Archive for the ‘Small Business’ Category

Google Turns Local Product Searches into Delivery Business

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To date, Google product searches have delivered fairly relevant local results, but have failed to translate those results into actual purchases.  Now, Google is introducing a new platform to that helps consumers move from product searches to real-life transactions.

The offering, called Google Shopping Express, allows consumers to buy products from several major participating retailers through Google’s interface. In turn, Google will take a single-digit percentage cut of each transaction and then deliver the purchased product from the physical retail store to the consumer on the same or next day. Instead of operating massive warehouses and store inventory – along the lines of Amazon – Google simply acts as a facilitator of local product transactions.

Currently, the service offers products from the likes of Target, Costco, Toys “R” Us and Whole Foods, and is operational in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. A source told Re/code that Google execs have set aside around $500 million to expand the service nationwide. According to Tom Fallows, head of Google Shopping Express, the company is “willing to sustain that investment over time as this gets going.”

While there is the obvious benefit of using Google to help sell local products, it will be interesting to see how they incorporate small retailers in the mix.  At this point, the service looks well suited for retailers that offer specialty, one-of-a-kind goods that aren’t available anywhere else. On the other hand, the local drug store with common brand name products might struggle to compete with the pricing flexibility of national chains like Walgreens.

Once again, it looks like small local retailers face an uphill battle when it comes to competing with the influence of national retailers.  If Google plans to continue this partnership model for Google Shopping Express, we can only assume that the national brands will have priority over small local retailers that offer the same products with less reach.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on how this new Google offering resonates in the market and what impact it has on local product sales.

Think Tank Chicago: Exploring Local Advertising on a Dark and Stormy Night

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ryan Vaspra, SVP of product and operations at Sightly, shares his thoughts on our recent Think Tank Chicago event which brought together local advertising leaders from companies including Facebook, YP, R/GA, Twitter, MediaVest, Ifbyphone, Marquette Group, Cars.com, Where 2 Get It, CityGrid Media and SMG Local Spectrum. The group discussed exciting new ideas and trends in local that have the potential to take our industry to the next level.

As lightning flashed and thunder crashed outside the 80th floor windows of the Aon Building in downtown Chicago, a group of local marketing thought leaders convened for dinner and spirited discussion – an industry “Think Tank,” graciously hosted by the Local Search Association.

The group was comprised of a diverse set of executives from agencies, publishers, media, and technology companies like Sightly, the online video ad tech company I represent.

The theme of the evening was an exploration of “how local advertisers are using various media outlets to drive clicks, calls and store visits,” what the LSA introduced this year as “Last Mile Advertising.”

From the offset, the discussion focused on what local advertisers want from marketing and advertising solutions and what providers’ pricing should be.

Many participants didn’t feel our industry necessarily needs to provide “free or nearly free” solutions for SMBs as incentives for them to try our products, especially if the value is evident. Simple? Yes.  Effective? Yes.  But simple and effective solutions are rarely free or inexpensive.

Some agency executives felt it’s our job to provide fairly priced, effective solutions but not worry about saving all SMBs from their competitors. In local business, those who are smart, savvy and willing to learn are usually the ones that survive. Conversely, to paraphrase one exec, “Those who don’t get it, usually don’t get that they don’t get it.”

Finally, our best takeaway was that the group felt agencies and service providers provide value by bundling and integrating marketing solutions. Otherwise, SMBs tend to “hopscotch” from tactic to tactic, treating each marketing solution as a stand-alone solution. In reality, bundled solutions create a much more valuable multi-touch, integrated marketing presence for the SMB in its local market than any individual tactic does at any given time.

It was a one-of-a-kind event and LSA brought together a very impressive and influential group of professionals from a diverse set of locally focused companies. The intimate setting made it easy for us to dive deep into the issues impacting the local space.  With such varied experiences and perspectives in one room, we came away from the meeting with insights that are extremely valuable for the future of local.

Automation is Transforming Local Advertising for the Better

Monday, June 23, 2014

These days, many SMB owners struggle with building an effective presence for their business across the growing number of local media platforms. There’s no question that local advertising providers are working hard to help SMB owners overcome the challenges of creating and implementing an integrated approach. However, the costs associated with maintaining labor-intensive management platforms, managing campaigns and fulfilling sales commissions often hinder the ability of providers to offer SMB owners with adequate solutions that fit within their limited budgets.

The automation phenomenon stands out as a potential solution for struggling SMBs and local advertising providers because it helps to lower the costs of developing and fulfilling local media campaigns. It’s a trend that is quickly catching on in the industry, representing approximately 20% of all digital advertising revenue today and still on the rise, according to the IAB.

