Very Small Businesses are woefully under-served by digital marketers, and usually end up relying on “old” DIY programs. Why? Despite their huge numbers, VSMBs lack scale in terms of sales, support and technology.
SMB marketing vet Perry Evans, however, says that recent advances in automation and artificial intelligence have made VSMBs a greenfield opportunity. Serving VSMBs – typically companies with fewer than ten employees — will be among his top priorities in his new role as SVP of ThriveHive, Gatehouse Media’s B2B marketing subsidiary. Thrivehive acquired Evans’ startup, Closely, in November.
Evans notes that Closely will now become a fully integrated part of ThriveHive, which provides its platform to small business customers in partnership with hundreds of Gatehouse Media properties, strategic partners and direct-to-SMB. Closely will serve as ThriveHive’s Denver office, and expects to double or triple its current eight person team in coming months.
For Evans, it’s about giving VSMBs a better understanding of how their customers buy and browse, and how social media can be more effectively applied for consumer engagement and customer acquisition. Their decisions on website presence, search presence, outbound email, and other marketing efforts should be centered on that reality, he says. That was the specific focus for Closely’s Perch mobile social-product, launched in 2013 in the wake of Groupon’s success to help SMBs move away from a sole focus on advertising. The company developed strategic pilots with American Express and US Foods, among others.
Over the past few years, the introduction of machine learning and increasingly, artificial intelligence, is what’s made VSMB efforts scaleable in important new ways, says Evans. But the human aspect remains critical to success. “Guided marketing” — mostly via mobile-first experiences — needs to be a vital part of the equation for VSMBs, who may only have 15 minutes a day to focus on marketing. Applying data to continually steer a business owner toward the right things is the mantra, says Evans. “Digital marketing needs to be participatory,” he adds. “It is different than giving automated training.”
Mobile’s emergence as a key platform adds yet another critical dimension to VSMB marketing. “It’s all about being conversational with customers,” says Evans. “We’ve proven that mobile can drive true everyday engagement.” It adds yet another dimension to the broadening social media experience. “Increasingly, B2B companies serving VSMB need to think of their users more like consumers than enterprises,” he adds. “You need to be more intuitive across the digital marketing spectrum; and increasingly build on more and more personalization.”