A Conversation with Foursquare's Paul Burani About the Future of Mobility
There's no question the auto industry is evolving as consumers are changing the way they're buying, selling and — most importantly — using cars. Technology, once along for the ride, is beginning to take the wheel with next-generation enhancements like smarter navigation systems, hybrid models and ride-sharing apps that put the customer experience first. Transportation isn't what it was a decade ago because consumers aren't who they were a decade ago — and today's automotive customer requires smarter, better service that's tailored to their needs.
What does the future of mobility look like from here? And more importantly, what can auto manufacturers, dealers and auto marketers do to stay ahead? We sat down with Paul Burani, Foursquare's East Coast Sales Director and resident automotive specialist, to discuss the impact of location data on the auto industry, and offer up a garage full of insights to help.
Foursquare: Since this is a conversation about how a location-mapping backbone like Foursquare can change the automotive experience, it seems natural to ask, where's the happy place between the tech consumers want and the tech that they need? What kind of opportunity is there for brands to bridge that gap?
Paul Burani: For brands, I think it's important to answer the question many consumers are asking: ‘What kind of tech do I want in my life that's truly going to enrich it?' Once something begins to make your life better, you become accustomed to it. Consumers are constantly weighing if the value is there for them. The key for brands is to exhibit their value very brightly and clearly.
Foursquare: You work closely with companies to demonstrate the effect location data can have on how consumers interact with auto brands and dealers. Can you talk more about that?
Burani: At the end of the day, it's about understanding the consumer perspective. Our work with Uber, for example, uses our Places POI database with 105 million places in it that makes it easier for users to search for destinations. That kind of app functionality really enriches the whole Uber experience. Garmin, another Foursquare partner, includes our POI database in the Gemini navigation system that's in the 2018 Honda Accord. We build partnerships that are about finding creative ways to power these transformative auto experiences.
Foursquare: What are some emerging, and perhaps disruptive, changes that are taking place in today's auto business?
One trend is an increase in ride sharing, and making it more than the mostly barebones, non-nuanced space it is today. Something similar happened a long time ago with Zipcar, because the company recognized a better way to measure that car usage wasn't in days, but in hours. The question is really, what can carmakers learn from a model that's about adapting to changing mobility needs?
Another trend that's taking place is the subscription model. Take for instance, Volvo's new “Care by Volvo" model offers a flat, monthly fee — including insurance and servicing — all from an app. This gives Volvo's dealer base a chance at engendering a much closer relationship with customers as opposed to the car buyers who only show up in a dealer showroom once every half decade. The club model opens up a far more creative kind of relationship with the dealer and the brand.
Foursquare: So those are two examples of redesigning the user experience. How can knowing where people go in the real world help brands zero in on the customers who will really connect with their brand?
Burani: Because Foursquare's technology is in phones, we have a clear understanding of these visitation patterns and can connect the dots between people and places. For instance, we partnered with Land Rover to help consumers “Discover the Undiscovered." We used our Places data to identify and show consumers under-the-radar hiking trails and scenic locations near them, using information like a high-volume of visits, high ratings and phrases like “hidden gem" from user-generated content. Engagement rates were great, about 40% above benchmark. This was a win-win not just because it provided something valuable not just for consumers, but for the right consumers.
Foursquare: In addition to personalized offers, where are the other opportunities for entering a more mobility-focused model?
Burani: There's a McKinsey report that says consumers are doing more research online instead of at the dealership. In a sense, many of them arrive onto a lot knowing what they want and are ready to pull the trigger. This is the moment dealers and indeed marketers have to convince customers that they're not buying a car, but a brand that gets who they are.
Consider our live map of a customer's world. We know where people are going and what that says about them. We can help brands understand different use cases, like differentiating the holiday-roadtripper from an errand-runner. The smartest brands know that building better products and experiences is about sourcing intelligence and then putting it to use.
Foursquare: As brands and dealers rely more heavily on data to improve their business, what is the message for consumers who might be disconcerted as to why they are asked to provide that data?
Burani: What we know is we have a panel of over 25 million people who have opted into always-on location sharing. Users are more likely get on board with something that they know is beneficial. An app that uses data to improve the way you function is also useful, as opposed to say, a flashlight app that doesn't require data for functionality. And that last piece, of them seeing the value, is critically important to ensure you get buy-in.
Foursquare: Let's say a car learns that a driver enjoys vegetarian restaurants. How is that a value play?
Burani: The right in-car tech can be a real differentiator. We have a passive technology called Pilgrim SDK that has the most accurate place and venue-detection, which means that the more we know about a consumer, the more we can engage with them. In the end, the consumer is awarded with a better, more customized journey.
Foursquare: Since you brought up opportunities for more engagement, what about trade-offs in UI design?
Burani: Technology is constantly evolving. For tech that's created with drivers in mind, it's all about reducing the amount of manual input. In that realm, obviously the next level is voice, not physical keystrokes, since that doesn't lend well to the driving equation. Just a few years ago talking to a computer was ridiculous behavior, but today it seems totally normal. And with these new concepts, like Alexa working with carmakers like Jaguar, and with what we're doing with Garmin, for example — the traditional UI in cars won't always be a touchscreen. This is where Foursquare's map of the world is very helpful. Don't forget, the physical world is always changing. A small coffee shop today could become a deli tomorrow. We keep our database fresh with over 3 billion place confirmations a month. The data is accurate and the results are impactful.
The way I see it, some technology is facing extinction as others are just being born. Luckily, there's innovation happening, and we are a part of that journey.
For more recent news about Foursquare's auto capabilities, read about our partnership with IHS Markit, which allows us to leverage Polk automotive purchase data.