Category Archives: Misc

Some Favorite Posts From NextWaveSMB

We’ve been thinking hard about the next wave of technology for SMBs, and blogging about it on NextWaveSMB, a new blog brought to you by our innovative friends at Booker.

1. SMBs Reinvent the Digital ‘Experience’ to Surprise and Delight Customers

The idea of a personalized experience is especially important online, which by its nature, can be a “me too” lookalike. As Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn says, “We need to show we care about our customers as people.”

2. Delivery Becomes Strategic for SMB Retailers

How important is it for small business retailers to offer delivery? How timely does it need to be to move the needle on sales and loyalty? And can it be done economically?

3. 7 Cutting Edge Lessons For SMB Retailers From ShopTalk
http://blog.booker.com/h/i/252267906-7-cutting-edge-lessons-for-smb-retailers-from-shoptalk

ShopTalk, a new mega-event with 3,000 attendees, focused on the next wave of retail for both national and local merchants in the face of challenges from online giants such as Amazon. Here are 7 key takeaways.

4. SMB Loans Go Digital: Easier Access, Better Services, More Loans

A new breed of loan providers use a number of data sources to efficiently assess and approve SMB loans. These largely use automation and other online capabilities to process and manage loans. Some also integrate loans with marketing support.

5. Mastering Your ‘Digital Brandformation’

You can buy a lot of advertising, create a new logo and leave a trail of Tweets and “likes.” But what’s really important for building an SMB brand? For marketing strategist MJ Thornburg, it’s all about creating a bigger and better experience – or what she calls a “digital brandformation.”

6. ‘A-Comm’ : Turning Your Schedule Into a Strategic Marketing Tool

Thanks to advances in marketing automation, electronic schedules an be used most effectively to anchor Appointment Commerce and target customers with special promotions to fill last minute openings and slow days; send reminders to book again; upsell and cross-sell them on relevant products; and solicit reviews.

LSA16: Thumbtack Focuses on Creating an ‘SMB OS’

Thumbtack President and Co-founder Jonathan Swanson

Thumbtack is an SMB sleeper. It has raised $275 million, using it to develop a profile-based, one click referral system. Last quarter, 200,000 service SMBs bought some level of lead bundles, which can be purchased in packages ranging from $10 to $600 per week.

Under Thumbtack’s model, service pros only buy the number of leads they want to deal with. Consumers receive a choice of 3-5 referrals per query (yes, sort of like Home Advisor.) The beauty of it: no sales force — the single greatest expense in the industry. Thumbtack simply finds its service pros via sophisticated searches and builds a searchable profile. In some cases, it is enfranchising entire new groups that don’t have storefronts and aren’t typically approached for marketing (i.e. photographers, dog walkers)

We’ll see whether Thumbtack hits a wall with the model, given that many SMBs have needed a push from a sales consultant to keep their foot on the gas. Meanwhile, the Thumbtack team isn’t waiting to see what happens. It plans to deepen its engagement with SMBs by developing a comprehensive SMB “operating system” that will connect all the dots for busy service pros that need help with scheduling, presence, marketing and back office chores.

Speaking at LSA 16 this week in San Francisco, President and co -founder Jonathan Swanson says the company is basically extending its longtime mission of moving away from the omnipresent directory model and be more Amazon-like. He calls it a “features” approach. “The more we looked at our competitors, the more they looked the same,” he says. Competitors include such companies as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Porch, Amazon, Google, Dex, Hibu and others.

Swanson says that the company’s main mission is to extend its relationship with its service pros, and make that relationship more rewarding. Churn isn’t an issue since there is no contract – just new business. “Once a professional is hired (using) Thumbtack, they stay with us forever. If they are being hired, they come back again and again,” he says.

The SMB operating system concept isn’t necessarily a new one. Groupon was talking about it a couple of years ago, seeking to enlist partners from a wide variety of niches to “close the loop” on its payments and loyalty system.

Thumbtack’s vision is to leverage its core competencies, mostly using internally developed resources. “We’re good at Adwords, payments, scheduling,” says Swanson.

With the OS in place, service pros can “open the App, tell us their skills and we can tell them what they can earn in different parts of the country. We’d help you start a small business, get a license and get customers. You focus on what you love doing, and we’ll focus on everything else.” The company, meanwhile, can also educate consumers on their bids and what they can expect to pay. Many consumers, for instance, wouldn’t realize that a quality photographer wouldn’t bid on a $500 photo shoot.

