Author Archives: Bryan Yeager

About Bryan Yeager

Bryan Yeager is a Senior Consultant for InfoTrends’ Production Workflow Solutions Consulting Services. Bryan covers a number of existing and emerging software and technology markets that enable cross-media marketing communications. He is the author of several in-depth Ultimate Guide reports that span across a variety of software categories, and provides insight through research, analysis, and consulting. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via Twitter (@bryanyeager).

Technology, Services Continue to Empower Small and Medium Businesses


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.

Encyclopedia Britannica Ceases Print Edition After 244 Years


The Encyclopedia Britannica made headlines earlier this week when it announced that it was “stopping the presses” and ceasing publication of its print edition after a strong 244-year run. From a business standpoint, one can understand why this inevitably needed to happen: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. has sold just 8,000 sets of its latest 32-volume, $1,395 print edition released in 2010, with another 4,000 sitting in a warehouse waiting to be ordered. When the last set is shipped, that will be that. Sales of Britannica’s print edition peaked around 1990 at 120,000 sets, with significant decreases in volume through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. For the company itself, the print edition represented only a small portion of revenue, with the majority derived from selling curriculum products to schools, as well as online subscriptions and other digital versions of its content.

In my view, this move is not revolutionary, but it is certainly evolutionary. It serves as a reflection point on multiple fronts, including the transformation occurring in the publishing industry and in education; it also highlights the true impact that the Internet and digital media continue to have in the way we learn, work, and play.

Is the sunsetting of Encyclopedia Britannica’s printed set just another death knell for the demise of the printed book or other printed publications? No… BUT… it does serve as a reminder that it is imperative for publishers to have a digital media strategy. Luckily for Encyclopedia Britannica, the company has been working to publish its vast repository of the world’s facts and figures to digital channels since the 1980’s. It released the first CD-ROM (remember those?) of Britannica in 1989. It put its collection online in 1994, which was seven years before Jimmy Wales launched Wikipedia in 2001.

Encyclopedia Britannica was actually ahead of its time in its digital publishing efforts, and ensured that it built up a strong digital business before deciding to end its print edition. The company reports having 500,000 subscribers to its $69.95/year premium Britannica Online service, which users can access via the Web and also through its iPad application. Think about that: what was once a 129-pound set of books now fits on a device of just over 1 pound… and it’s searchable, browsable, interactive, and constantly updated.

Some are of the opinion that more searchable and hyperlinked content, while efficient, takes away some of the serendipitous nature of perusing through a printed encyclopedia or other printed publications. Apparently those people have never gone on a Wikipedia bender, letting the hours melt away while clicking through dozens (or hundreds) of interconnected articles. Of course, there is definitely something about looking through a tome like Encyclopedia Britannica that is hard to replicate in the digital world, but the reality is that in today’s world, efficiency is paramount. Furthermore, I believe that information is power, and limiting that type of high-quality, trusted reference information to the confines of a fixed-length format is, in the end, inhibitive.

Another thing this news made me really reflect on is the impact of technology on education. While print is going to continue to play an important role in education well into the future, digital media can be used in conjunction or even on its own to more effectively help students learn new concepts and expand their knowledge. A lighthouse example of how digital media can be used as an effective teaching tool is Khan Academy, whose mission is “to provide a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Now that is revolutionary.

Through short, instructive video lessons often taught by the site’s founder, Sal Khan, students can work their way from the basics of a particular subject all the way through to the most complex applications. While the information is freely available online, the not-for-profit is piloting programs in 23 schools with its math curriculum, where the video lessons are their primary instructor and teachers are used in more of a support role. Students’ progress is tied back to analytics that help pinpoint where they are having problems and in what subject. Sal Khan and his team may have cracked the code for how to effectively use the Web and digital media to enhance learning.

In the 60 Minutes piece on Khan Academy from this past weekend, Sal Khan was asked how he approaches learning about a topic he is going to create a video for. His answer? Textbooks. “If I’m doing something that I haven’t visited for a long time, you know, since high school I’ll go buy five textbooks in it. And I’ll try to read every textbook,” says Khan. He, of course, also uses the Internet. Clearly there is still value in trustworthy, authoritative reference information, and print is a symbol of that trust. Digital media, however, is becoming just as trustworthy, and its use along with other technology can help optimize the learning experience like never before.

