US 20060171520 A1
A technology platform for the delivery of dynamic, interactive audio advertisements which may be played in response to a consumer initiated request for information via a telephone. More specifically, the invention provides advertising supported information services that are related to a keyword specified in the consumer initiated request. In one specific embodiment, at a customer station, a consumer is connected to a call processing system. The call processing system then receives a request for information from the consumer. To determine a response, the request is examined for the presence of one or more keywords that are not necessarily associated with telephone directory assistance and/or business categories as assigned by a telephone service or other directory provider. The keyword is then used to determine a subject matter area associated with the request, and an advertisement categorized within the associated subject matter area is identified.
1. A method for use in a telecommunications network, the network having a customer station and a call processing station, the method comprising the steps of:
at the customer station,
(a) dialing a telephone number used for accessing the call processing station;
(b) setting up a call connection from the customer station to the call processing station;
(c) providing a request for information from the customer station;
at the call processing station,
(d) receiving the request for information from the customer station;
(e) examining the request for information to identify at least a keyword associated with the request;
(f) using the keyword to determine a subject matter area associated therewith;
(g) selecting an advertisement categorized within the associated subject matter area;
(h) retrieving the selected advertisement from a stored media; and
(i) forwarding the selected advertisement to the customer station.
2. A method as in
querying a database with the keyword as a query parameter, to determine the associated subject matter area.
3. A method as in
(j) automatically determining a selected advertisement from among the multiple advertisements.
4. A method as in
5. A method as in
6. A method as in
7. A method as in
8. A method as in
9. A method as in
(k) forwarding the selected advertisement to the customer station.
10. A method as in
at the customer station,
(l) receiving the selected advertisement.
11. A method as in
(m) causing the advertisement to be played to the customer station in an audible form.
12. A method as in
(n) causing the advertisement to be played to the customer station in a visual form.
13. A method as in
14. A method as in
This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/631,463, filed on Nov. 29, 2004. The entire teachings of the above application(s) are incorporated herein by reference.
Telephone directory assistance continues to be an extremely important service for consumers and businesses. It is estimated that in 2004 there will be approximately 8 billion telephone calls placed to directory assistance services (i.e., 411, 555-1212) in the United States. The average cost billed for these calls is now in excess of $1.00.
Directory assistance services are thus an enormous revenue center for both wired and wireless carriers, with profit margins rumored to be in the 90% range. Nearly all directory assistance calls which are placed by consumers are those looking for a phone number for a specific business or individual that could traditionally be found manually in the “white pages”.
To date there is truly no comprehensive telephone based directory assistance available. In particular, consumers may be looking for a business for which they know a category (i.e., plumber, lawyer, travel agent, taxi, etc.) but for which they do not know a name and/or location. There is also no way for a consumer to use a telephone to search by “keyword” for a product or service they wish to purchase. These types of searches are still reserved for consumers to use traditional sources such as the “yellow pages.” Increasingly now, consumers can also turn to internet based on line directories and search engines for this type of search.
However, such directory searches often tend to be local in nature, meaning that the consumer is actually looking for a merchant in their immediate geographic area. It is this reality which has driven the two largest internet search engine advertising platforms, Google and Overture (a Yahoo! subsidiary), to recently launch localized advertising options for their so called Cost Per Click (CPC) based advertising services.
There has recently, of course, been much attention paid to online keyword search market. Yahoo's acquisition of Overture in July 2003 for $1.6 billion has led to a doubling of Yahoo's market capitalization, recently at $15 billion. Google's Initial Public Offering (IPO) in August 2004 valued the company at over $23 billion. Almost all of Google's revenue is derived from their “AdWords” paid search product. Both Microsoft and AOL are aggressively entering the marketplace with their own online search solutions. Current estimates are that online paid keyword search market will reach $5.5 billion in 2009.