Big Thinking/Re-Thinking Groupon: Local Onliner talks with CEO Rich Williams

Groupon is at a crossroads. The company remains a deals leader with a huge volume of customers (25 million in the US; 50 million worldwide) and one million merchants. But the company is seen as yesterday’s news by many, even as it keeps doing solid business and pivots from email to an always on, discovery-based marketplace.

New CEO Rich Williams has made it a priority to revive Groupon’s reputation and position within the industry. Last week, he released a letter defending the company’s position as a local, goods and travel leader. Today, he engaged Local Onliner in a wide-ranging discussion.

Williams, who previously held several senior-level positions at Groupon, notes that amidst all the iPad deals and travel offers, local remains Groupon’s “core mission,” as shoppers look for a one stop for all their goods and local discovery. “We’re doubling down (on local) in every way,” says Williams. Indeed, Groupon’s “people investment” to support local deals constitutes more than half of its 10,0000 employees. Local is so fragmented that “merchants need a higher touch model,” he says. “We make that big investment to help them grow their business.”

A lot of the effort will be to keep driving local discovery. “That’s core to who we are,” says Williams. Sixty percent of Groupon restaurant purchases, for instance, were sold to people who “had never heard of the business they ended up going to.”

As for the life span of the deals industry, Williams feels it is actually “super early” and that deals will remain a major driver for all commerce. “We are not running away from deals,” he emphasizes. It’s an exciting part of marketing that lets people feel like “they have won something.”

The important thing is not to be locked into stale business models. “Let’s be honest: how do you redeem a coupon today?” asks Williams. “Is it the same as 2013? Why? It doesn’t need to be that way.”

The goal, over time, is to reduce redemption friction entirely…and make it more seamless. Merchants will be able to have different ways to create offers for their customers,” says Williams. “They’ll work with different economic models.”

What will that look like? Instead of a general $10 for $20 spend deal, “you might see 10 percent off the bill, or take 20 percent off the bill” if you buy a $5 voucher, says Williams. Or you may claim offers where you may get a free desert just for redeeming a Groupon. “We see different kinds of value creation coming on the Groupon platform,” he says.

Card Linked Offers may also be part of it – a route that rival Living Social has taken with its Restaurants Plus effort in several cities. As luck would have it, I got a consumer survey sent to me last week asking if I would be receptive to a Groupon Card Linked Offer feature. It would allow me to take 15 percent off charges at participating merchants for any registered credit card and receive bonus points…all without having to mention Groupon.

Williams says it is premature to say that Groupon is going to launch the Card Linked Offers feature – it was just research. But he acknowledges there have been lots of conversations with card issuers.

Beyond the question whether deals will continue to drive Groupon in a marketplace, however, is the question of how to leverage the new “push vs. pull” dynamics in a mobile environment. And also add value to businesses with service features, such as booking/scheduling, point of sales and food delivery. The latter is a special sweet spot for Groupon, stresses Williams.

Booking and reservations have also taken off in some markets, he says. There are 1,500 to 2,000 health and beauty salons in Chicago using Groupon for booking and reservations.

Still, Willliams acknowledges that the company is late on some of these features, or narrowly-positioned. One option will be to open the platform for partners – especially in cases where merchants already have a solution. In some cases, there may also be a clearer shot at adding services in international markets that have less competition.

Is Groupon ‘Misunderstood’? It Probably is Under-Appreciated

Newly Elevated Groupon CEO Rich WIlliams

Groupon is “misunderstood”; people haven’t updated their view of Groupon as a full blown marketplace rather than a “daily deals” company; and it actually is “the unquestionable leader in local.” All this per newly-elevated CEO Rich Williams, in a public letter.

“We have unprecedented experience in local, and what we believe is the right vision and strategy to make our goal of becoming the daily habit in local a reality,” says Williams, who has held executive ranks with Groupon for four years. While the company is going through many changes, “there are some very important things that are staying 100% the same: our mission to connect local commerce; and our vision to build the daily habit for local commerce, the marketplace where people discover and save on amazing things to eat, see, do and buy in their neighborhood. “

In his letter, which was sent to the press/analyst community, Williams concedes past strategic errors; and promises to move away from a reliance on the high volume,“empty calories” of low margin electronics sales. He also promises new marketing efforts and shopping features that will attract “millions” of new customers. And while Groupon has closed down a number of international programs – this week closing down the Scandinavian countries — it will redouble its efforts on several of the remaining international markets, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the UK.

