Category Archives: Sales Channels

AOL’s Sale to Verizon: All Eyes on Mobile and Video

Verizon’s announcement today that it will buy AOL for $4.4 billion is a bid to get beyond dumb pipes and airwaves to get deeply into mobile and video. By doing so, Verizon, a $200 Billion company,  hopes to play on more of a level playing field with other major telecom players combining access to content and personalization services, especially Comcast (with NBC U) and  AT&T (with Direct TV.)

The all-cash deal provides a 150 percent return for shareholders in AOL from when CEO Tim Armstrong came on board in 2009. The price is 17 percent above the current stock price. And at the lower price – which may ultimately be even lower if some of the content properties are sold – a lot less is riding on it.

Have you seen this movie before in 2000, when AOL was disastrously sold to Time Warner for $165 Billion?  A lot of the same synergies are being discussed:  video on demand, personalized content and subscription revenue.

But this time, it is really all about mobile; video on mobile; and the prospect of converting (or selling) 2.1 million dialup subscribers that continue to be AOL’s biggest moneymaker. Indeed,  AOL has built or bought a powerful arsenal of mobile ad serving and video tech, especially LTE Multicast, which uses its cellular network to broadcast live video.

In our view, content is not likely to be an important factor here.  It would have been more important if AOL had merged with Yahoo, or with Microsoft.  The biggest “what if” probably involves MapQuest, which has technically lagged behind mapping leaders but retains a powerful, verb-like brand in that space.  Given Uber’s $3 Billion bid to buy Nokia’s HERE, it may ultimately emerge as an important factor in the deal – much more so than Huffington Post.  AOL’s sizable effort to make Huffington Post into a super content portal, including a major local dimension, failed dramatically last year. Similarly, Armstrong’s huge, multi-hundred million dollar effort with hyperlocal site Patch amounted to very little.

To some degree, we also see Verizon’s acquisition of AOL as an acqui-hire. Verizon has  stumbled around advertising for several years but not had an impact. It also has made some small investments in content and classified properties, but hasn’t been confident enough to really spend. Its biggest effort was a promotional program with the NFL to broadcast games for free.

We like the statement issued in the name of Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who we note, has long had his eye on geotargeted advertising. “Verizon’s vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multi-screen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

Facebook Focuses Hard(er) on Small Business

Facebook is felt by some to have the potential to dominate SMB online advertising because of its incredibly high organic usage. But the challenge to drive even more SMB advertisers remains. The company currently reports that it has 40 million SMBs with Facebook pages around the world. Two million SMBs are paid advertisers, or five percent of its SMB page holders.

Today, Facebook unveiled several new small business support programs that it hopes will boost its SMB conversion rates. These include a series of local SMB events, the launch of self serve tools and chat and email support.

We got a hint of what was to come during the March 25 keynote by Facebook Director of Small Business Jon Czaja at BIA/Kelsey National in Dallas. During his keynote, Czaja emphasized that Facebook can lift sales results for SMBs by a high percentage if it is added to traditional media ad campaigns.

He also asserted that Facebook does well on its own. He noted that Facebook’s accuracy for narrowly targeted online campaigns is 89 percent, or more than twice as high as the industry’s 38 percent average. Advertising on Facebook provides $8 back for every dollar invested, and a 12x boost in conversion, Czaja suggested.

While Facebook heavily emphasizes self serve for SMBs because they demand it, it is also eager to partner with agencies and others, adds Czaja. “Facebook can’t build everything itself. If there are other partners out there to build on our platform and encourage better performance, then advertisers will be able to choose to go to Facebook or an agency. It’s an ‘All-of-the-Above’ strategy.”

ReachLocal Now Captures SMB Leads from Across the Web

Leads are coming from everywhere, and the digital marketing firms have adjusted to this reality. ReachLocal, for one, has now opened up its ReachEdge lead conversion and marketing automation software. It now has the capability to track leads and other activity from a wide variety of unassociated marketing sources.