But the reality is that of the 13 million small to medium size businesses in the United States, fewer than 300,000 of them advertise using web based services (see Jupiter Research, Pay Per Call Survey, March, 2004). The reasons for this are many, but include at least the fact that in order to advertise successfully online, a business must have both a viable website presence as well as the technical infrastructure to be able to handle the leads they receive, typically via e-mail. Furthermore, businesses need to have technical savvy in order to be able to create and manage one or more paid search campaigns. Perhaps it is for these reasons alone that businesses spent 46% of their advertising budget on yellow pages ads but only about 3% for internet search advertising.
While a cottage industry of search engine marketing companies has developed in order to bring more and more businesses online with paid search, the reality is that the majority of businesses are left out. Other reasons for this include the fact that because of the global nature of the internet, paid keyword search is the more effective for products and services which do not require contact with a local market. Furthermore, because of the bidding process for placement of paid advertisements, may small businesses are “squeezed out” of the internet search market by large national players who can afford to pay more in order to capture online leads.
The majority of small businesses thus still rely primarily on the telephone as their primary means of generating sales leads. In an era where personal video recorders threaten to alter the landscape of television advertising, commercial free satellite radio systems limit the effectiveness of local radio advertising, and the national “Do Not Call List” has effectively eliminated traditional telemarketing, merchants and service providers looking to market themselves locally are actually becoming more limited in their choices.
The present invention is a technology platform for the delivery of dynamically targeted, and even interactive, audio advertisements which may be played in response to a consumer initiated request for information via a telephone. More specifically, the invention provides advertising supported information services that are related to a keyword specified in the consumer initiated request.
In one specific embodiment, at a customer station, a consumer dials an information access telephone number and a call is connected to a call processing system. The call processing system then receives a request for information from the consumer, and determines a response thereto. To determine the response, the request is examined for the presence of one or more keywords that are not necessarily associated with telephone directory assistance and/or business categories as assigned by a telephone service or other directory provider. The keyword is then used to determine a subject matter area associated with the request, and an advertisement categorized within the associated subject matter area is identified.
If the query returns multiple advertisements, a selected one is chosen automatically based on predetermined criteria such as maximizing advertising revenue, consumer satisfaction ratings, ranking of consumer offers, round robin selection, or the like.
The selected advertisement can be retrieved as a stored audio file, a text file that is automatically converted to audible speech, or a text file that is displayed and read back to the consumer by a live operator.
The nature of the telephone yields a robust set of advertisement targeting options. These include:
In addition, audio advertisements provide for a level of interactivity which enables a new set of functions between advertisers and consumers. The platform can thus be used for a number of novel services.
As one example, a Pay Per Call (PPC) service can be provided that supports a “free to consumer,” telephone based yellow pages type directory search. Advertisers will be attracted to this service because they will only be charged if a consumer actually reaches them in order to inquire or purchase their products or services. Unlike an internet search, in which a consumer is typically researching only a future potential purchase, a yellow pages search is typically conducted when a consumer is serious about making a purchase. Therefore, these leads tend to be quite valuable to advertisers. Also, unlike internet based pay per click advertising, which is limited to technology savvy advertisers and service providers who have a website, the invention provides a service that can be made available to any merchant familiar with telephones.
Because the consumer doing a yellow pages type search has almost always made a decision to purchase prior to engaging such a search, calls generated from a telephone based yellow pages search can be quite valuable. A minimum cost per call can thus be greater than the cost of directory service and supported by advertisers. The actual amount charged can depend upon the competitiveness of the marketplace and the actual value of the consumer lead for a specific category or keyword. The amounts could be as high or higher, in some instances, as valuable pay per click keywords on the internet.
Another unique feature of the platform is its ability to find a business by either a category or set of keywords provided by the advertiser. This bridges a gap which exists on the internet with traditional search services, like Google, that find results by keyword, versus online yellow pages which typically organize results by category. This further capability allows a consumer to search for a specific product such as “electric scooter” and receive listings which are in both the “bicycle shop” category and the “toy shop” category.