What do you think? Are you lamenting the loss of Encyclopedia Britannica’s print edition or is it inconsequential?

Photo Publishing Opportunities with Instagram


For the past few years, many companies have attempted to find opportunities for the print publishing of social online content. Content-rich social networks like Twitter and Facebook have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable third-parties to, with user approval through social sign-in, flow information and graphics from your account to their service. As more consumers centralize their photos around a handful of online services, particularly in the social media realm, it becomes increasingly important for photo publishers to offer integration with these sites. How much does social matter? According to an InfoTrends study from 2010, close to 60% of consumers that upload photos to the Internet reported using Facebook most often to accomplish this task (up from just 30% in 2009, and continuing on a growth trajectory).

While networks like Facebook are critically important due to their sheer size of user base (i.e., potential opportunity), niche social networks that revolve around photo sharing are making a big splash. Specifically, photo sharing network Instagram has garnered a lot of attention recently. If you’re not familiar with Instagram, it is an iOS app that lets users take photos, apply different filters to those photos, and share them with other Instagram friends or with other networks like Facebook and Twitter. Social sign-on is tenet of Instagram’s popularity: users connect their existing social network accounts to Instagram to find friends, share photos, and build a following.

Instagram has experienced incredible growth over the past year-plus. At the end of 2010, the network had around 100,000 users; at the end of 2012, it surpassed 15 million users… not bad for a start-up with 10 employees. Social integration, filter types, and the quality of iOS cameras (ranging from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels, depending on the version) are all success factors for Instagram. That quality level is also important for photo publishers looking to tap into the Instagram opportunity.

Around this time last year, Instagram launched an API for developers looking for new and interesting ways to tap into the photo sharing network’s content. One result of this launch was the proliferation of a number of tools and services that enable Instagram users to print their photos in a variety of different formats. All users have to do to use most of these services is login with their Instagram account (again, the power of social sign-on); depending on service, different methods will be provided for selecting and printing your photos. A number of existing services include:

  • Postagram: This service, which is available through iOS and Android mobile apps, lets users send personalized print postcards with a photo of their choice to friends and family. While there are many similar services available (including Apple’s own “Cards” app), what’s unique is that the photo area is die-cut, enabling photos to be popped out of the postcard and posted elsewhere. While Postagram takes its namesake from Instagram, the app also lets users send postcards including their Facebook photos, as well as photos residing on their mobile device.
  • Blurb: As many of you may know, Blurb is a prominent photo publisher, primarily with its photo book offerings. To complement its existing services, Blurb launched its Instagram integration in July last year, providing templates that easily let people turn their Instagram albums into long-lasting physical keepsakes.
  • CanvasPop: CanvasPop specializes in providing online services for canvas printing, and its Instagram integration was activated just before Christmas last year, enabling people to order 12″ x 12″ or 20″ x 20″ canvas prints of their Instagram photos.
  • Stickygram: A project birthed from digital ad agency MintDigital, Stickygram provides an interface for people to order a pack of 9 magnets that include different Instagram photos on it for just $14.99, and also lets users buy them as gifts for people. This company markets its product particularly well, with lots of different promotions and a strong social media presence.
  • Other Instagram-inspired printing services include Instagoodies (1″ stickers), Instamaker (photo merchandise), (various photo products), and Casetagram (iPhone cases).

It is important to note that integrating with the API is just the first step; in other words, if you build it, they will not necessarily come. The aforementioned companies all do a fair amount of marketing, especially on social networks and through daily deal sites like Groupon. Additionally, these sites are dealing with user-generated content, and even though most people use Instagram to take and share their own photos, they can also post third-party, non-original content, which could run afoul of copyright laws. These types of factors need to be considered before embarking on your quest to capture print volume from Instagram.

