While many companies compete to do business with large companies that can deliver sizeable long-term contracts for print and marketing services, a trend has emerged over the past few years related to targeting small and medium sized businesses across a wide range vertical markets. Many point to providers like Vistaprint on the print marketing side and Constant Contact on the digital marketing side to paving the way for the so-called Long Tail of services for SMBs.
Indeed, by offering self-service tools and a broad array of vertically-focused templates, these companies have grown tremendously and their services are used by millions of businesses worldwide to do everything from buy business cards and manage e-mail newsletters to launching full-blown direct marketing campaigns. While we often talk in terms of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumers (B2C) models, these types of services have blurred these lines by making businesses buy more like consumers, while keeping the systems open enough to even attract consumer users.
Why are these services popularized and still growing? According to the Small Business Administration, there are over 27 million small and medium businesses in the United States, accounting for between 60% and 80% of all U.S. jobs. SMBs are typically characterized as establishments with fewer than 500 full-time employees. Thus, the market opportunity is tremendous, even if you are only able to reach a fraction of SMBs in the country. The power and flexibility of the Web, and in the case of Vistaprint and other online print businesses, the power of a highly-automated production environment, have enabled companies to service large volumes of small orders, something which is becoming more common even in larger organizations.
InfoTrends saw this trend becoming prominent and in 2009, conducted an in-depth study on the topic entitled Capturing the SMB Business Communication Services Opportunity, which surveyed over 2,000 small and medium business across 13 major vertical markets to understand how these companies were utilizing some of the very services just mentioned. We found that just like larger companies, SMBs were diversifying their marketing mix, with traditional media still being an important component but also heavily emphasizing the use of the Web and e-mail to reach their target audiences. Social media was also increasing in importance. At the time, 32.1% of SMBs indicated using Facebook to promote their businesses, while 16.9% indicated using Twitter to do the same. We hypothesize that these numbers have increased substantially in just the last few years.
Furthermore, we found that SMBs had a preference for a “one stop shop” type of experience for printing needs, and we feel that also translates into marketing services, as well. There are a number of vertically-focused services and service providers on the market that cater to a specific set of small and medium businesses. For instance, GuestEngine and Fishbowl provide turnkey marketing services and tools to restaurant owners. Demandforce originally focused on automotive services and dentists, but has expanded its marketing platform to personal services and other healthcare specialists. SharperAgent provides self-service, cross-media marketing campaigns to independent real estate agents, and was recently acquired by real estate software developer Market Leader.
These types of vertical-focused platforms are the next step in the evolution of SMB marketing services. InfoTrends is referring to them as SMB marketing automation services, as many of them aim to automate various aspects of the marketing process for companies while tailoring the services to meet the intricate needs of a particular market. Focusing on one or a particular set of vertical markets also equals more replicable applications. We are currently conducting a follow-up study to our 2009 research on this topic with a study entitled Capturing the SMB Marketing Automation Opportunity, which will be sure to glean valuable insight into how this market continues to evolve.
As it is often said, small and medium businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and they want to succeed and be effective in their marketing just as much as a large enterprise corporation does. Through the power of the Web, many SMBs now have the tools to market smarter. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement and plenty of opportunity exists for service providers that want to take on the task of making print and marketing services more effective for a particular market.