The platform can also implement an advertising supported, “free to consumers” white pages directory assistance. When applied to yellow pages or business directory search, directory assistance as implemented with the invention can be one of the best available ways to deliver an advertising message. The unique nature of the telephone combined with capabilities of the platform, make it possible to deliver targeted interactive advertising messages. Also, because of an integrated reverse ANI lookup, an advertiser knows exactly with whom they are communicating, unlike any other medium.
The foregoing and other objects, features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following more particular description of preferred embodiments of the invention, as illustrated in the accompanying drawings in which like reference characters refer to the same parts throughout the different views. The drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead being placed upon illustrating the principles of the invention.
Now to describe technical aspects of one preferred embodiment of the invention. With reference to
The server 110 can receive information requests as data in many ways. In one preferred arrangement, the information is provided via an Interactive Voice Response (IVR)/Automated Voice Recognition (AVR) system 106. The IVR portion of system 106 has some type of interface to obtain a search request from the user, and provide the request as data. For example, the information request can be provided in data form via a keypad (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) digits), by voice recognition software that recognizes speech, and/or via a live operator who speaks to the consumer live and then keys in the request as text. The AVR portion of system 106 provided automatic recognition of the voice signals provided by the consumer.
The application server 110 is connected through the internet 150 (and/or local networks) to various other databases and/or information servers. These include, for example, a listings database 120, an ad server 130, a consumer profile database 140, a keyword database 160, a reverse Automatic Number Identifier (ANI) database 170, an emergency 911 number look-up database 180, a business listings database 190 and other possible paid-subscription or free services or databases.
In general, the application server 110 crafts a search query from the information supplied by the consumer via the telephone 102. The information is then packaged as part of a search query submitted to the private listings database 120. The listings 120 database contains information concerning advertisers who have paid a fee to be listed in the system or agreed to pay for each call which is directed to them as the result of a consumer inquiry.
A successful query in the listings database 120 identifies one or more ads associated with one or more advertisers. As will be understood shortly, if multiple ads are identified in response to the query, then, typically one is identified as the selected ad to he played, based on a number of criteria such as which advertiser bid the most for the ad, or which advertiser provides the best offer to the consumer, etc. The identified ad is then retrieved from an advertising server 130 advertising messages. The consumer then hears the advertising message(s) in response to her search request.
The ads may be stored as digitally encoded audio files (MP3, WAV, etc.) or as text files. In the case of digitally encoded audio file, they are played back to the consumer 102 as an audio signal. However, if stored as a text file, they may first be processed through text to speech (TTS) equipment in the IVR system 106.
The application server 110 can also access a business database 190 which may be hosted by another service provider, for example as a paid service, to locate information that is not in the listings database 120. The business database query 190 can be used, for example, to provide general information listings responsive to the user's request. As for the case of the listings database 120, the location of the caller can be determined by making a query to the reverse ANI database 170 prior to querying the listings database 120. (Please note that the standard ANI service provides information concerning the calling parties' telephone number, such as might also be determined from the phone number portion of a “caller ID” determination, although ANI is not the same service as caller ID in the United States.)
For example, if the search request comes in on a particular telephone number, that telephone number can then be used to obtain a location of the calling telephone 102. This location can then be combined with the category of the search request as a submission to the listings 120 database.
Also note that the listings database 120 is not necessarily limited to just having a list of businesses as grouped into categories by a local telephone exchange service provider. For example, custom groupings may be determined by the system provider, such as by grouping businesses by their telephone number, or other combinations without regard to specific, predefined business or services categories.
Another database that may be kept is a keywords database 160. As will be understood below, the keywords database is used to further refine selection of an advertisement when the consumer's initial request does not map directly to a listing and/or category in the listings 120 and/or business database 190. The keywords database 160 may be located several different places, such as a separate database 160, or it may be part of the listings 120 or business database 190, or part of the server 110 itself.
Further information may be maintained in a consumer profile database 140 that is kept on a per telephone number basis. Such information may include, but is not limited to, data indicating past queries and responses to those inquires. It should be understood that other identifiers may be used to specify a particular individual consumer. For example, the system may keep data on a home phone number, a mobile phone number, and an office phone number together with a unique identifier for the individual. This may also be beneficial as many people now use more than one number.
