Posts Tagged ‘Market research’

Technology, Services Continue to Empower Small and Medium Businesses

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

The Web has helped level the playing field for small and medium businesses to market and compete, especially as these companies continue to shift their spend and efforts to digital marketing. While targeted, automated e-mail marketing may have been out-of-reach for SMBs five years ago, it is one of the most-used marketing tactics by companies with fewer than 500 employees today. Mobile might have not made sense for most SMBs a few years ago, but it is now a growing part of the SMB marketing mix. Further, while a social media presence was experimental just two three years ago, it is now a necessary part of small and medium businesses’ marketing strategy, just as it is for enterprise marketers. Also like enterprise marketers, SMBs face challenges managing these different channels in an effective way, as well as keeping up with the lightning-fast face of evolution in digital marketing.

While these challenges persist, technology and service providers are devising solutions specifically targeted at SMBs to help them get a hold of their marketing efforts. With virtually limitless storage, widespread broadband availability, and robust capabilities delivered via a browser, similar tools that big brands use to manage and optimize their marketing efforts are available for SMBs at a fraction of the cost, enabling these companies to more effectively meet their marketing goals. InfoTrends recognized this trend when it first studied small and medium businesses’ marketing approaches in 2009. At the end of 2011, we conducted a follow-up study entitled Capturing the SMB Marketing Automation Opportunity to understand how SMBs’ marketing spend, strategy, and tactics are evolving by surveying over 2,000 small and medium businesses across 13 vertical industries.

One of the most striking developments over the past two years is the growth in the use of social media for marketing. Overall use has increased dramatically: in 2009, over half of respondents did not have any social media presence, but in 2011, just 3% reported not having a social media presence. Facebook was the most popular social network for marketing according to SMBs from our 2009 study, with 32% of use. In 2011, Facebook is table-stakes for SMBs: 90% of respondents reported having a Facebook presence in our most recent study. The use of LinkedIn and Twitter also grew substantially, from 19% and 17% in 2009 to 46% and 43% in 2011, respectively. As use has grown, so has budget allocation for social media initiatives; social media comprised almost 9% of SMBs’ marketing spend in 2011.

While social media is proliferating among small and medium businesses, they continue to face the same challenges they did two years ago: constrained resources related to cost, time, and skills. In fact, these issues were more pronounced in our 2011 study than they were in 2009, especially as it relates to understanding new marketing channels and having the skills to address them. SMBs report having a preference for managing all marketing channels through a centralized technology solution or centralized service provider. Whatever the choice, agility is key; as new channels or networks emerge, solutions or providers need to quickly adapt by providing capabilities and education to help their users be successful.

The SMB user is an important audience for a number of prominent companies today:

  • Intuit has a long legacy of delivering products and services to small and medium businesses through its QuickBooks accounting software, website services, and payment services. Last month, it acquired vertically-focused SMB technology provider Demandforce for over $400 million. Demandforce gives Intuit robust technology that helps small and medium businesses manage their social media presence and automate marketing across multiple channels, addressing some of the key challenges SMBs face.
  • Recently, Yahoo! launched its Marketing Dashboard toolset for small local businesses with features that help companies monitor and manage their online reputation and analyze traffic from websites and campaigns. Yahoo! has built a fairly successful offering for SMBs with its website hosting and eCommerce offerings, and its Marketing Dashboard makes its existing package a much more attractive offering for SMBs looking for a one-stop-shop.
  • With Adobe’s recent release of Creative Suite 6 and the Creative Cloud, the company also launched subscription-based pricing plans starting at $50 per month to access the entire collection of applications instead of paying a large upgrade fee every 6 to 12 months. While it is yet to be proven in the market, this low-cost pricing model could open up Adobe’s tools to a much broader audience, including many SMBs. While almost 40% of SMBs in our 2011 study reported owning Photoshop, only 21% owned Illustrator and 17% owned InDesign. It will be interesting to see if this new plan spurs adoption among SMBs.

The SMB marketing mix is diversifying, exacerbating the challenges that already face  resource-strained businesses. In response, technology and service providers are empowering small and medium businesses with solutions that can help them become more efficient and effective with their marketing and communication efforts. As marketing dollars continue to flow to digital channels from organizations of all sizes, SMBs can harness the same tools their larger counterparts can, allowing them to engage with audiences they would have never been able to reach just a few years ago.

Five Key Considerations for Offering Mobile Marketing Services

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

As you’re likely well-aware, the mobile channel continues to experience significant levels of growth. According to the CTIA Wireless association, mobile subscription penetration in the United States exceeds 100% of the population; many people own and use more than one mobile device. Furthermore, CTIA estimates that that close to 30% of U.S. households are “wireless-only,” meaning they subscribe to wireless phone services but not landline services (myself and many of my friends are part of this population). The pervasiveness of mobile technology has led to increased time spent by consumers in the mobile channel, making it a prime platform for marketing and advertising.

