Spatially Founder Hillit Meidar-Alfi Speaks with
Building the Future’s Kevin Horek
Last week, Spatially’s founder and CEO Hillit Meidar-Alfi spoke with Kevin Horek, host of the Building the Future radio show. They discussed ways that small and medium businesses (SMBs) can use location intelligence insights to grow companies and understand customers. Hillit spoke about how this technology helps owners of brick-and-mortar businesses to:
- Serve online ads to a business’s most likely customers
- Model potential locations before leasing or buying
- Select the most suitable business site for their market
- Determining market size and area
- Draw more traffic to their businesses
- Convince lenders of the potential for a new business concept or location
Hillit also discussed Spatially’s two targeted advertising platforms, Spatially Ads and Spatially Connect. They apply spatial behavior intelligence to Facebook and Google AdWords advertising.
A Passion to Put Location Intelligence to Work for Small Businesses
Hillit has had a lifelong love of infrastructure design and development. A trained architect and city planner, she was always curious about how cities grow and how people live and work within them. This led her to study, design and forecast the future of location intelligence technologies. Along the way, Hillit found vast quantities of valuable but untapped data. “There was so much latent data in the maps that I was developing,” she told Kevin Horek. “It couldn’t be that there wasn’t a way to bring them off the maps and into people’s desks and everyday decision-making. There’s all that data there and nobody’s touching it, nobody’s using it,” she remembers thinking.
The difficulty of putting that rich data to work nagged at her. Hillit had always been a big fan of entrepreneurial spirit and independent businesses. She decided she could use this data to help SMBs understand and grow their markets.
Of small businesses, she says, “We felt if there was any market out there that could use help, that’s the market. … Small and medium businesses are a very important part of creating neighborhoods and creating familiarity.” SMB owners are very conscious of place and place-making, she said. They make the most of a location. Hillit loved the idea of helping them understand locals’ needs, habits and purchasing patterns. She knew she had the training, experience and insights to help business owners bring vitality and value to businesses and cities. She formed Spatially to provide intelligence and insight to help small business owners learn and grow. Hillit found a skilled and dynamic mix of experts from around the country in multiple location intelligence fields. Then they got to work to make the vision become a reality.
Taking Pride in “Democratizing the Data”
Spatially started with Hillit’s design and city planning training and experience. Then she added “demographers, geographers—we have people with subject-matter expertise that comes from observing human behavior and really understanding what it is that causes people to behave in a certain way.” She’s proud of her team’s ability to comprehend and develop trends. “That’s the beginning of understanding and getting the right information to make better decisions. … Where to hang out with friends, where to open a store, where to advertise, where to invest—due diligence, checking up on assumptions.” Hillit says there are “a lot of outlets that location intelligence can support and bolster. The difficult part is surfacing the right information to the right situation.”
Kevin noted that the cost of paying for such data used to be something only large companies could afford. He pointed out that until recently, a smaller business didn’t have access to such valuable insights based on observed data. Hillit replied that Spatially takes pride in “democratizing the data.” Making it affordable, understandable and actionable is what the company was based on. Spatially’s team reaches out to small business owners to determine what they need most. Hillit says, “Often they don’t know who their customers are. … They don’t have necessarily a whole data set of their customers—their names, where they come from, what they do—like the larger companies have. [Big brands] tend to have some sort of loyalty program or some other way of collecting customer data. They know that if they’re not currently using that data, they will have a use for it in the very near future. … It’s very difficult for [small businesses] to get to that point.”
So What Does Spatially Do with All That Data?
Hillit explained how Spatially helps small businesses bridge the gap that separates them from data-rich big brands and e-commerce. “We essentially give [small businesses] a surrogate of a customer base. From observed data and from the analysis that we do through location intelligence, we’re actually able to identify clusters of customer populations. So we know where their customers tend to come from. We don’t know exactly who Lucy is and who Johnny is, and where they live. We don’t want to do that, but we know where the general traffic comes from, and we also know how it behaves.”
“From that perspective,” she went on, “we start digging into that customer base, and start pulling information and insights for the SMB to do two things. One is to first understand segmentation of the population, so that they can go comfortably and confidently towards advertising and marketing to them. … They have some idea of what these people do. … They can target the messaging for them, and not just come up with a generic plan and send it out to the ether and hope that something comes back.”
Hillit described how she helps businesses dig deeper and target their most valuable customers by understanding their characteristics. “The other part is more long term. We’re looking to help business owners understand who the personas are of their customers. … [It’s about] being able to reach out to and talk to them in a way that is meaningful, that is relevant. So it’s targeting the relevant audience and having the right message for them.”
