Category Archives: Technology

Satya Nadella: Our SMB ‘Ringer’ at Microsoft

When a new leader is announced for the giant ocean liners in technology, we tend to sift through the tea leaves to see what kind of insights, perspective and focus they will bring via SMBs and local. Yahoo‘s Marissa Mayer, for instance, ran local for Google. AOL‘s Tim Armstrong, launched Patch as a private investment. Their predecessors did not have any background in local (and that was unfortunately reflected during their tenure.)

Microsoft’s announcement that it would bring in Satya Nadella as CEO is a real milestone, as he handles the transition of the company from one that is primarily based on software to one that is cloud based and oriented towards mobile experiences.

Nadella has been a true believer in the importance of enabling SMBs with rich software from the start of his career. As Vice President, Microsoft bCentral Marketing & Business in 2001, we were pleased to have him as a keynote for our Directory Driven Commerce conference in Orlando. (yes, our conferences tend to be a great scouting ground for industry leaders.)

Nadella’s job at that time was to integrate the company’s acquisition of Great Plains Software into a platform that would give SMBs the same level of services as Microsoft’s enterprise customers. For Microsoft, it proved to be a much smarter way to go than its earlier effort to go hyperlocal with Sidewalk, a consumer-facing hyperlocal portal — although Microsoft continues to evolve its SMB strategies.

At our DDC conference, Nadella emphatically stressed the importance of SMBs to the future of Microsoft. Now, as CEO, Nadella must treat SMBs as just one channel for the company’s growth. But one can expect Nadella to be as aware as anyone of the rich potential in this essential but underserved market.

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Notes from Seattle Interactive: Microsoft and the Multi-Device User

Hot trends in Web and marketing were all on display this week at Seattle Interactive, a large regional show with 190 speakers and an audience largely comprised of Northwest agencies, startups and technologists.

The change in media was brilliantly illustrated by a single question posed by a speaker. “How many of you responded to a Nielsen diary entry since this session started? (no hands raised) And how many of you have updated your social media status or posted?”(many hands).

Big data, social media, responsive web sites and all things mobile were among the key topics at the event. And so, clearly, was the hoped for revival of Microsoft, which is sharply pivoting with the launch of Windows 8 to a multi-device outlook.

The mixed reviews that have greeted Windows 8 suggest its strategy may have trouble catching on. There are deeper issues, too. Last week, at OMMA M Commerce in LA, fewer than four people in an audience of 80+ raised their hands when agencies and developers were asked if they were planning to support Windows 8. Apple iOS and Android rule the nest, for now.

But the turf at Seattle Interactive is naturally friendly to Microsoft. At least 5 percent of the phones were Windows phones (OK, not many). But you could see that the company’s dramatic gyrations energizing much of the tech community.

One of Microsoft’s big initiatives is to be the first of the major Website leaders to engage the “responsive Web” to personalize solutions and conquer “message overload” and “channel attribution.”

Those are “old world problems, “ noted Microsoft General Manager Abe Thomas, during a conference keynote . The “new world” problems, he says, are “social noise.” A leader will develop strategies for the new multi- device consumer, “who wants a specific device in front of them at different times.”

The challenge is the tremendous fragmentation among the operating systems, and now, the devices as well. Sixty percent of iPad owners have an Android device, not an iPhone, Blackberry or Windows phone, he notes. Almost everyone has a Windows PC. “Sooner or later, you will say: Microsoft, Apple, Google – Get it together.”

Microsoft isn’t necessarily working to work inter-operably, but it is “living and breathing the customer journey,” becoming more transparent, and “knowing and respecting the competition,” he says.

MeNetwork Aims at the One Stop Mobile Marketing Platform for SMBs

One of the most promising concepts in local are “Write Once, Publish Everywhere” platforms for SMBs. With local businesses needing to communicate more and more deals, new features and special events to their customers, it makes sense to get them on a network to reach more people with one effort.

Yext and Google’s “tag” networks really got the concept going. These enabled an SMB to self-serve a promotion (“$2.00 off tonight”) throughout a network. The tech has since been applied to a wide variety of networked features, including photos, videos and menus — all wrapped in a suite of marketing services.

They’ve also been applied to mobile, which enables more “on the go” activity. Constant Contact’s $65 Million + acquisition of SinglePlatform in June was a strong validation of the space.

The services are terrific, but they haven’t been an instant hit. Pricing has been tough. Is it worth $30 a month? $100 a month? Or should it be bundled in for free? So has the challenge of getting SMBs to pay for one more “value added” service.

Last week, we talked to MeNetwork, one of the more established contenders in the emerging space. The company is based in Boulder, CO and was started in 2010 by banking, technology and ad agency vets.