There are several exciting automated local solutions making their way to market. For instance, Connectivity recently introduced a new product that automates the list-building of customer emails and phone numbers – with the end goal of enabling complete marketing automation.  Additionally, companies like The Search Agency, Rio SEO and Sightly are using automation to make search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO) and video advertising, respectively, more affordable for SMBs and national brands alike.

In a recent white paper, The Search Agency said that automation is an attractive solution because it “offers…the ability to both lower the cost of on-boarding new customers and dramatically lower the costs of ownership, in a marketplace that will become increasingly competitive as search becomes the dominant source of directional leads for all levels of SMBs.”

In an October 2013 article, Street Fight outlined notable corporate partnerships in today’s local marketing landscape. The story illustrated the current shift from targeting specific media types towards enabling a more technology- and data-driven approach. Partnerships like Yelp and Booker are allowing more efficient local ad solutions that bring together massive amounts of consumer data. This creates an opportunity to automate and therefore, drive downs the costs of implementing ad solutions.

“…What’s shaking up the industry is the introduction of cloud-based business management systems…into the marketing mix,” said the editors here at Street Fight. “Marketers can write algorithms to connect supply and demand, automating the way businesses and consumers interact locally.”

The Search Agency is doing that already with AdMax® Local, its automated SEM solution for SMBs. According to Chris Travers of Universal Business Listing – who recently judged this solution for the Local Search Association’s Ad to Action Awards competition – AdMax Local “automates the targeting for the advertiser by using the available technologies in SEM and then interprets it for them. I expect this would be a popular tool for advertisers who are baffled by the complexity, and for the resellers who have struggled with selling SEM to small businesses.”

Separately, Rio SEO has developed an automated process that helps multi-location businesses improve their SEO.  Given the unique challenges associated with managing, optimizing and distributing local business listing information within search results, accuracy is critical for every business, and automation helps achieve that.

Rio SEO offers a local CMS platform to serve as a single point of contact for optimizing and correcting listings on all major platforms, including Google, Bing and Yahoo. According to a recent Search Engine Watch post by the company’s Bill Connard, “automating the process of populating, verifying, and updating your listings on these networks makes this a far less daunting task with a higher quality outcome.”

Finally, automation also has the ability to more effectively manage the mix of high spend/low volume and low spend/high volume advertisers. While agencies have traditionally put their eggs in big brand baskets, there is an opportunity to develop better and cheaper ways of engaging SMB populations with smarter solutions.

Sightly is making waves in this area with its new TargetView solution.  While automation in video is not necessarily a new idea, Sightly has developed an automated video ad buying system that allows SMBs and their marketing partners to reach prospective customers with video ads tailored just for them on the devices, in the locations and at the moments they are watching.

Sightly’s offering provides affordable, locally relevant video advertising to SMBs at scale. As consumers continue to increase consumption of online video and, therefore, video ads – online video ad views totaled 28.7 billion in March 2014, according to comScore – automation will enable SMBs to improve their traction in video.

As more local solutions enter the marketplace, raising visibility for solutions across all forms of local advertising will be critical in helping both local advertising providers and SMBs achieve success. With approximately 28 million SMBs nationwide, there is a huge opportunity for providers to create effective and profitable automated solutions that benefit these businesses everywhere.

Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter Set Sights on SMBs

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Google introduces Google My Business; Yahoo “wants to help people worldwide to start, build and grow their businesses”; Amazon is reportedly launching a marketplace for local service providers; Facebook is traveling the country courting SMB advertisers; and Twitter develops an online SMB curriculum for Twitter Ads. All of this news crossed the wire within the last two months and highlights just how intense the SMB marketing and advertising space is becoming.

According to Google, Google My Business looks to make it “easier than ever to update business information across Google Search, Maps and Google+.” In the past, managing local listings and content across all of Google’s properties has been difficult for SMBs, but this new tool represents a strong commitment to SMBs.

Another search giant – Yahoo –  is developing stronger tools for SMBs. According to a report from the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Yahoo is working on a tool that interprets sales, visits and conversion data to provide businesses with recommendations on what advertising and marketing solutions they should invest in. For instance, if mobile is a strong fit for a business, Yahoo would recommend its mobile ad product, Yahoo Gemini.

One of the biggest stories comes from Amazon. The company has plans to launch a new marketplace for local services, according to a report from Reuters. The new offering will compete directly with existing local market players such as Yelp and Angie’s List, as well as home improvement chains such as Home Depot and Lowe’s,  which provide resources for customers to connect with local service providers.