Effective, Economical Ad Targeting Made Easy
Beyond helping SMBs find and understand customers, Hillit spoke about the recently-launched Spatially Ads advertising platform. It uses spatial behavior intelligence to help businesses aim targeted ads at people with the greatest potential to convert. The platform’s technology makes Facebook and Google AdWords ad targeting simpler, more effective and less costly. A second product for agency use, Spatially Connect, rolls out this month.
Of Spatially Ads, Hillit said the process of using the platform is quick, easy and built for the busy business owner. The company has streamlined the advertising process and eliminated the guesswork. To set up an account, a business need only enter the business name, address and industry. “The data we use and the places ads are served have a lot to do with business type.” Spatially creates a custom map of the business area showing where clusters of customers come from. A business can see how many customers visit the area on a regular basis, the number of people targeted by each ad, and how many people responded after being served those ads. Spatially Connect provides similar technology for agencies working with multiple advertisers’ accounts and campaigns simultaneously.
Test Before You Commit: Try Out Virtual Products and Services
Another capability that gets Hillit excited is the ability of an SMB to test new products and services before going into production. She pointed out that “Digital companies today can do A/B testing, they can test different flows, different products. They have ways to gauge which ones are more successful and which ones are not.” She continued, “Brick-and-mortars have no way of doing that unless they actually invest in bringing the inventory, or developing the program and then seeing if it runs. By then sometimes it’s just too late. They’ve spent thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s just not panning out the way they thought.”
Hillit continued, “We have the ability—by targeting the right people, the right customers—to help them test out these products and services before they actually make an investment. … The startup or the online company can gauge what the interest is. … That goes back to bringing location intelligence into everyday decision-making.”
Brick-and-Mortars Benefit from a Local Data Focus
“Our focus is on the local component,” Hillit told Kevin. “We understand that local really means unique.” Hillit writes LinkedIn articles on the importance of location intelligence for local businesses. She says a business must incorporate and appreciate the unique features and elements of its market to be successful in that location. It’s easier for local SMB storefronts to understand and integrate into local communities than it is for big-brand storefronts. Understanding the local business mix provides valuable insights into overlooked opportunities.
“Every place has something to offer” is a key concept for Hillit and Spatially. She expanded on the idea. “It’s a matter of understanding what [that special quality] is and capitalizing on it. If we can help the SMBs, the business owners, identify what that is, then they’re much better off. Instead of working against stream, they’re working with stream.”
Kevin asked which businesses might benefit from capitalizing on proximity to others. Hillit replied, “Some businesses thrive being close to medical offices, hospitals and other health institutions.” Restaurants do well near hospitals. Visitors and hospital employees often spend long hours in the area. Medical suppliers are a natural fit in a hospital environment. Hillit pointed out that the market for hotels near hospitals is underserved. Larger hospitals, especially those that specialize or have maternity wards, attract a lot of visitors, sometimes from afar. Having a good sense of what is special about an area gives local business people an edge in identifying untapped opportunities.
Bringing Technology into the Physical World
Noting a trend toward bringing online technology back into the real world, Kevin pointed to Amazon. He gave it as an example of a tech company that recognizes the benefits of doing business in a brick-and-mortar environment. Hillit pointed out that much of our business and shopping can now be done from home. It takes the promise of a special, more personal experience to draw us out into the world. She said people are pickier about what experiences they engage in. “It’s difficult to compete with the experience of a main street in a smaller town where people know each other’s names.” People crave one-on-one experiences and the service and customization that come from local physical businesses.
Kevin wondered how close Spatially gets to businesses’ customer information. Hillit replied, “We’re working to serve the SMB directly, delving into their world.” However, Spatially doesn’t gather private customer data to provide businesses with actionable location intelligence. Customer privacy isn’t compromised in order to gather useful, actionable information. The data is gathered by looking at the behaviors of clusters of customers.
Other Location Intelligence Tools to Benefit Small Businesses
Kevin noted that Spatially also provides customized, location-based developer application programming interface (API) products. When asked what businesses can do Spatially’s APIs, Hillit replied “The sky is the limit.” Spatially’s product development and data science teams work directly with businesses, such as those in real estate and the restaurant industry. They then develop APIs to incorporate into their products.
Hillit Meidar-Alfi’s interview with Kevin Horek touched on a wide array of location intelligence topics. It is available to stream here. If you’d like to read more of Hillit’s location-based insights for small-business owners, check out her LinkedIn articles here.
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