Clearly, there is a lot of interest and potential opportunity by leveraging Instagram (and other online social content) to drive photo publishing services. That opportunity will likely increase dramatically, as Instagram plans to release an Android version of its app at some point this year (date still TBA); this move will bring millions more users to the photo sharing network, especially considering Android’s market share dominance in the smartphone space.

The ultimate point is that today, Internet start-ups can gain user traction extremely rapidly (just look at Pinterest… that topic is for another blog, though). Additionally, to promote growth, these services inevitably offer sharing and integration capabilities, providing opportunities for third-parties to utilize content in new and interesting ways. Building useful services around these new platforms, especially around photo publishing and on-demand printing, can open the door to new customers and more volume.

Understanding Different Applications for Personalization


“Personalization” continues to be a prominent topic in a number of different circles: marketing, publishing, eCommerce, social networking, and search. It’s no wonder why: personalization helps boost response rates and profitability in cross-media campaigns, helps marketers drive conversion on their Websites & landing pages, and much more.

Wikipedia provides a very broad definition of personalization, which I do like: “using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals.” Specific to the groups that I am referring to, I believe that personalization can be more precisely defined as leveraging data to deliver relevant content to specific individuals.

That’s still pretty broad; what kind of data? what kind of content? what channels are being used? With this many constituencies looking to use personalization in their own ways to meet specific goals, those answers can range extensively. Furthermore, when these groups end up talking to each other about personalization, it can cause confusion and miscommunication. To clear the air, so-to-speak, I wanted to shed some light on the different ways personalization is being employed by these different groups.

  • Cross-media Direct Marketing: You’re likely familiar with the personalization model for cross-media campaigns: a digitally-printed direct mail piece (or e-mail) with variable text and graphic elements and a personalized URL, which links to a personalized microsite with variable text and graphic elements, often highlighting the recipient’s name in some way. Personal and demographic data is primarily used to drive the personalization in these applications. Depending on the client/campaign, additional data may be used for more granular, relevant content.
  • Digital Marketing: Personalization is popular with digital marketers. E-mail is a popular spot for personalization: according to a 2011 study by marketing technology provider Alterian, 72% of marketing professionals surveyed reported using personalization for their e-mail campaigns. E-mail marketing complexity ranges from mass blasts to segmentation to real-time individualization, typically using customer data and purchase history data to make recommendations. Another prominent personalization tactic for marketers is retargeting, which involves serving ads to a specific user after they have left a Website in efforts to raise brand awareness, recapture their attention, and drive people back to their Website.
  • eCommerce: Business-to-consumer eCommerce was and still is a center of innovation in Web personalization, driven by and other eTailers looking to provide a custom-tailored experience for each individual user in hopes of getting them to buy more. For these sites, personalization often comes in the form of a recommendation engine, which tracks your browsing habits, shopping cart, wish list, reviews, purchase history, and other facets to deliver personalized recommendations on what the system thinks you would like. It should be noted that digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with eCommerce; real-time individualized e-mail marketing is common for eCommerce companies, and retargeting helps bring back shoppers that left the conversion funnel.
  • Publishing: For print publishing, personalization often means mass customization, specifically in the print-on-demand model for books, where eCommerce orders trigger specific books to be printed, often in one-off fashion. Services like MagCloud and Time Inc’s Mine Magazine endeavor represent personalization efforts for magazines. On the Web and in digital media, personalization is geared more toward delivering relevant content based on an individual’s specific interests or preferences. Sometimes meeting this objective requires readers to input specific information about their tastes; other times, information like a Twitter, Facebook, or Google Reader account may be analyzed to assess your interests and deliver content based on who you’re friends with, who you follow, or what news you already read. A great example of this method is exhibited through Zite, a “personalized digital magazine” mobile app.
  • Social Networking: Social networks are rife with different types of individuals’ data, making them ideal for personalization. Social networks typically employ personalization to deliver relevant content feeds from a user’s friends or connections on a network, as well as to deliver highly-targeted display advertising. For content delivery, networks may use algorithms to interpret connections, interactions, and profile information among users and deliver content based on what it believes is most relevant to each user. For advertising, networks typically act a facilitator between advertisers and users, presenting key profile characteristics of users that advertisers can choose to target.  Facebook generated over $3.5 billion in revenue through this type of advertising.
  • Search: Search engines have always utilized algorithms to determine the display results of a user’s query, but these algorithms have recently started to take user information, such as profile or location data, into consideration before displaying results. Just recently, Google stepped up its game in this area, launching “Search, plus Your World“, which integrates a user’s Google+ data into everyday search queries. Advertising is a critical component to search, and generated over $35 billion in revenue worldwide for Google in 2011. Up until now, most search ads have been delivered based on the content of users’ search queries, but location information and even personal information are starting to be used to deliver more targeted search ads to users.