To that point, research firm eMarketer estimates that U.S. mobile ad spending topped $1 billion in 2011, and expects spending in this channel to grow to over $4 billion by 2015. While various forms of mobile marketing have been around for well over a decade, only in the past few years have marketers started dedicating a more substantial percentage of their budgets to mobile in conjunction with other shifts to digital spending. Despite growth in these newer channels, it is important to remember that marketers are still dedicating a substantial percentage of their budgets to traditional media, including print, television, radio, sponsorships, and much more. Even so, marketers are focused on return-on-investment more than ever before, and they are constantly looking at ways to make their marketing across all media types more measureable and impactful.

In particular, a slew of mobile technologies are now being employed to integrate print and other media types with mobile and online channels, including mobile response codes, short code prompts for mobile messaging, augmented reality, and much more. InfoTrends recently completed a study entitled Mobile Technology: Making Print Interactive, which  investigates how mobile is being integrated with print and other media types. In this study, we captured consumer, marketer, and service provider perspectives to understand how mobile technology can be effectively utilized within traditional, offline media to drive audiences to engaging online experiences.

One key finding from our study highlights that, especially for mobile response codes, marketers are turning to their print service provider partners to help them create, deploy, and manage integrated mobile campaigns. Print service providers have a tremendous opportunity to develop domain expertise in the mobile channel through integrated campaigns and programs, but they need to make sure they have the right strategy, provide the right mix of services, and have the tools and technology to support their efforts. Below are some key considerations for service providers looking to build out mobile marketing services:

  1. The mobile channel is still relatively new for many marketers and advertisers, and they are looking for guidance how they should approach mobile in a way that will meet their goals and resonate with their target audience. Providers need to take a consultative approach to mobile, capturing key characteristics of the client, its products and services, and the audience it is trying to reach to make recommendations. For instance, mobile apps are hot right now, and many clients may ask for them, but it’s up to the service provider to help guide clients to solutions that fit their specific needs… and then execute appropriately.
  2. Understanding how to design, deliver, and manage digital content designed for mobile devices is a requirement, not an option. There have been too many times where a QR code is slapped on a printed piece that links to content that doesn’t render well on mobile devices, ultimately delivering a bad user experience. In our study, we found that once consumers interact with mobile response codes and other mobile technologies, they tend to interact again and again. The end-to-end user experience is a critical component of any mobile marketing campaign; a good experience will help drive future interaction and engagement in the mobile channel.
  3. To that point, when you’re getting into mobile, it is important to note that a wide range of tools and technologies are on the market that help companies create and deliver mobile content, generate and track mobile response codes, perform campaign management, and much more. In other words, don’t start from scratch! Many software platforms allow service providers and agencies to whitelabel their solutions to use as the backbone for their integrated mobile campaigns. Technology from the likes of 3Seventy, Blink Capture, iFlyMobi, NetBiscuits, Print2D, ScanBuy, ShareSquare, SumoText, Tatango, and many others can be utilized to help power your mobile marketing services.
  4. As mentioned, marketers don’t want to have to wait for sales figures to see if their marketing investment paid off. They need actionable insights that can help them optimize campaigns in real time to have maximum impact. As such, measurement and optimization are table stakes when it comes to mobile marketing (and digital marketing in general). Mobile technology can provide marketers with a wealth of data, including location information, which can help personalize content and also influence campaign optimization to ensure that campaigns meet defined objectives.
  5. Finally, don’t just limit yourself to mobile response codes. The ease at which people can generate QR codes has been a catalyst for substantial growth in marketers and service providers integrating them across different media types. Nevertheless, mobile message marketing, mobile advertising, and more are becoming much easier to get involved with; providers need to consider these types of services when developing their mobile services strategy.

Mobile will undoubtedly continue its upward trajectory in terms of adoption and share of ad spend. Service providers need to, at a minimum, investigate if and how they should include the mobile channel within their existing suite of product and service offerings. While the aforementioned considerations only scratch the surface, they can help guide you and your clients to success with mobile.

Has your company expanded its service offerings to include mobile marketing and advertising? Share your experiences and your own key considerations in the comments!

Taking a Look at Digital Outdoor Advertising

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

If you do any regular amount of driving on highways (or walking around in major cities), you’ve probably noticed the increased presence of high-quality digital screens displaying rotating advertisements over the past few years. Commonly referred to as “digital out-of-home” or “digital place-based” advertising, these electronic billboards are popping up in a wide variety of both outdoor and indoor spaces to deliver more targeted, relevant, and cost-effective advertising to consumers.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), digital billboards make up a small percentage of the estimated 400,000+ billboards scattered across the United States, with around 2,400 digital displays currently in operation. With the Federal Highway Administration just giving its approval for advertisers to leverage “changeable electronic variable message signs” in 2007, the growing presence of digital billboards along the road and elsewhere has been quite substantial. More marketers and advertisers are putting at least some budget toward digital out-of-home advertising, which is expected to increase as more options become available.

