younger and more comfortable with technology, they are coming into the market, experimenting with a range of mobile tools in the same way previous generations tested and used billboards, classifieds, free papers, coupon books, radio and local TV.  But now they get cast a net from their own storefront to target people in the right mood, mode, time and place. In this arena, targeting can be simple: You are hungry, looking for a deal, and down the block.

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2 comments about "Eat At Joe's: Targeting The Last Hungry Mile".
  1. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , February 5, 2014 at 5:45 a.m.
    The problem with this market is that it is difficult to bootstrap. Once almost everyone in an area is using an app then fine - it's a great business - but while only a few customers and retailers have signed up then it doesn't work well for either side. Any internet company looking to expand in this area has to budget for significant B2C and B2B marketing - and the latter requires expensive boots on the ground and incentives for retailers.
  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost , February 5, 2014 at 6:17 a.m.
    You are right, Peter. that is a story I think I wrote a dozen times since 1998. Without a lot of merchants in the mix, none of these apps or directories could match the sheer comprehensiveness people were accustomed to in the old Yellow pages. The schemes for signing up local businesses approached the comical. But we have seen directories like Yelp break through and approach comprehensiveness enough for consumers to embrace. OpenTable and others have some parts of the market eith decent penetration. But you are right that it feels a lot like local search in 1995 - when Yahoo and Google had scattershot results and consumers didn't have enough faith that they really were getting exposed to the range of services in an area. But the question is whether merchant comfort and familiarity with digital platforms has advanced enough that online distribution methods and sales is to a point that it can overcome some of the boots on the ground limitations previous local platforms suffered.