MeNetwork sees itself as an SMB promotion platform that provides a comprehensive set of “write once, publish everywhere” services. One of its differentiators is that it is pushing a dedicated MeNetwork mobile app in addition to white-labeling its services with strategic partners. It’s risky, but potentially rewarding.

The company also enables easy point-of-sale redemption of offers via QR codes and Bar codes (with compatible POS devices) — something that will make increasing sense as more smart phones are plugged in, asserts COO/CTO Craig Page.

While the service helps manage and process promotions for its customers, it is also mindful that many of them already work with loyalty programs. MeNetwork seamlessly integrates with them, says Page. The aspiration is for MeNework to become the central hub for all of its customers’ promotional activities.

Pricing has been set at $500 a year (approximately $41 a month). Sales channels include self-serve, local media and vertical partners as well as convention bureaus and downtown associations.

Visitors bureaus in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Austin are already actively selling. The New Orleans center sold 200-300 SMBs off the bat, says Page. The company is also working internationally with a division of European Directories in Austria.

Working with outside sales sometimes produces higher than expected churn, and MeNetwork initially saw annual churn rates at 52 percent (actually, pretty low in this area). Churn rates have fallen to 12 percent however, as the company worked to train its reps to provide comprehensive and consistent customer care.

Elevation’s McNamee: Microsoft and Google Won’t be Able to Recreate Their Success

Elevation Partners’ Roger McNamee – friend of Bono’s, the lead in the failed resurrection of Palm, and a winner in the Facebook IPO to the tune of $1.5 Billion – is known as a contrarian thinker. He did not disappoint in a keynote address yesterday at The San Diego Venture Group’s annual summit.

His main theme? We’re seeing a new consumer and publisher centric generation that is app friendly now, but moving towards an open, “hypernet” HTML 5 world. Left behind are desktop oriented services “built to meet (the 1960s) needs of Intercontinental Missile systems.”

With the exception of Excel spread sheets, everything is consumer oriented now as we move towards tablets and mobile devices . And in this environment, complete with Apps, “the Web is only half of the addressable market.”

“We are going from the World Wide Web to the World Wide Web + this mobile thing. We’ll add more columns to this and we’ll do this very soon,” he said. The immediate result if that If you are Microsoft and “half of your world goes away overnight, you are royally (swear word)….”

It is a favorite Silicon Valley hobby to pick on Microsoft, of course, but it is not the only company in jeopardy in a mobile era. “All the Web winners have failed to profit from mobile,” says McNamee, citing Google, Cisco, Oracle, SAP and Intel. “Not even Facebook has made a graceful transition,” says McNamee. “Mobile is a different animal.”

Apple, on the other hand, has been extremely well positioned by “hiding its technology” in a graceful interface, and likely will remain front and center. “Apple made a bet against the Web” by offering Apps and the iTunes store. “Apple hasn’t even hit its peak yet,” he says.

But there are new opportunities for differentiated content publishers who can go right to the people – ranging from The New York Times and Forbes (a key investment) to MoonAlice, his rock band that has two million downloads and “no one has ever heard of us. The next generation Web technology will favor publishers and consumers over middlemen,” he says.

The new hypernet experience also is positioned for direct sales of products, bypassing advertising altogether , he says, in a tacit endorsement of the new transaction marketing space. “That’s not a CPM-based ad,” he says. “That’s lead gen. And it has an order of magnitude 2-3x per unit more than CPM-based advertising.”

This flies in the face of the current content business, “where value is engagement,” says McNamee. “The problem with the Google story is everything is read very quickly: 25-30 seconds. But with the emergence of apps and social media, you don’t need search anymore. Meanwhile, text-based apps on an iPad will keep a user for 2-5 minutes. You can monetize that.”

McNamee suggests that Google and Microsoft, in particular, are in a real strategic jam. But they have hordes of cash and will try to “buy a ton of stuff” to shift the model. However, it will ultimately be in vain, he says.

Another doomed company, per McNamee? PayPal. “No one wants to put their password in,” he says. Facebook will introduce Facebook Moible Connect and bypass passwords. “I hope it comes soon. It will take a year or two to get there.”

For now, McNamee concedes we’re still in an ad-driven, television-oriented market that is still “70 percent driven” by major news events like Spain, China and the election cycle. “The future will be more oriented towards who has your credit card info,” he says.

Top 10 Takeaways from ILM East 2012 (and Thank You!)

ILM East 2012 took place last week in Boston, and is now one for the history books. It was definitely a fun show that really showcased the fast moving local innovations that BIA/Kelsey focuses on.

There are many learnings we can focus on as takeaways, but in the interest of good reading, how about a Top 10 list?