At its core, all that is needed to enable personalization is data, content, and a mechanism to have one drive the other. As has been covered, applying personalization for different use cases has a substantial impact on the type of data being used, the content that is being tied to that data, and the types of delivery mechanisms that enable that personalization. Understanding these differences and requirements for each application can help different stakeholders communicate more effectively when pursuing personalization, as well as open the door to new opportunities

Five Key Considerations for Offering Mobile Marketing Services


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!

Adobe Refocuses on Digital Media, Digital Marketing


Adobe has been making waves with its series of acquisitions over the past few years, including Web analytics provider Omniture and content management provider Day Software. More recently, Adobe acquired web font specialist Typekit, electronic signature provider EchoSign, and video enhancement software provider Iridas Technology.

At a financial analyst briefing in November, Adobe made a number of announcements about what it is doing with those acquisitions, and more broadly, the direction in which the company is headed. Most of the news coverage in the tech community that surrounded this briefing was Adobe’s intention to stop any future development of its Flash for mobile platform. Instead, the company is opting to focus on leveraging HTML5 and other standard Web technologies in the mobile arena. Adobe is also putting more emphasis on these technologies in general, as showcased by some of its concept products it has released for testing, including Muse (aimed at helping users design and publish HTML websites without the need to write code) and Edge (an application that is meant to help people create animated Web content using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript).

Some noted the scaling back of Flash as a posthumous win for the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was adamantly opposed to putting Flash on Apple’s iDevices because of what he felt were flaws that made Flash inferior in the mobile realm. What was substantially under-reported in the tech world was Adobe’s clear shift in direction, as highlighted by a reorganization that re-targets the company to focus on two main areas: digital media and digital marketing.

The company is also pushing its users to get out of a perpetual licensing model of buying and upgrading its Creative Suite product line to a cloud-based subscription pricing model that lets users pay for access to Creative Suite tools on a monthly basis. To do this, Adobe has developed the Creative Cloud, a Web-based community and portal for users to manage their Creative Suite applications and connect with other creative professionals. While the company will continue to sell perpetual licenses in the near future, it has very clear plans to fully migrate 100% of Creative Suite users to the Creative Cloud over time.

With the Creative Cloud on the Digital Media side, there is also Adobe’s cloud-based Digital Marketing Suite, which is geared toward the company’s solutions for digital marketing, including Web and social analytics, content management, digital asset management, eCommerce, display advertising, e-mail marketing, and customer relationship management. Adobe’s goal is to provide a suite of solutions for marketing professionals that can help them compete effectively in the online channel.

Furthermore, Adobe is shifting its business strategy from simply being a technology provider to a company that also provides services to help businesses with things like content monetization. In this sense, Adobe’s transformation pushes it closer to competing with some of its customers and partners; it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the near future. Just weeks after its financial analyst briefing, the company announced the acquisition of Efficient Frontier, a provider of digital ad buying and performance management solutions. This acquisition is further proof that Adobe is intent on not just providing tools to create content, but that it fully wants to provide solutions to help its customer monetize the content they are creating.

All in all, Adobe’s changes are much more substantial than no longer developing Flash for mobile; the company is totally revamping its strategy to focus on digital media and digital marketing, and expanding its scope to offer companies help with content monetization. As an unfortunate by-product of this reorganization, Adobe is also laying off about 750 people, or around 7% of its workforce. Layoffs aside, the company is, of course, painting a compelling future for itself, as well as digital media and marketing in general. With the marketing and media landscapes still undergoing a high degree of transformation, it may not be a bad bet.

