"The biggest SMB story continues to be the large gaps in adoption and
the vast differences in perceptions of online marketing in the category."
Laura Rich, Co-Founder & CEO, Street Fight
You devote a great deal of time to covering the local and SMB marketing spaces. What new development is going to remain a big part of the SMB marketing story 3 or 5 years from now?
“Conversational commerce” is a very transformative and interesting technology, one that stands at the intersection of natural language search and customer service. This is technology that is close to a personal virtual assistant, adding a layer of automation to a website and helping consumers narrow down their interests in a way that feels like a human is asking them questions.
Conversational commerce is going to take off in the next few years and gain wider adoption in local marketing, especially as companies like Pingup make it easier for consumers to book appointments online. A similar service on a platform like Yelp could not only help a consumer find a place to eat, but possibly even book a reservation. It’s very similar to the automated systems airlines use when you call in, but it doesn’t feel like the same thing. A chat box on a website is a smarter than what the airlines are employing.
There's also big story going on at the cash register, with the ongoing developments in mobile payments and chip cards. Along with the evolution of point-of-sale software and the ability to tie together customer data, the way people pay, and the ways that data is used for marketing, will continue to evolve subtly.
In addition to covering the space, you're also a small business operator yourself. What have you learned about attracting an audience and building your brand since founding Street Fight?
At the end of the day, there's nothing that replaces the personal touch. We’re a B2B brand, and events are a huge way of building a brand. Street Fight just had an exclusive retreat in the mountains of Colorado that was very high touch, and our guests told us they felt pampered. I think that when we do events like that, we can establish our reputation with our audience.
Another interesting piece of our strategy when we first launched was to conduct interviews with the influencers in the industry. We chose our interview subjects based on editorial merits, but we found that many of the most prominent players in the local marketing segment had large social media followings, and were able to essentially help us market our content by sharing their interviews with their followers. We learned how important it is to consider the marketing element of the content we created, so that we could leverage the sharing culture among influencers.
Every SMB is unique, but many face the same obstacles. What do you feel is their biggest challenge when it comes to marketing and advertising?
The answer is time. SMBs in any vertical are heads-down on their business, and while getting new customers in the door may be a big interest, they’re hard-pressed to find the time it takes to sort through the marketing options and find the space to execute those campaigns.
How would you rate the local marketing space at this moment for those looking to start a new local/SMB-focused company or invest in one?
The local marketing space is incredibly crowded. No one has figured out the best solution for SMBs. Google and Yelp have done the best job to carve out a brand, while the rest of the field is an ongoing battle for the best ideas and market share. Some areas are more crowded than others, and the overall fragmentation creates a big opportunity.
Every consumer interacts with SMBs on a daily basis. Do you have a favorite that is close to your heart? What’s the connection?
Ozo Coffee in Boulder, CO, stands out to because they’ve been able to build a good customer profile. There is a location right by the co-working space I use, so I’ll head there often, and I’ve found that Ozo has drawn all of the boulder tech community to conduct business meetings and daytime meet ups at this location.