Williams candidly acknowledges that the company has brought a lot of its troubles onto itself. It has highlighted — and then de-emphasized — one strategic initiative after another. I’d like to hear more about the status of several initiatives, including offer personalization; the food delivery effort; the Breadcrumb loyalty and POS program; self serve deals; and the extended publisher network.

Groupon also has moved away from offering exciting and creative deals. Now, its inventory includes a number of predictable and/or shoddy goods. While the company claims to personalize deals for users, I haven’t seen it. (Not to be prudish, but I recently got an email promo with a lot of sex toys in it.) Moreover, some of the pre- discount values on the site are exaggerated.

So — write off Groupon? Definitely not. At the end of the day, we’re still looking at a very large, mobile-oriented marketplace with more than 500,000 items from one million merchants being marketed to nearly 50 million consumers members. That volume speaks for itself. And it is a unique offering, if not yet a blue chip one. Based on Williams’ note, they’ll keep working to get there.

Here are six highlights from Williams’ letter:

1) “Groupon is a misunderstood company. We’re misunderstood by analysts. We’re misunderstood by media. We’re misunderstood by consumers — both those who haven’t visited our site in awhile and those who’ve never purchased from us.”

2) “Too many people still think of Groupon as ‘that daily deal email company.’ The reality here is twofold: first, we’re a marketplace — and a big one — one with more than half a million deals in three different categories. Sure, email is still important, but more of our purchases come from on-site search than email, and more than half our purchases occur on mobile.”

3) “There’s more to our marketplace than deals, including an increasing number of market rate and low discount offers, and new ways to save time as well as money. They’re just in their early stages and we want to move faster.”

4) “MYTH: Groupon isn’t growing/Groupon is going out of business. We’ve definitely grown: since going public, we’ve grown billings and revenue by over 90%; we’ve had seven consecutive quarters of double-digit billings growth in North America; we’ve doubled our customers over the past five years; we’ve increased the number of deals on our platform by 500x since we went public in 2011.”

5) “MYTH: Groupon is bad for businesses. The vast majority of our deals (82% as of the last report) are breakeven or better on the deal itself (i.e., no overspend or cross-sell required). That is simply unheard of in high volume small business advertising and customer acquisition.”

6) “MYTH: No one can win in Local — There are a number of big companies — Amazon, Facebook, Google — who’ve tried and died in local….(but) We have sold nearly a billion Groupons life to date. Add to that our nearly 50 million active consumer and 1 million merchant customers to date and you have a lot of proof of the possibilities in local.”

The Local Angle to Virtual Reality: NYT Launches with Google Cardboard

IMG_3252 (1)

What is the role of virtual reality as a local or vertical marketing channel? It’s an important question for the industry.

What we know is that 360 degree video and other precursor technologies are now being applied for local verticals such as real estate, auto, retail and travel. It is fairly commonplace to get a view of new car interiors by mousing over them. But as processing capabilities improve, video costs decline, hardware production scales, and major companies invest, we’ll see full blown virtual reality being presented as a brand new channel for locally targeted brands. There may also be applications by local governments and others.

We also know that interest levels and industry investment levels in VR are high. A report that includes a consumer survey and industry analysis from Greenlight VR, a new VR consulting firm I am advising, shows that VR has high awareness among men and women (but especially men); there is high interest in VR among all age groups (but especially Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X); and consumers anticipate using VR for a wide range of activities, including gaming, travel, entertainment and training.

In anticipation of a breakthrough, companies such as Facebook, Google, Sony, Samsung, VG and Mattel have invested billions of dollars. In fact, Greenlight VR reports there are 160 U.S VR companies now, up from 120 in 2014. But it’s still a greenfield opportunity with no clear leaders at this point. On the processing front, we’ve also seen major support from Intel, NVIDIA and AMD.

Media companies are just beginning to weigh in as well, seeing a potential growth avenue and, possibly, a new way into video. This weekend, The New York Times launched its NYT VR app for iOS and Android, and delivered free Google Cardboard viewers (each normally priced at $24.95) to nearly 1.15 million Sunday print subscribers.