The service provider operating application server 110 may thus typically develop its own listings database 120 that are paid listings. The paid listings may be categorized by and/or prioritized by highest bid, proximity to the caller or any one of a number of different criteria supported by the system. A listings query can also be satisfied by a random search, a geography match, matching an advertiser willing to pay the most to reach a caller of indicated type previous positive consumer feedback or other criteria. Various partial and/or weighted combinations of these factors may also be used in determining the ads to be played back.
The platform provides a number of unique services including:
1. General Automated Directory Information (411) Type Services.
The following exchange between a consumer (C) using telephone 102 and the application server (S) 110 is a general example of an exchange where the consumer is obtaining assistance to obtain a yellow pages listing without being charged for the call. The consumer needs a dentist in this example.
At this point the system performs the above indicated search of the number lookup and listing databases 170 and 120 to locate dentists in the immediate area located adjacent to the consumer. For example, suppose the consumer's telephone 102 number was identified as being in Boulder, Colo. by a query to the reverse number lookup database 120. The application server 110 then searches its listings database 120 to locate a paid advertiser in Boulder in the “Dentist” category. The consumer then hears the following ad retrieved from ad database 130:
The private listings database 120 would thus contain a listing for Boulder Dental Care, and a link to the identified playback, which may be as simple as playing back the words “Boulder Dental Care” but which could be more elaborate, such as an ad for Boulder Dental Care. This listing was the one determined to be the most proximate to the user request, based on the highest bid among all advertisers and physical proximate location to the calling consumer. Note that the consumer has given the option to be connected to the indicated number or to continue listening for further information.
Assuming that the consumer does not press the # key within a predetermined period of time, the consumer will next hear
At this point the consumer is being prompted with a listing that was of lower priority. For example, Avanti may be in Denver, further away from the consumer. Or Avanti may be in Boulder, and it may even be physically closer to the caller than Boulder Dental Care, but Avanti has not paid as much to the service provider for a higher priority listing.
In addition, according to other ways in which the system may operate, Avanti may not even have paid to be in the listings database 120. Rather, the Avanti listing may have been retrieved (due to result of a no match condition in the listing 120 search), from the publicly accessible business listings database of dental care providers in the Boulder, Colo. area.
The business database 190 may itself be a paid service to which the operator of application server 110 subscribes, or may be provided as the result of an automated internet search itself.
Continuing with the above example, if the consumer presses * in result in response to the prompt, she might hear the following:
These options in the Interactive Voice Response system 106 allow the user to keep track of where they are in a list of multiple listings.
2. Key Word Search Supported by Advertising
As a further example of key word type searching, the consumer could have had an exchange as follows:
The consumer may also be given a choice to be connected to a human operator. This could be when the IVR system hears the word “operator” in response to a prompt, or by the user pressing defined keys. At this the point a live operator may then assist with locating the desired services, with the same ad being played that would have been automatically provided had the user been able to use the IVR 106 successfully.
As another example, the user might have simply stated “I am looking for a good dentist” in the initial request. The IVR system may not have been able to discern the user's request and then automatically connected a human operator to help. The human operator would then initiate a query listing for dentists, by submitting the service search request for “Dentist” to the server, such as via a web text interface (not shown) allowing the system to then automatically provide a listing of dentists in the Boulder, Colo. area.
Here, the consumer is using a telephone located in Boulder, Colo. having an assigned telephone number of 303-443-1223. In a first step 200, the consumer uses the telephone to dial the ad-supported information service, such as by dialing a toll-free 800 number.
After the call is connected, in step 210, the consumer hears:
At this point, in step 230, the AVR 106 and/or application server 110 detect the key word “cavity” in the request, and also determine that it does not match a category in the listings 120 or business 190 databases. As a next step, a query
Having now determined an assigned category, the system can locate an advertisement. Beginning in step 252, a location for the consumer's telephone is determined in one of several ways. In the illustrated example in
Alternatively, as will be seen below, the consumer can be prompted with the IVR 106 to provide her location in response to a verbal question. In either event, the consumer's location is determined to be Boulder. Colo.
