Bing’s New Marketing Approach to Their Local Business Portal

Bing, in an effort to gain small business mindshare has rolled out a number of upgrades to their Business Portal. In addition to their mixed model approach to deals, they have added very interesting collateral generation capabilities, a loyalty program and a school fund raising program to help promote the effort.

The deals product offers a simple interface that allows a merchant to easily create their own deal from withn the portal in one of their 12 supported cities(currently Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honoluly, LA, NYC, San Diego, SF, Seattle & Medford, OR).  Within 72 hours a local community manager will get in touch with the merchant to refine the deal to the market. The deals program currently offers that standard 50/50 merchant split (a mold waiting to be broken for sure). The flow allows for scalability AND individual counseling on deal creation in an effort to achieve both efficiencies and quality. It is an interesting mixed approach in an already crowded landscape.

In an effort to try to increase the % of folks that return to an establishment after the deal (reportedly a lowly 19%), they have implemented  digital loyalty card program. Bing sees this feature as a significant differentiator and is included free as part of the deal creation. The consumer opts into the loyalty program at the time of the deal purchase. At the establishment the end user can scan a QR Code or visit their own deals page to initiate the loyalty card. The merchant enters a previously established PIN (or multiple PINS if it is desired to track by salesperson) on the customer’s smartphone at the time of purchase as verification. Obviously this feature raises visions of future marketing possibilities that Bing is considering.

Apparently Medford OR was included because there Bing tested using the school PTA to promote the deals program as a school fundraiser. The school can either recruit new businesses into the program or just promote existing deals and will receive a percentage cut of both types of transactions. The specifics of the actual percentages are still being worked on but the idea of using local school fund raising efforts to promote deals is an interesting twist in the marketing of deals that leverages the very real and active social networks of the school fund raising environment to both create more deals and have a motivation to spread them.

Historically local business dashboards have been used to capture data from the merchant in the form of basic listing information, events, promotions etc. But Bing has taken that one step further in attempting to attract the small business to not just come to the portal but to come back frequently. Bing has added a very slick collateral creation process that leverages each of the specific data types to create related collateral materials with minimal effort.

For example Bing has added the ability to create a business card from your listing data and uploaded logo, a post card that can be used to promote your event, ceiling danglers for promotions and tents and posters for the loyalty program. The software automatically suggests complimentary colors based on your logo colors or allows you more manual control. It creates both a file that you can print or take to a service bureau or facilitates your interaction with the local Office Depot for printing of all materials except the business card. More printing partners are apparently in the works. As Bing noted they are “Creating a value proposition around allowing the merchant to not just verify accuracy, they can now use the data to do the things a business already doing but doing it easier”.

The interface was very slick and the ability to create related collateral materials is incredibly useful. I think we are seeing the future of what the business portal needs to become to attract and retain small businesses – a one stop shop for a complete range of offline AND online marketing and advertising options.

To view a slide show of screen shots of the new features click the image:

The Review Economy – What is a Positive Review Worth?

I manage the online marketing for a small insurance company in Bradford Pa, Sundahl Insurance. While looking at the local search results the other day, I noticed that a local competitor was suddenly showing up with a number of reviews. It surprised me as the insurance market segment and this area of the country don’t really lend themselves to “organic” reviews. I have two insurance agencies that I have done work for, both market leaders, and between them they had garnered 2 natural reviews over the past 3 years.

Upon examination it became immediately clear that the reviews for this agent were purchased, faked or to otherwise procured without a real customer. In the past few weeks I have had several other experiences indicating the rapid commodification of reviews….

* I saw that my Honda dealer, with a mediocre service department at best, had started “buying” reviews.
* Stever, a local seo in Canada, Someone (I can’t remember who) was kind enough to send me a link to a “3 positive reviews for $5″ offer at and “a short review on your Google places account for $5″
* Brian Combs of sent me a copy of a email spam that arrived via his contact form touting the benefits of positive reviews from a company called Their whole business model predicated on trading in reviews and back links.

When you look at their prices (assuming 1/2 for links and 1/2 for reviews), a review is essentially selling for $3 each. At, some were cheaper, going for as little as $1.66 per review and some costing as much as $5.00. (Do they get better if you spend more?) The average: $3.22.

Capitalism is a funny thing. There is a tendency to commodify everything. You can see this in the ongoing efforts to privatize water sales. If air could be bottled and constrained, it too would have a price placed on it.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that positive reviews now have a market value. But still one has to ask why should a business pay for something that can essentially be had for free?

Fear? Lack of knowledge? Terrible service? Laziness? Maybe all of those things as it seems as all too many businesses seem to do it.

With a little thought (or just a little more money) most businesses could successfully execute and benefit from a review management process that garners real reviews. Even the worst business in the world has happy customers, no? My Honda dealer must have them as they have managed to stay in business for a very long time.

How hard is it to set up a review management program that is above board and approaches the process with integrity rather than greed and why don’t more businesses realize that?

When Will Google Places Fix Reviews?

Reviews about a business are one of the key jewels in the bag of online marketing tools available. Businesses work hard to get good reviews and benefit from the positive word of mouth when the shopping community lauds them. Google has had on-going trouble keeping track of these jewels, loosing their own and those from 3rd parties all too often. Now with recent changes, Google seems to have added new problems and bugs to their handling of reviews.

With the rollout of Hotpot and user ratings, Google appears to have made massive internal changes to their review process. Reviews with Google have always been flakey but now they are even more so with half baked changes that make providing reviews on Google Places more friction laden then ever.

I think this screen, shown when you click in Places to see the reviews provided by an anonymous “Google User”, says it all:

Apparently, Google is attempting to make anonymous review histories available for perusal but there have been serious flaws in the process that have not been fixed for well over a month. The error message above has been visible for over 3 weeks but even worse is that reviews from new anonymous reviewers are often not posting at all onto Places leaving reviewers and businesses confused.

In early November, Google removed the user names from reviews of reviewers that did not have public profiles. Apparently this was in preparation for the change over to anonymously showing those reviews. Google noted in mid November that “If you don’t have a public Google profile, your existing ratings & reviews will be attributed anonymously, e.g. to “A Google User””.

But this changeover has never been completed. About 3 weeks ago, anonymous reviews started showing a link titled “A Google User” but when clicked it led to the 500 error page and has done so ever since. I suppose not very many people witness this inexcusable web error that deep into Places but worse is that Google has often not been posting anonymous reviews from new users at all since early November. They seem to have dropped into a black hole, one presumes to return once Google has fixed these problems with the handling of anonymous reviews. But once again creating more confusion and friction in the review process.

Some reviews have been pulled because of quality issues and that is a good thing. Some reviews have been lost just because (my listing lost 28 or so reviews in early summer) and this has always been the case, but adding insult to injury by having such a crudely finished product is inexcusable. Misplacing, loosing and randomly not showing reviews from anonymous, new reviewers is even worse.

Google Places wants the SMBs of the world to be transparent and have all information about them visible to the world (often with no recourse when it is wrong) but they apparently seem incapable of the same standards of transparency when handling that data. Its time for Google to get their local Review act together.