The inaugural VR programming on the Times app – a Mini Cooper promo and a moving, 10 minute warzone documentary produced with VRSE, a VR storytelling firm — was shot with multiple cameras and let consumers take a 360 degree view of various landscapes with studio quality sound (if using headphones.)

Relying on the inexpensive, Viewmaster-like Google Cardboard reader rather than high end computing platforms (expected to cost $300+,) the NYT programs aren’t offering much more than a self-directed, 360 degree view. You won’t see head tracking tech with this.

But it gets the app and reader into the hands of its early adopter, high-end readership. Its importance can’t be under-estimated. To us, it is a major step for both the NYT and Google, as they strive in their own ways to be immersive, comprehensive media and commerce providers. One wonders how a CBS or ABC affiliate, or a local newspaper, will compete against a Google, Facebook and/or NYT that offers virtual reality options, video, listings, commerce, social media and other open loop/closed loop channels.

Fast Company profiled Greenlight VR’s new report. Here is the link to Greenlight’s purchase page.

From Wired Goodness

Booze As a Digital, ‘Shop Local’ Story: Craft Spirits Exchange

A key part of the Shop Local movement in recent years has been sparked by the rise of Craft Beer, with many city and states dropping nuicense regulations inhibiting breweries from providing samples, selling food or selling take away bottles smaller than 22 ounces. At this point, the contribution of breweries, wine makers and craft spirts to local economies has been felt in hundreds of markets.

The role of digital media in promoting and selling local beer, wine and spirits has been a significant one, with social media rating products and creating buzz for products and events; directories pointing consumers in the right direction; and now, on demand services like Driz.ly delivering booze directly to your door (a fad, ok?)

One entrepreneur I’ve watched carefully over the years is Steve Gilberg, who created the Happy Hours website and then Facebook directory of bars and drinks, which partially inspired my creation of the Marketplaces research program for BIA/Kelsey; and then also created Wine Twits, a national happening of promoted wine with hundreds of local parties tweeting away.

Gilberg’s newest project is Craft Spirits Exchange, a website and app dedicated to promoting local craft spirits to craft enthusiasts around the U.S. He’s CMO for the Exchange, reporting to Luis Troccoli, a native New Yorker who was inspired to launch the exchange in 2013 when he moved to Florida and couldn’t get access or even news about his favorite spirits.

The Exchange is a spirits marketplace that combines bright editorial; more than 1,100 profiles of spirits products; community reviews; and marketing from local craft retailers. More than 40 states now allow direct shipping of spirits, acting as major contributors to local commerce. My own state, Oregon, has more than 60 spirits producers. Troccoli says a major role for the exchange has been to enable east coast consumers to buy west coast spirits, and vice versa.

Benzing’s MyNeighbor Provides Household Items for On Demand Rentals

The last player standing in the hyperlocal neighbor wars might be considered NextDoor, which has raised over $210 million from several major VCs on the basis of converting a mountain of neighborhoods and neighbors to targeted advertising dollars. We’d like to see an update on Next Door’s volume and frequency of usage — it is a little befuddling to us –but assume the VCs think they are on to something. There is also the sense that it could be developing an entirely new ecosystem.

Now hoping to tap into a NextDoor-like ecosystem is a Local On Demand Economy (LODE) service named MyNeighbor, which enables people to rent and pay for items from enrolled neighbors. THe items conceiveably range from baking equipment to strollers to power tools. The service is the brainchild of local vet Brendan Benzing, who has led a number of local initiatives for AOL Digital City and InfoSpace before a more recent tenure in the music business with Rhapsody.

Benzing tells us the Seattle-based service is primed for millennials who don’t want to own things and expect to be able to rent on demand on the same basis as AirBnB, ZipCar, Lyft and other LODE services. “They represent the power of true peer-to-peer,” he says.

If services like MyNeighbor are going to be successful, “they must first compete on the basis of cost and supply,” adds Benzing. And that will depend on getting a high penetration in specific neighborhoods, hence an initial, highly-concentrated effort on community-oriented neighborhoods of Seattle. “A digital presence within a neighborhood is a welcome sign for MyNeighbor, whether it is Nextdoor, a Facebook/Yahoo Group, or even List-serve,” says Benzing. “The fact that neighbors are connected digitally indicates the neighborhood is likely a more fertile place for MyNeighbor to grow and prosper.”