The “agency model” and the managed services associated with it are no longer confined to traditional ad agencies and holding companies. Companies across several different verticals are finding that they can grow revenue by offering services that benefit the growing SMB marketplace.
This is a market that has a variety of needs, including logo creation, marketing materials, developing online presence, and online advertising. But SMB owners aren’t necessarily marketing professionals, so they need help navigating the marketing ecosystem.
“There’s really not a fixed solution for these different channels,” said Adam Burnham, VP, Interactive Sales and Services, at AffinityX. “SMBs are stuck trying to talk to multiple people to figure these things out, or they just don’t figure them out, or they do a poor job of figuring them out.”
In a session at the Local Media Association and BIA/Kelsey Digital Agency Summit, Burnham led a group discussion on how businesses can respond to this market need by helping SMB. Here’s what Staples, Propel Marketing and Centro are doing.
Staples is a well-known retail brand in the business world, but there are lots of similarities between retail and agencies, according to Guillermo Mallen, Senior Manager, Strategy, at Staples. To start with, both retail and agencies serve – and talk to -- the same customers.
Staples knows that SMBs are confused by the world of digital marketing, especially when it comes to allocating spend. These businesses have lots of vendors reaching out to them, and many feel lost when it comes to finding one that fits their needs. According to Mallen, Staples is looking to eliminate that confusion by building on its trusted brand name, delivering the best product and creating a positive customer experience.
“There is lots of opportunity to grow,” he said. “As soon as you have somebody’s logo and marketing materials, and print them in the store, you can help them with their website and their social media. There’s a natural progression for marketing services.”
The SMB category encapsulates a broad spectrum of businesses, ranging from sole proprietors to franchises and multi-location retailers. That range warrants different needs, according to Peter Newton, the President of Propel Marketing. Smaller businesses mostly need to establish a quality online presence, while the midsize enterprises need services such as SEO, new customer acquisition strategies, and CRM.
“There’s a big opportunity in services with the agency approach, but most of the time we stop at lead generation,” Newton said. “We want to play a greater role in connecting a business with its customers.”
The key to doing that, according to both Newton and Burnham, is by talking to SMB customers, and using that ground level intelligence to formulate a solution set that meets their needs.
Beyond simply understanding what SMBs want and need, businesses also need to figure out what SMBs already know about emerging technologies and channels.
Programmatic ad buying is a very hot topic in digital marketing circles, and Centro is helping local media companies offer this service to small and local businesses. However, it’s maybe too presumptuous to assume every SMB has thought about programmatic or mobile strategies, according to Mike Smith, Senior Channels Sales Manager for Centro.
“What [the SMBs] say is, ‘I’ve got $700 in budget. Can you help me spend it or give me a recommendation?’” Smith said. “They want a trusted advisor. The need somebody to provide them with a consultative approach and help them figure out what to do with all of this.”
When the session opened to the floor, the audience was particularly interested in the emerging mobile channel, with questions ranging from hyperlocal targeting to the types and sizes of units available.
Most important was the issue of simply understanding if mobile advertising works. There are advanced technologies, like beaconing, which let SMBs know how many people a campaign drives into their stores. But, there are also old-fashioned, less expensive ways of measuring success, such as simply counting the number of people in stores after a campaign goes live, according to Burnham.
Click-to-call campaigns on mobile are another way to measure success, with the ad driving the consumer to call the business from their device. Centro ran a campaign for a sushi restaurant in Chicago that ran so well that the business couldn’t handle all the incoming calls, but it was still a sign of a successful campaign.
The conversation also turned to social, and how to help SMBs deal with this important yet labor-intensive channel. Social success requires a lot of time and investment, according to Centro’s Smith, and that presents challenges. “Being able to offer Facebook design is great, but the man-hours to manage someone’s FB account and the return from what you can charge for that probably isn’t worth it,” he said. In other words, businesses are better off managing their own accounts, with the agency helping broaden reach through advertising.
The conversation between panelists and audience proved that the SMB space is exciting, but Burnham, the moderator, kept returning to one central point. “It’s always cool to have the latest and greatest thing, but is that the right package of services to sell?” he asked, emphasizing that providers really need to listen to what their SMB clients need when it comes to tailoring their services. New technologies like beacons are great for some, but may be too advanced and complicated for a single-location florist or mechanic. Businesses that decide to tap into the SMB market need to think about needs first, then act as advisors.