The social media players that are investing in SMBs are pleased to see that businesses are increasing their marketing spend and time spent on social. According to a recent study by Social Media Marketing University, the majority (54.4%) of U.S. SMB marketers said they had increased their social media marketing spend this year.

For Facebook, traveling the country to New York City, Chicago, Miami, Austin and Menlo Park, is just the beginning of efforts to capture more SMB ad dollars. These “Facebook Fit” workshops follow the launch of the Small and Medium Business Council, which aims to put more of a face behind Facebook, build a small business community and boost advocacy.

Twitter is entering the second year with its self-serve ad products and is simply trying to promote the ad solution. With an emphasis on education, the company has developed “an awful lot” of content, including an online SMB curriculum, intended to help marketers reach customers on Twitter.

The local space is clearly heating up, and this is great news for SMBs. More competition within the space should lead to better price points. On the other hand, providers of local advertising and marketing solutions will need to have products and solutions that differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack with measurable ROI and transparent practices.

Amazon to Launch Marketplace for Local Services

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Amazon.com has plans to launch a new marketplace for local services, according to a report by Reuters.  The new offering will compete directly with existing local market players including Yelp and Angie’s List – as well as home improvement chains such as Home Depot and Lowe’s – which provide resources for customers to connect with local service providers.

Third-party vendors make up about 40% of Amazon’s sales, and these existing relationships provide the critical mass needed to have a meaningful impact in local.  As the Reuters report notes, Amazon will refine the tool much like the company did with AmazonFresh, its grocery delivery service, by gauging demand and testing logistics in local markets before introducing the product nationwide.

Amazon’s move isn’t surprising to those who attended our 2014 Local Search Association Conference in late April. Industry experts Matt Booth, Neal Polachek, and Greg Sterling predicted that “Amazon will score big with SMBs beyond Amazon Web Services” in the near future.

While there are few details, I believe Amazon is getting into the local services space for a few reasons. For one, a large number of consumers are looking for local service providers. According to YP’s most recent Local Insights Report, of the top 10 most searched local categories, seven are service providers.  Plus, there are billions of local searches each month via digital and mobile, many of which are related to local services.

Second, while the local services space is massive, it has been difficult for media companies to turn a profit given the unique needs and offerings required for each locale. Industry observers estimate that the home repair and improvement market alone represents a $250 billion opportunity, and cracking the local services nut presents substantial upside for the marketplace that can do it best.

Finally, as search traffic continues to fragment across platforms, the local services offering that provides the best user experience across the board will have the greatest potential for success.  Given Amazon’s strong brand and standing as a leading e-commerce platform – in addition to its focus on reviews and security – the company is well-positioned to capture the entire purchase process for local services in one place.

While there are many other reasons that we are probably not aware of yet, this is a big move, and we will be watching it closely.

Top 5 Local Ad Stats of the Week: Automation

Friday, May 30, 2014

Selling new digital marketing solutions to SMBs has proven difficult for a variety of reasons – many of which boil down to price.  Many SMBs have limited advertising budgets, which are hard for local advertising providers to reconcile with their costs of doing business. But automation is helping to change that.

Automating workflows and ad buys are helping agencies and platforms lower the costs of onboarding new customers and executing campaigns.  While automation has driven display advertising to new levels, it is finding its way into video and even search engine marketing.

Here are stats that highlight the role automation is playing in the advertising space, and the potential it has to make various forms of advertising more affordable to SMBs:

  • Approximately 20% of all digital advertising is sold by one machine talking to another machine—and growing rapidly. (IAB)
  • In 2012, marketing automation had the largest year-over-year growth of any area: 233%. (eMarketer)
  • B2B marketers that implement marketing automation increase their sales-pipeline contribution by 10%. (Forrester)
  • Global marketing automation software revenue is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2020. (Frost & Sullivan)
  • The percentage of B2B Fortune 500 companies using marketing automation increased 112% in 2014 to 53% of all companies. (Pardot)

Be sure to check back next Friday for our next edition of Top 5 Local Ad Stats of the Week. Have a great weekend!

Top 5 Local Ad Stats of the Week: SMBs

Friday, May 16, 2014

A recent infographic from Docstoc notes that there are 28 million small businesses in the U.S.  While the ad spending power of SMBs pales in comparison to national brands, marketers see a tremendous opportunity with SMB advertisers because of their strong numbers and need for local ad solutions.

