All posts by Peter

Signpost: CRM, Marketing Automation Enhance Promotions

Signpost_Logo (3)

Deals and coupons remain anchors for local business promotion. But they can now be customized based on customer behavior and better marketing automation tools.
Signpost is eager to leverage these developments. While the 200 person company launched in 2011 as a “Deals Scout” and promotions manager – initially supporting Google Offers and others — it has increasingly gotten into software development.

Today, the company – which has raised about $15 million from Spark Capital, Google Ventures, OpenView Venture Partners and others — announced a new strategy that measures SMB interactions with customers (calls, email and credit card transactions). That data is then used it to drive a number of automated marketing solutions (coupons, reviews, referrals). It can also be used to generate real time reports on spending behavior, and rank customers by transaction activity, transaction size and recent interactions.

Pricing for the service is set for $199 a month, which represents a $50 increase from the earlier, promotions-oriented effort.

The question for Signpost is whether it can effectively carve out a niche for itself. Other companies, ranging from Marketo and HubSpot to Groupon, First Data and ForwardLine, are also delivering a wider range of SMB targeting services based on customer behavior they are tracking.

Signpost CEO Stu Wall is a featured speaker at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can get more information here.


Signpost CEO Stu Wall

A Few Quick Thoughts on Apple’s Big Announcements

A lot of us were glued to our screens today to watch or catch the feeds on the Apple announcements re iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay and Apple Watch. What will the new announcements mean to our local ecosystem? To date, Apple’s focus on local has mostly been geared to Apple Maps. But here are a few things:

1. More content for larger screens. When the iPad was introduced, vendors such as Matchbin bet the bank that it would lead to higher paid subscriptions and new types of advertising. It didn’t really happen. But more content is behind the firewall now than before. The intro of the larger iPhone 6 and the really big iPhone 6 Plus – on top of other Phablets by Samsung et al might push this evolution further – and spur the develop of new tablet-ready and phablet-ready local content.

2. A jumpstart for Digital Payments. Apple Pay is being launched as an NFC wireless payment mechanism. Unlike the struggling Google Wallet, it is being supported by most of the industry’s payment processors and financial institutions; allowing consumers to tie their payment cards to their phones. The introduction of Apple Pay won’t turn plastic extinct overnight – the payments card infrastructure is extremely deep. But it does validate NFC as a wireless payments technology, and should help build acceptance for digital payments. The challenge here: It is not converting Apple users. It is converting Millenials.

3. Enter the Apple Watch. It may take a while for iWatch and other wearables to really catch on beyond the early adopters, who do not really impact local outside of tech centers such as San Francisco. But combined with Apple Pay, the Apple Watch should help build acceptance for local store payments, public transport and other services (and impulse cash less buying.) Again, their immediate importance is in Apple’s validation of both wearables and NFC. See how LevelUp is excited about the prospect .

Apple’s system appears to be overloaded, but don’t forget to download the free U2 album, Songs of Innocence, which will be available on iTunes until 9/13.

Kilponen: SMB Retailers Need to Focus on Foot Traffic Drivers

What should SMB retailers do to level the playing field with larger regional and national retailers? There are no easy answers, but they should really focus on mobile and geo location targeting, says Wanderful Media COO Doug Kilponen. Search has major limitations for them.

“In the old days, you could create free traffic from Google and the like. But SEO is dead for small retailers,” says Kilponen, previously CMO at Merchant Circle. “It’s been taken up by the Amazons and Google of the world. If you do a search term on products, it is a black hole. You can rarely find a way out.”

Mobile, however, represents “new opportunity “ for SMBs — albeit one that is misunderstood. “For small retailers, it is still about foot traffic,” says Kilponen. That means they should tap into location based services; engage local friends via social media; post products in certain categories; and target uses via promotions. Mobile SMB platforms such as Wanderful’s Find&Save Storefront provides “a stronger ROI than what we’ve seen in search,” he adds.

Kilponen is speaking on SMB retail at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can register here.

Merchants Helping Neighboring Merchants: Ex Constant Contacter Launches Alignable

One idea we’ve kicked around for a while is that merchants can generate business tips and customer referrals for neighboring merchants in a strip mall, or down the street. Why shouldn’t the cooking store people refer customers to the gourmet grocery? Or the hardware store people refer customers to plant nursery? At least, they can share tips about landlords, taxes, advertising and supplies.

At this point, several companies have tried it. It has been a leading premise behind the launch of local sites such as MerchantCircle and ShopCity.

The popularization of social media has led former Constant Contact executive Eric Groves to try it once again with Alignable, his new startup. Groves contends that there is vast local knowledge in pockets throughout communities. But many SMBs miss out on marketing opportunities because of the isolated state they operate in. “They never connect with people who are just 10 feet away from their dry wall,” he says.

Alignable makes it easier for merchants to share information; post calendar information; and other information. For SMBs, it is a growth engine, says Groves. What’s in it for him? Because there is generally so little overlap between the customer bases of neighboring merchants, the combined resources of hundreds and thousands of merchants represent a new way to reach a large quorum that could easily rival the reach of a local newspaper or broadcasters.

Informal surveys conducted by Alignable show that overlap rates between customer lists are generally less than two percent. A large community such as Austin, for instance, already has 700 businesses on Alignable. If the majority of Austin merchants were to signup, it would represent a combined reach of 1.5 million, Groves estimates.

