Yext CEO Howard Lerman - why Intent Marketing and a new era of search mean businesses like Pizza Express need to be "answers-ready"

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 17, 2019
Questions can be more interesting than answers, but not in the new era of search and Intent Marketing.

Yext CEO

The world of search has come a long way since the 1990s to the point where today brands need to be “answers-ready” in a new era of Intent Marketing.

That’s the pitch from Howard Lerman, Founder and CEO of Yext in London last week for the firm’s Explore19 conference.

Lerman argues that there has been a paradigm shift in search from links to answers in the field of search:

People are being retrained to ask longer and longer questions in search engines. They don’t want to visit a website and browse and click around to find their answer. They’re asking detailed questions and they expect detailed answers about products and services and locations and whatever else they’re looking for.

Today’s customer journey starts with a question and consumers expect answers. But what happens to you and your customer journey if your consumers and your potential customers get wrong answers or missing information or chaotic results? Reputation is at risk and you risk losing revenue and you risk losing a potential customer.

It’s all a far cry from 1993 when Lerman recalls the “total rush” from logging on to the Internet via a dial-up modem. It might have been slow, but it was liberating as the Internet was built on the principle of de-centralisation:

Anyone with a web browser could connect to any website around the world. And anyone could register a URL and put up information and then anyone could connect to it. This meant for companies that no longer did you have to rely on a medium, a journalist, a TV channel, a newspaper to get your message out. Just register your URL and put the truth online. Any user could come to your website and find the truth. Google and Yahoo came along and instead of typing into a browser, you’d go to Google and search for McDonald’s and be sent on your way to the website.

Those early days of search began to morph into something else around a decade ago, says Lerman:

Searches for things like ‘Lloyds Bank ATMs’ no longer sent you to, but instead Google Maps appeared. You started getting direct answers when you searched.  That’s about the time that we came up with idea for Yext. We realised that in this new era when search changed from links to answers, companies which had historically relied on putting their facts on their websites, were going to need a way to put their facts into all these new services that people were going to use.

This has a knock-on impact on the nature of marketing. While Internet search was able to give insight via keywords about what consumers were doing, it couldn’t so the same about when or why they were doing it. This is where Intent Marketing comes in, explains Lerman:

Marketers don’t just have to optimise for keywords anymore. They can optimise not just based on who you are or what you’ve done, but what we believe you are going to do. This meets the new challenge for marketing - how to meet the consumer at the precise moment of intent.

According to the product pitch, the Yext platform allows businesses:

to create and connect all the facts about themselves in an answers-ready knowledge graph, so they can power their own sites and services and sync with search, voice assistants and chatbots…custom entities and fields make Yext adaptable to any business, so brands can connect any type of fact to the information about it consumers want to know, from a store location and open jobs there, to a menu item and its nutritional information, to a doctor and her speciality and educational background.

Internet of Pizza

The firm has some impressive use case exemplars, including Pizza Express, where IT Director Siobhan Fagan looks to technology to help the customer through his or her journey when engaging with the restaurant chain. This can range from basic stuff like making payment - “the most stressful part of our journey” - easier in the firm’s app through to more catering-specific features:

Allergens is a big theme at the moment. [We are] making sure we can offer kind of self ordering options. So if you are the person at the table who maybe doesn't want to be so obvious with all of your allergens, you can make the choices and have control of that.

Pizza Express is also using Yext to boost customer support by making it easier for consumer as ask questions and receive answers. Fagan explains:

We have got a great customer service team and I sit near them sometimes and hear some of the questions that our customers really get into around either where the ingredients came from, use of  plastics, the ability to book restaurants. Being able to put some of that information up there so customers can self serve would be great. Also for us, you know, the secret’s in our name - we serve pizzas. But for my vegan sister, we're a vegan restaurant cause we've got a great vegan menu.  For my husband, he loves Italian beers, so we're a great place to go for a Peroni. So we are also trying to educate our customers that there is slightly more to Pizza Express. We offer gluten free. There's lots to learn.

The pizza chain also makes use of chatbot tech, she adds:

We've got a chatbot largely around booking tables at the moment, so it gets some uplift. I think the next place we're looking at chatbots is more around [recruitment]. We do an awful lot of recruitment, so how we can use chatbots through the recruitment process to help team members? Where you've got lots of younger people, they don't want to fill in the whole great big CV and give you their life story. They want that instant, ‘Are you going to interview me or not?’.  So how we can use chatbot technology in that space?

Pizza Express is a pragmatic user of new tech, using it to tackle clear  business needs. For example, the firm needs to be able to predict demand with a view to optimising resources, such as its Smart Kitchens complete with Internet of Things connected fridges and ovens. Fagan says:

Being a restaurant business, we have certain days of the week that are busier than others, and now we're starting to think about how we can plumb that into our IoT solutions. So if I've got a three floor restaurant and it's a Monday afternoon, I'm not going to start switching on ambient fridges and lighting on upper floors. So [we’re] really trying to use the technology, multi-purposely but also again, to make the team members lives easier so they're not having to think about, ‘Do I have to switch off all the floors?’.

My take

The EXPLORE19 event had some compelling use cases to support Lerman’s thesis, which as regular readers know always wins bonus points here at diginomica. We’ll take a look at a couple more of these in more detail this week. The changing nature of search and its impact on brand and marketing is an interesting topic, particularly when applied to business sectors in the throes of disruption, such as retail. We’ll pick that up in the next article.


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