Chief Product Officer Kris Barton briefed BIA/Kelsey on the ReachEdge’s evolution, noting that the company’s efforts to increase transparency and simplicity will ultimately boost conversion rates. Barton says that “decoupling” the software is the direct result of customer input. Some customers, for instance, had invested in redesigned website and didn’t want to have to abandon it in order to sign up with Reach.

The new version of ReachEdge is $149 a month and includes a free trial. It also features plug-ins for publishing systems such as WordPress and Drupal. The software has also been enhanced for mobile. Customers can use their phones to receive emails and text alerts. It also has integrated reports that are “focused entirely on ROI” and are much clearer than Google Analytics, says Barton.

A Look at Amazon’s Entry Into Home Services

Amazon Home Services has been in beta since November and has now formally launched. The service will take on Angie’s List, Home Advisor and a slew of new players in the increasingly crowded home services space (i.e. Pro,com, Serviz, Home Depot’s Red Beacon, Thumbtack and apparently, Google.)

VP Pete Faricy told The New York Times that it now covers more than 700 types of services and has already entertained 2.4 million “serve offers.” A look at Amazon’s map identifies four highly developed core markets (Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles) and 36 moderately developed markets (and many more lightly-developed markets.)

All of Amazon’s “hand picked” pros that hope to work with Amazon must undergo background checks, which will cost $50 (plus $40 per employee); have appropriate licenses, and carry insurance. All listings will also feature Yelp reviews as well. Pros will pay Amazon 20 percent for services that cost $1000 or less, and 15 percent above that amount, as well as monthly subscription fees — although those fees are waived through June 2015. The 20 percent fees are comprised of 15 percent service platform fees, and 5 percent transaction fees. The fees and requirements are fairly standard in the industry.

What Amazon brings to the table is its brand and especially, a high volume of consumers. It is currently targeting its customers with an offer of a $20 gift card for first time users. It also has millions of merchant and consumer credit cards in its profiles, which can be a major advantage. Longer term, it has the potential to leverage its Local Offers business, which has been including service offers for some time. Amazon doesn’t, however, have an instant collection of merchants that are pre-inclined to work with it for marketing purposes.

It also doesn’t have the behavioral intelligence that informs its retail services,or its own reviews – although Yelp’s reviews will help it out here. There are always thoughts that Amazon would want to try to buy a service such as Angie’s List or Home Advisor to complement its efforts in these areas.

On the surface, it seems like a stretch for Amazon to enter home services. It could, of course, be an initial failure, like Amazon’s Fire Phone. (or a long term success, like Kindle and Amazon Web Services). But if you are thinking big…services are a key part of the local economy that Amazon is tackling for sales, leads, payments, hosting and other areas.

We note that many of the competitors in the space leverage the new models of Uber-like, Local On Demand Economy that BIA/Kelsey is focusing on at our June 12 NOW event. There is certainly plenty of potential. As Home Depot Silicon Valley head Anthony Roddio noted at our ILM 2014 event in December, “The market is ripe but no one is there yet.” Some estimates have penetration in this segment at under 10 percent.

Booker Software Raises $35 Million; CEO Josh McCarter Talks to BIA/Kelsey

Booker Software announced today that it has raised $35 Million, which it will use to invest in sales and marketing capabilities and in developing vertical-specific products that “drive more value to merchants,” said CEO Josh McCarter, in a discussion with BIA/Kelsey.

McCarter noted that 9,000 locations are under contract and over 60,000 business users. These are users who are “logging in every day. They are not just signing on once a month” to create a promotion or similar feature. They use Booker’s services as an integral part of their business.

Next steps for the company will further leverage all the trends impacting services-based SMB marketing, including CRM; retention marketing; Point of Sales services; scheduling; and mobile apps via a partnership with Como.

“Last year, we refocused on things that help you grow and operate more efficiently,” said McCarter, noting that the company rebranded from Gramercy One to specifically focus on the SMB space, which now accounts for 80 percent of its revenue. “The data that Booker can aggregate really powers the growth engine,” he said. Services such as email and CRM are only as powerful as the data they can use.