As the local advertising space continues to fragment, many SMBs are at a loss.  Slow to adopt digital and mobile solutions, inundated with sales calls that make them even more confused, and unable to adequately track the effectiveness of their campaigns, SMBs struggle in determining how they spend their limited ad budgets.

Here are five key stats that highlight how SMBs today are thinking about local advertising – and demonstrate the challenge and opportunity facing local marketers in engaging them:

  • SMBs plan to allocate just 26% of their total ad budget to digital and online media. (BIA/Kelsey)
  • On average, SMBs get five sales calls per week and listen to only one of them. (Borrell Associates)
  • 78% of SMBs stated they would prefer to work with one trusted source for all their advertising needs. (Thrive Analytics)
  • 56% of SMBs don’t do any measurement or tracking of their marketing to determine effectiveness. (Yodle)
  • The average SMB spends $400 per month on marketing. (BrightLocal/ChamberofCommerce.com)

Be sure to check back next Friday for our next edition of Top 5 Local Ad Stats of the Week. Have a great weekend!

Local Retailers Generate Store Visits with Online Purchase Delivery Alternatives

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One advantage local brick and mortar retailers have over online-only retailers, such as Amazon, is that they can be more flexible when it comes to the way in which they deliver a consumer’s online purchase. In addition to lowering the cost for consumers, some delivery alternatives have the capability of generating in-store visits, which creates another opportunity to sell.

Some delivery alternatives include reserving products online and picking up/paying in-store, using the store as a delivery hub or shipping directly to stores. Not only do these alternatives help lower costs, but consumers want local businesses to offer this flexibility. According to a Forrester Consulting study, conducted at the end of last year, about half of respondents said it was important for retailers to offer in-store pickup for online purchases.

In addition to creating a positive customer experience for those looking for this kind of service, delivering directly to the store increases foot-traffic. This is important because, according to a BIA/Kelsey study, SMBs voted in-person interactions as “excellent” lead sources more than any other lead source except for calls which received equal votes.

The offline pick-up offers an up sell or secondary marketing opportunity for businesses. Much like the products not on the grocery list that end up in the shopping cart, this interaction often generates further sales or opportunities to build customer loyalty.  I can see the in-store pick up being used by retailers to:

  • Recommend similar or complimentary products;
  • Remind consumers of concurrent deals, promotions;
  • Inform consumers of new inventory/products; and
  • Request an online review.

Since an in-person visit is not an option for online-only vendors, and the lead quality of that interaction is so high, the in-store pickup is an incredible opportunity for brick and mortar stores to leverage.  In addition to enhancing the visual experience of the customer from what he or she sees online, the store can appeal to many more senses like touch, feel, smells and sounds.  For this reason, the in-store pickup has the ability to generate more traffic and create more opportunities to make a sale.

LinkedIn Survey: 94% of SMBs Use Social Media for Marketing [Infographic]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

LinkedIn recently shared an infographic entitled, “The Year of the Social Small Business,” which highlights results from an SMB survey on the ways businesses are using social media in their marketing efforts. LinkedIn’s survey found that about 94% of SMBs said they use social media for marketing, while 61% said that social media helps them gain new customers.

Check out the infographic below for details.

Street Fight’s Local Data Summit in Denver

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I got the chance to attend Street Fight’s Local Data Summit in Denver and it was a great event.  In addition to making connections and networking with the savvy local experts, I learned all about the exploding developments in big data that are helping local marketers deliver stronger ROI.

I really enjoyed the panel titled, “The Quantified Shelf and the Promise of Real-Time Inventory,” moderated by Perry Evans, CEO at Closely and featuring Jeremy Geiger, CEO at Retailigence; Mike Wilson, CEO at Goodzer; and Sherry Thomas-Zon, VP of Shopping at Local Corp.  Here are some of the highlights from the session:

  • Large retailers have a ton of data and have some technical expertise and resources, but they still need help in developing insights and targeting strategies.
  • SMBs are getting involved in the data game but, compared to the national brands, they don’t have the data sets or resources needed to really leverage this information.
  • The retail space was the primary consumer of data but data providers are becoming more flexible in order to support more industries.
  • Ecommerce is only 10-15% of the retail space.  At the end of the day the experience of going and talking with someone is driving sales.
  • Online scheduling is an extremely important development in the local space because it is the equivalent to closing the loop between online and offline.
  • The primary goal of big data is guiding and measuring the path to purchase.

Perry Evans, CEO at Closely; Jeremy Geiger, CEO at Retailigence; Mike Wilson, CEO at Goodzer; and Sherry Thomas-Zon, VP of Shopping at Local Corp at Street Fight’s Local Data Summit in Denver, CO.