Next, one or more advertisements are determined from a query to the ad database 130:
For example, the entry may include, among other fields:
The ranking in step 260 might for example, select ads in a “round robin” fashion, such that the ad which was played the longest time ago will now be selected. Or the ranking in step 260 may select the ad for which the highest bid has been placed. Alternatively, step 206 may select the ad from the advertiser who is offering the “best deal” to the consumer; or perhaps if the ads have been ranked based on prior positive consumer satisfaction, that will enter into the ranking determination. A weighted combination of these criteria can also be used in selecting the ad to be played.
Finally, in step 262 we see the system has been programmed in this type of response to select two ads to be played, to give the consumer a choice. Here, both an ad for Boulder Dental and an ad for Avanti are played, with the Boulder Dental ad having scored higher in the ranking process and thus being played first.
Next, in step 272, the key phrase is recognized, and then submitted as a query to the keyword database in step 274 as
Step 284 then ranks the list of possible ads, as in the
3. Advertising Supported Directory Information
The platform can also be used for providing advertising supported, directory information services. One example of such an exchange would be as follows:
This is what a typical user 102 would hear with prior art IVR based information listing services. However, the addition of server 110 allows the consumer at this point to hear an advertisement for a completely unrelated product, such as, for example, cooking oil. The cooking oil advertisement could be retrieved from advertisement database 130 randomly, or based on profiles 140. The user would then hear, after the advertisement,
4. Advertising Supported Directory Information using a Location Associated with the Response to Select an Ad.
The requested ad can often times be related to the search request or the response thereto. In the simplest example, a typical exchange could be as follows:
Here, the server 110 has simply selected a relevant ad based on the caller's location as determined by the reverse ANI database 170 , matching the pizza category to a business in the listings database 120, and then selecting an ad from the ad database 130, ranking if multiple ads are returned, and then playing the highest ranked ad in response.
However, another exchange might be as follows:
In the above example, an advertisement is played for competing service provider in response to a request for a specific listing category. It is envisioned that users would not mind engaging in such an exchange, since they would not be charged for the call to directory assistance that they would otherwise have to pay for.
In the above example, the advertiser, Pizza Hut, would be charged a fee, who presumably does not paying for the lead to a customer who is ready to order a pizza.
Another technique for selecting an ad, but based on the result of the request for information, is illustrated in
Recall that the consumer is located in Boulder, Colo. but here is seeking a listing in Fort Collins—perhaps they are planning to travel there later in the evening for dinner.
Here, a query is first made to the listing database 120 in step 310:
In any event, the ads database query returns an ad (and any necessary ranking process as described in
5. Call Completion that is “Free” to Consumers
The example of
The system provides the ability to provide such services wherein the cost is supported by an advertiser. In a simple example, an exchange can be as follows:
In this example, the request could of course also be made for a residential listing for example, with a random or demographic ad picked from the listings database 120.
6. Ad Selection Based on Past History of Requests or Responses.
As explained above, the criteria for determining which ad to play in response to a request can be based on a number of factors. It can be based upon the request itself, i.e., the particular category or keyword associated with a request, as described in connection with
However, further criteria can be associated with previous requests from the same phone number. Thus, if multiple advertisers have paid for listings 120 in given location, it may be desirable to not have the same caller hear the same advertiser each time. Thus data can be maintained in a profiles database 140, to allow the system to recall which ads had previously been played to the same phone 102.
One example is shown in
In this example, the system might chose an ad for “Tony's Hardware”, based on the particular past interest, but may also do more sophisticated things. For example, the ad selection process may see that multiple ads for Pizza Hut have been played in the past, but that the consumer is still asking for Dominos. Apparently, then the Pizza Hut ads have not worked, and the system might thus select another ad, such as for Tony's Hardware, in an attempt to influence the consumer.
While this invention has been particularly shown and described with references to preferred embodiments thereof, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes in form and details may be made therein without departing from the scope of the invention encompassed by the appended claims.