BofA’s Paskalis: Voice Search Is A Double-Edged Sword For Marketers

Consumers aren’t asking Alexa for their top favorite bank brands, they just want the one they know, says BofA’s Lou Paskalis with PlaceIQ’s Duncan McCall. But how do brands find their new voice?

It’s a question all brick-and-mortar businesses have to ask these days: What are the signals to become more relevant and personalized, and therefore, more attractive and necessary to consumers?

That was the thesis of a discussion at the Modern Marketing Summit’s Upfront 17 conference between PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall and Lou Paskalis, SVP, Enterprise Media Planning, Investment and Measurement Executive at Bank of America.

For BofA, which works with PlaceIQ on using geo-data to better understand retail banking customers, the use of location as a signal to develop personalized marketing and services is fundamental.

“We’ve gone from the probabilistic aspect of advertising, to the deterministic, additive, utility of marketing,” Paskalis told the MMS attendees in the duo’s presentation.

BofA’s Lou Paskalis at MMS: The dark age of ads is coming to an end.

Whether someone is online or offline, “location signals are omnipresent,” said McCall, noting that geo-data has served as the bridge from the episodic nature of advertising campaigns to daily quality of marketing programs and the concept of personalization for brick-and-mortars.

As location-based marketing has gone from embracing tools like beacons – a device Paskalis has previously expressed to GeoMarketing some skepticism of – to voice-activated intelligent agents like Amazon’s Alexa, we spoke with the two executives following their presentation.

GeoMarketing: How does Bank of America balance online-and-offline marketing? How is geo-data a factor in those efforts to reach consumers across channels?

Lou Paskalis: It’s about understanding use cases: when do people like to use the mobile app? When do they like to come to a retail environment? How important is proximity? In the abstract, a mobile app is easier for us to do business within. But at the same time, there’s more differentiation that you can offer in a physical space.

What PlaceIQ can do for us is help us understand the different use cases, how structure our messaging depending on various need states. What PlaceIQ’s predictive analytics specifically provides us with is understanding of mindset and motivation. That’s one of the missing ingredients in the marketing stack.

We have so much work on attribution, but we miss emotion. But if we can start to factor that in, we can get a much more complete picture of what that customer is going through and how we can help.

How can geo-data promote greater relevance for brick-and-mortar businesses like a bank branch?

Duncan McCall: We do a lot of work in retail, particularly helping businesses understand how to plan their locations. As Lou touched on the idea of mindset and motivation, proximity indicates all kinds of behavioral elements. You can understand if someone is in the market for a house by looking at if they’re regularly shopping at certain places.

PlaceIQ’s Duncan McCall at MMS: It’s no longer mobile #data, it’s simply consumer data.

Obviously, there are a range of services a bank can offer, from someone needing an ATM at a given moment to considering a mortgage. How does location affect discovery of local bank branches in those very specific moments?

LP: There are all sorts of things you can do to personalize aspects of discovery in an anonymized, privacy-compliant. Not only can you let someone know if there’s a retail branch nearby, but you can conquest your competitors’ branches. But as I say, the powerful thing is knowing that this person’s device was at a car repair shop six times in the last few weeks — they’re going to be in the market for a car and we should be ready to help them.

For us, the challenge is how do we get all that insight up the marketing funnel before they start looking at the Kelley Blue Book. That information is great, because we might have a really competitive offer on auto financing. We might have a program with a particular manufacturer that can offer our customers’ a special value. That’s how this works for everyone.

Location technology is the early warning system for what’s developing on a consumer’s mind. In a world where everyone’s competing on one-to-one marketing, where consumers demand personalization, this information is gold.

Last year, you said that the use of beacons probably didn’t fit the use cases and expectations of what bank customers wanted. How do you regard the emergence of another one-to-one technology in connected intelligence from platforms like Amazon’s Alexa?

LP: I’m all in on voice. It’s a fascinating environment and creates tremendous new abilities. But it’s a double-edged sword: it’s this pervasive, persistent connection at home. But as a brand marketer, you have to be top of mind for folks in those environments. As a consumer, you’re not asking Alexa for the top favorite banking brands. You’re going to the brand you already know. If you’re not in the consumer’s consideration set, you’re likely to get disintermediated.

For us, voice-activation demands that we find a way to ensure that we are at the most top of mind brands in a space where, generally, there’s no screen to place our brand on. Voice search already is huge. I said three years ago that voice search would eclipse text search. It hasn’t happened yet, but I still believe it will. But that just means I have a whole new set of problems to solve.

How does a geo-data specialist like PlaceIQ view the rise of voice-activation?

DM: There are areas in China right now where everyone’s got an Android smartphone and everyone is used to voice-search. They never grew up with text.

In looking at the connection between geo-data and voice, it’s not just about location. It’s about the linking of calendar appointments, email, searches and the ability to derive more contextual data.

I wouldn’t compare it to the emergence of beacons a few years ago. I always thought beacons were a bit of a misnomer. When you start fixating about one technology, it’s dangerous. But the idea of omnipresent location and the data from it across all kinds of platforms to personalize and delight consumers is something we’re certainly bullish on. But I’m not bullish on any one data set or device or technology to do it. We’re agnostic when it comes that.

LP: Imagine the world that Duncan is talking about. Then, imagine taking a traditional radio ad, which is lowest common denominator, and is designed to offend very few consumers. To say that the marketing fundamentals have changed profoundly is an understatement. And now, the challenge is to find the talent that can work across all those disciplines and figure out how to orchestrate it all for the future.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.