While spas and salons continue to account for a significant portion of the company’s business (dating to its origins as SpaFinder), a number of verticals hold great promise, said McCarter. Pet services, daycare and after-school services (music lessons, art lessons) are doing “very well.” Another area of growth is a JV with The Golf Channel that enables customers to book tee times and other services.

The new round of funding is on top of $40 million previously raised. Several mid-sized funders that specialize in SMB services were included in the round, including Signal Peak (InfusionSoft) and Jump Capital (Swift Pages). The round was led by Medina Capital, a cloud infrastructure specialist.

Other investors included Revolution (Steve Case and Ted Leonsis), Bain Capital, TDF Ventures and Grotech Ventures. In addition, a “strategic investment” was made by First Data, the payment processing giant, who will be announcing details of its relationship with Booker in coming months.

McCarter noted that each investor brings a unique appreciation of Booker’s goals in serving the SMB community, which has been “underserved” by larger VCs, which McCarter called “SMB-averse.” But there is a definite need for SMB services, which focus less on return policies or other ecommerce issues. They are more about everything that a business needs, from scheduling services to POS innovation to equipment rentals. It is a $2.4 trillion space, he argued.

Booker Software CEO Josh McCarter

BIA/Kelsey SFO: Home Depot,Thumbtack, Serviz Weigh in on Home Improvement

Home improvement services is a wild new frontier that has just scratched the tip of its potential, according to segment leaders at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local: Interactive Local Media event at San Francisco Airport.

“ServiceMagic/Home Advisor is (only) a couple of hundred million dollars. Angie’s has never made a profit. The market is ripe but no one is there yet,” said Home Depot Silicon Valley leader Anthony Roddio, who also serves as GM of the company’s Red Beacon contractor scheduling service. “The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is repeat business.”

Roddio noted that a real opportunity for the industry is that many millennials have moved away from DIY. “For some, their idea of a home project is upstreaming iTunes in the living room,” he said. But Home Depot is traditionally geared around DIY. The company hasn’t done enough to develop ‘Do it For Me’, said Roddio.

Serviz leader Zorik Gordon, the former ReachLocal leader, said that the void in the industry is that the segment is not transparent. Serviz will move away from unreasonable 300-500 percent upsells, and provide price charts, and reviews; it will also assign contractors, said Gordon, who says the startup will move beyond southern California, where it launched in July, and will reach 10-20 cities by the end of 2015.

Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta noted that his company recently raised $100 million from Google and others. “What Google and others saw in us is that we have created a unique platform,” he said. “We have 600 unique categories.”

Thumbtack is taking a different approach than Serviz and The Home Depot’s Red Beacon in that it doesn’t assign jobs to service pros or collect money for jobs. Focusing on moving the money is “not the indicator” for the success of a transactional marketplace, he said.

Uber Tests 10 Minute Delivery Service

The big online retailers such as Amazon, eBay, Groupon and WalMart have been focusing on developing same day delivery channels. Same day delivery is an effort that that may not only boost their edge over other retailers, but also add new anchor channels such as groceries, and also boost impulse sales.

We’ve also seen other players experiment with delivery. The San Diego Union Tribune, for instance, has tested delivery of coffee beans with the morning newspaper. Newspapers have been also a channel for free CPG samples with Sunday newspapers for years.

Now along comes Uber, in the midst of an ocean of bad publicity. It is testing a 10 minute delivery program called Uber Essentials, which is an evolution of an earlier Uber delivery test. The program allows under- utilized drivers to drop off key items from Flu medicine to toothpaste to birth control. The items are roughly the same price as local stores. As with Uber car service, items(and tips) are automatically charged to Uber accounts. One possible hangup: Customers must meet their Uber driver on the street. They also cannot deliver alcohol.

The program is being launched with a free order up to $20, has a tie-in with a free sample of Dunkin Donuts packaged coffee – illustrating a potential advertising opportunity.