1- The new currencies are time, attention and clickstreams. Payments can be in pixels, Facebook mentions or points and rewards (Ted Leonsis, Vice Chair, Groupon)

2- Email is for ecommerce push; phones are for texting (Ted Leonsis, Vice Chair, Groupon)

3- Local is all about scale. And the only way to achieve scale in local is by aggregation (Jay Herratti, outgoing CEO, CityGridMedia)

4- Creating a closed loop is the path to a seamless user experience. American Express is… the acquirer, the issuer and the network. (Leslie Berland, SVP, American Express)

5- Daily deals are fun, but Big Data that combines different databases is critical for targeting users and winning loyalty (various)

6- Focus on engagement, not new customer acquisition. Loyal customers are worth 24 times more than new customers (Charlie Kim, CEO, NextJump)

7- Email fatigue is probably out there, but social media complements email, rather than kills it. They are both forms of permission marketing (Mark Schmulen, GM, Constant Contact)

8- Video is a great local medium, but offers limited inventory opportunities, and really can’t compete as a standalone with a major metro newspaper for advertising (Lisa DeSisto, VP, Advertising, The Boston Globe)

9- National brands can’t go local without a platform. Otherwise, you can’t get engagement and you’ll see high churn. (Pete Gombert, Founder and CEO, Ballihoo)

10- You can’t herd 6,000 cats and come up with a digital strategy (Adam Epstein, President, Ad Marketplace.)

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ILM East: NYT’s Michael Zimbalist on The Importance of Linked Data

The New York Times and other news organizations have been hampered by the short cuts of HTML and hyperlinks, but are now reclassifying to provide more structured, fluid data in a major development with massive implications, notes New York Times VP of Research Operations Michael Zimbalist, who keynoted Day 2 at ILM East. The benefits are immediate in terms of SEO, but longer term, provider richer product for consumers, notes Zimbalist.

“Information has become increasingly granular or structured,” notes Zimbalist. Each unit of content has extensive machine readable metadata about itself.” Fluid information can move more easily among machines and people.

In the case of The New York Times can now process the 300 pieces of professional content that it produces every day — a brick of compiled information — into multiple formats, including things such as personal editions and slide shows. “You are reaching underneath the databases the power the Web to do new things,” says Zimbalist.

The key is to move the surplus of names to strong identifiers that are linking to data cloud driven bymeta data. The Times, for instance is embarking on moving all its data to DBpedia, which drives Wikipedia, Freebase, which is owned by Google, and GeoNames.

To date, 29,000 names have been recontextualized for a new semantic platform – a “super librarian “ –, which includes 39 percent of people (“Edgar Allen Poe”) , 31 percent of organizations, 76 percent of locations (“Park Slope”and 14 percent of descriptions. “The future is bright for librarians,” jokes Zimbalist.

ILM East Day 2 027

Constant Contact Founder Randy Parker: ‘Stop the Fragmentation, SMBs Can’t Cope’

The arrival of Groupon and Living Social four years ago appeared to be a no money down, fail-safe way to get ahold of small business accounts. But the followup hasn’t been easy, and the race to win SMB accounts is still anybody’s to win.

In fact, there is no single “disruptive” door into the marketplace , says Constant Contact Founder Randy Parker, who has been watching the transition of SMB marketing since 1995. Parker believes the richer opportunity is in SMB platforms that plug in “presence,” social and mobile opportunities from best-of-breed providers. He’s currently trying to do that with SMBApps, a startup that he’s been incubating for a couple of years.

What you have today is a bunch of SMB solutions that typically rank below aggregators such as Google, Yelp and Twitter on search pages, he says. SMBs, to their great consternation, have to work with each platform.

Where does the “feature creep” stop? he asks. Moreover, as it gets more and more complex, Parker fears that the vendors are overwhelming their customers. Meanwhile, the severe fragmentation in the space keeps driving the costs of merchant acquisition up.

Parker says the ideal solution manages three things: an SMB’s data (such as deals and menu items), the content side, such as blogs, social media and copy points), and visual presence. The best way to “future proof” the Web is to build a single Web presence with “pre-made building blocks” for social, email, click to call buttons, delivery tabs, promotional links and mapping.

What won’t work is the extension of new platform after new platform. All that does is result in under-performing and marginalized channels, he says. Take mobile, for instance. Mobile is extremely important, and results in 1 of 3 leads, he notes. But the people pushing dedicated mobile apps for SMBs instead of universal HTML pages are “in la la land. The typical SMB may get 35 installs of their app,” he says.

Parker appears at ILM East March 26-28 on the “Local Business Success” summary panel, along with Kudzu Founder Tom Bates and Schedulicity’s Dave Galvan. You can register here.