Research firm eMarketer reports that outdoor ad spend is expected to reach $6.4 billion this year in the United States alone, and predicts this spend to increase to $7.6 billion by 2016. That’s a significant market with serious growth potential, and results in a lot of printing, especially of the wide format and grand format variety. We already know that digital media and advertising is impacting traditional print media spend related to publications, promotions, and even general collateral. Will digital media have a similar impact in the world of outdoor advertising?

There is certainly potential for digital media to have an adverse impact on traditional media. According to research conducted by another trade organization, the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA), around three-quarters of media planners surveyed indicated that digital place-based marketing will be part of their media mix spend in 2011 (note that place-based advertising also constitutes digital ads that are displayed inside taxi cabs, at gyms, in malls, and other “non-billboard” applications). That same research indicated that these planners are actually funding digital media by shifting spend from traditional outdoor advertising.

Of course, digital billboards are still relatively in their infancy, and do have some disadvantages. Ads are typically rotated every 8 to 12 seconds. If you’re advertising on a stretch of highway that is prone to traffic jams, each ad can be viewed by a lot of eyeballs. Conversely, with cars constantly zooming by at high speeds, the audience potential decreases (one of the advantages of a traditional, static billboard).

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about how distracting the bright, rotating ads can be to drivers and also to nearby residents. Massachusetts is currently conducting a crash study on the 11 digital billboards currently being piloted in the state. Prior studies reached different conclusions on whether or not digital billboards increase accidents, with further research needed. Residents of some cities with proposed digital billboards are battling them under the premise of preventing further commercialization of the landscape. Cash-strapped cities like Miami have quickly erected digital billboards to raise revenues, only to later run into legal problems with existing state and federal laws barring their placement. There are sure to be contentious battles between municipalities and media companies like Clear Channel, Lamar, Adams, and others that want to erect what some call “the next big advertising opportunity” and others call “blight” or “monstrosities”.

Regardless, there are plenty of places willing to try out digital outdoor advertising, as it has already made inroads across the United States and will certainly continue to grow. The overall outdoor market is large and on a growth path, but it’s clear that there is a shift in media budgets from traditional to digital in this space. Service providers, especially those with competency in wide/grand format and, more specifically, those that produce the billboards we see everyday, need to consider how they can get in the digital game. Could it be ad creation and preparation for digital formats? Could it be partnerships with out-of-home ad networks or even direct competition with these networks? There are many options, and they should all be explored.

Are “Free Content” Consumers Our Lab Rats?

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

In my Internet wanderings I came across a blog written by an anonymous guy who calls himself MrHeretic. Considering the stuff he’s posting, it’s no wonder he’s afraid to be identified. In a poignant post titled “You Killed Market Research,” MrHeretic condemns a series of practices that he thinks have written the obituary for market research.

I’m wondering how much of this heretical finger-pointing should be applied to marketing generally and, more specifically, to so-called “content marketing” within the direct marketing industry. Here’s what I mean.

Direct marketers are now buried in the Malthusian multiplication of online “content.” Increasingly, the “information” we’re fed may not be “information” at all, but rather a poorly disguised grab for our information. That might be okay, except much of what we get in return is awful offal.

You already know how the shill works. Whether it’s a whitepaper, webinar, webcast, video, podcast or simply access to an article, you must register to see it. Some would argue that’s a fair exchange. Amid the demand for open, transparent communication I, personally, would disagree, but willing trade or not, many of MrHeretic’s principles seem to apply to the development, dissemination, and data gathering tactics driving this “content” giveaway.

Obviously, service providers who openly share industry information deserve our thanks. Direct marketing has become increasingly complicated by integrated and multi-channel efforts and we all want to know what is working for others. What do “best practices” look like? What have we tried that didn’t work? How can we adapt to so much change? What does the future hold? Who can help us? The search for answers to these questions has made participation on LinkedIn’s direct marketing-related groups explode. We need each other and, if you know “something about something,” I will love your blog, appreciate your knowledge, and maybe even decide to work with you.

Meanwhile, a different response to our thirst for guidance has launched an avalanche of “bastardized information,” the primary purpose of which is to both beguile us and get our data. Are your in-boxes stuffed with this junk info, too? Here’s one example.

A respected industry resource uses its reader email list to push out content that vendors have paid them to distribute to us. So what’s wrong with that? Some might say it’s no different than receiving a piece of direct mail from an insurance company simply because we subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. What can I say? It feels different. Wait, darn it! It is different.

What comes to my inbox from a respected information resource suggests to me that any information they deliver has been vetted for value, right? Not so when money alone will get that information delivered to me. Not so, when the distributor isn’t telling me the “information” is “advertorial” or “product placement.”

Bottomline: I trusted you and you sold me out. Or, to edit MrHeretic a wee bit, “You killed [the value of your content] when you treated respondents like lab rats.”