Other fast-out-of-the-gate markets for Alignable include Denver, Phoenix and Oakland. In fact, the service is now available in 3000 communities representing every state, as well as Canada.

Looking forward, Groves sees opportunity not only to hook up neighboring merchants and their customers, but vertical players across the county. Health and Wellness has been an early winner, with MindBody Online serving as a strong partner for Alignable, says Groves.

Alignable is a member of the 2014 Future Stars, and will be part of Future Stars Alley at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can register here.

Acxiom Launches Self Serve SMB Marketing Effort

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Consumer data giant Acxiom is moving downstream with a self-serve leads products tailored to SMBs. The new SMB product, “MyAcxiomPartner,” allows SMBs to develop customer lists on a hyperlocal basis, using either addresses or polygon mapping.

The effort is part of Acxiom’s “Audience Operating System,” a consumer data campaign management tool that has been developed at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars. The AOS is part of a vision by CEO Scott Howe to enable Acxiom’s data to be easily and readily available to all kinds of marketers across many channels. Howe’s mantra is to use Big Data to enable more precise marketing.

Using MyAcxiomPartner, lists can also be developed based on several other criteria, including behavioral and demographic elements and over 4,000 scored models (i.e. marketing propensities such as “Mid size SUV” or “Brand Name Apparel.”) Costs begin at $100 or $200, based on criteria involved.

In a briefing with BIA/Kelsey, VP of Global Partner Development Jeff Standridge notes that Acxiom is targeting SMB owners for MyAcxiomPartner that have annual revenues ranging anywhere from “a few hundred thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars.”

“We’re putting audience selection in the hands of SMB owners that don’t have campaign experience,” says Standridge. “We enable smart media purchases; for target audiences to be identified; and for SMBs to plan and execute media.”

A limousine company, for instance, can develop a list targeting several hundred likely customers for a self-serve mobile banner campaign. In this specific example, Acxiom has teamed up with 4Info for the mobile ad component, which also enables customers to upload their own graphics and deployments.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe is keynoting BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing event in New Orleans Sept. 22-24. You can register here.

Home Advisor’s Chris Terrill: Poised for Growth, New Services

Almost two years ago, IAC was in a tough situation. It had a leading services referral business in ServiceMagic, whose main rival was Angie’s List, the paid subscription service. But the service wasn’t growing; had relatively low brand awareness; and seemed to be in danger of getting bypassed by a new crop of social media driven services.

In an episode of creative destruction, IAC, along with new CEO Chris Terrill, made the decision to rename the company to “Home Advisor”; and narrow its focus to home services. Terrill later refocused the company’s primary business model from pay per lead to monthly subscriptions that would include a variety of value added social media and directory services (pay per lead options remain available).

Today, the Home Advisor brand may not be as well known as ServiceMagic at its peak. It also remains under the radar in the business world. That is partly explained by the company not being VC backed or publicly traded as a separate company outside of IAC, says Terrill. “We don’t get written about as much.”

But Terrill says that the company remains one of the largest home service networks, with 80,000 service pros, two million reviews and 30 million home owner requests. It is also growing and profitable, and highly focused on “strategic sales.”

And it is focusing more on the awareness issue, conducting an ambitious TV campaign to reach more home owners. It will be spending even more on TV in coming months, with budgets that are in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

The picture looks bright going forward for Home Advisor and the entire home services space, says Terrill. Over the next couple of years, Terrill says Home Advisor will have a singular focus on growing its U.S. business.

“A lot of small entrants are coming into the space,” such as Pro.com, the service launched by former Amazon leaders (not to mention Amazon’s own entrance into the space.) “We see the local home space heating up,” he says. But Home Advisor remains a leader in the space – competing against players such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Home Depot’s Red Beacon — and continues to add building blocks, Terrill says.

Today, for instance, the company announced the purchase of Mhelpdesk, a 30-person Fairfax, VA-based company that helps service pros manage their businesses, and allows home owners to directly book services – especially over mobile phones. The service has over 10,000 service pros.

Terrill says that Mhelpdesk is a leader in a “rapidly growing space” that will prove increasingly important to the company. “It could not have worked 2,3,4 years ago,” he says, before the popularization of cloud-based mobile devices for SMB service providers. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

40th Speaker Added for SMB Digital Marketing, Sept. 22-24, New Orleans

The lineup for our SMB Digital Marketing event in rockin’ New Orleans has got to be considered one of our strongest ever.

We’ve just confirmed our 40th hand picked speakers for the event, which takes place Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans.

In addition to SMB leaders who have previously announced (i.e. from Google, Facebook, Sprint, YP, Yelp, ReachLocal, Acxiom, Groupon, NOLA Media Group, Mercury Payments and more), we have now confirmed a great set of additional SMB leaders — each driving the local SMB space in new ways. These include:

Mike Deluca, SVP, Hearst; CEO, Local Edge
Del Humenik, COO, Dex Media
Stu Wall, CEO, SignPost
Jon Wuebben, CEO, Content News
Amanda MacNaughton, CMO, PromoJam (Orange Soda)
Mike Lazarro, Head of Planning , Perka/First Data
Nancy Lane, President, Local Media Association
Tom Kenney, President, Verve Mobile

Each of the speakers has been hand-picked by the BIA/Kelsey analyst team. Check out the full agenda here.

Will we see you in New Orleans? You may register here.