What do you think of Adobe’s recent moves? Can it refocus its business while maintaining trust and good relationships with its long-standing customer base? Have you already moved from a perpetual licensing model to a monthly subscription via the Creative Cloud? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Exploring Opportunities with Small and Medium Businesses


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.

Complexity a Top Challenge for CMOs


Two weeks ago on The Digital Nirvana, I covered the DMA2011 conference & exhibition, highlighting how DMA is making a clear shift to embrace more digital, real-time forms of media and marketing. It’s clear that these areas are where marketers are gravitating toward. While print is still an important component in a more diverse marketing mix, it is becoming a much more targeted touchpoint in a broader, more complex marketing lifecycle.

According to a recently released study by IBM, complexity is a top challenge for the world’s CMOs, largely driven by the explosion of data,  social media platforms, the proliferation of channels & devices available, and the shifting nature of consumer demographics. For this study, IBM conducted face-to-face interviews with over 1,700 marketing executives from around the world as part of series on understanding C-level challenges and opportunities. The resulting report, entitled “From Stretched to Strengthened”, paints a picture of chief marketers that need to do more with less, deal with technology on a more intimate level, and ensure that the marketing strategies and tactics they use are effective and measurable.

Regarding the topic of complexity, IBM found that CMOs face a a “complexity gap”; almost 80% of CMOs believe that the world will become more complex over the next five years, but only 48% feel that they are prepared to handle this increase in complexity. Other important insights from the study include:

  • CMOs and their marketing organizations are making strategic decisions based on broad market information versus information from individual customers. For instance, 74% of CMOs reported using customer analytics to understand their individual customers, but other sources like consumer-generated reviews, third-party reviews/ratings, and online communications fell below the 50% mark. Marketers need to be more customer-focused, and leveraging these types of data sources can help them do that.
  • Technology is a much more important factor in marketing organizations these days, but there are two primary barriers to leveraging technology more effectively: cost and lack of ROI certainty. Furthermore, end-user skill sets and marketing’s alignment with IT are key concerns for CMOs looking to make greater use of technology.

IBM, of course, has made significant investments in acquiring data and marketing technology providers over the last few years, including Cognos, Coremetrics, and Unica, so this research fits quite nicely into the company’s narrative of helping marketers conquer some of these challenges through IBM’s technology. That being said, this also means that there is a substantial opportunity for service providers to help marketers solve some of these problems by utilizing data, making marketing more measurable, and ultimately simplifying the complex nature of this new world of marketing and communications. What are you doing to help your clients simplify the complex while driving strong return on marketing investment?

DMA2011 Continues Shift to Digital, Cross-Media


This past Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference & exhibition, DMA2011, being held October 1-6 in Boston. Its tagline, “the global event for real-time marketers” is a slight tweak on last year’s tagline of “the global ROI marketing event” signals a continued transformation of both the organization and the event. Lawrence Kimmel, who took over as CEO of DMA just over a year ago, has been working to strengthen the organization and provide more benefits to members, while also changing the face of DMA to be more visible to the digital marketing world. Kimmel opened up the show with a keynote extolling the progress that DMA has made under his leadership, and he makes a pretty good sell. Looking at the sessions being offered and the mix of exhibitors on the show floor, it’s clear that digital and cross-media marketing are instrumental to the success of the DMA and its members.

The major keynotes at DMA reflect its transformation. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, spoke directly after Kimmel’s opener via Skype, which seemed to throw attendees off quite a bit as the perception was that Stone would be there live (his wife is expecting a child soon, which is why he couldn’t make it). Nevertheless, the entrepreneur gave a good, thoughtful talk about the founding of Twitter, its adoption by marketers, and the “a-ha” moment that marketers had about listening and engaging with people (in real-time, of course).

After Biz’s talk, his floating video presence was joined by Scott Kirsner, technology columnist and blogger for the Boston Globe, and Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of WineLibrary and consultant to brands about using social media. The crew discussed the finer points of how to leverage social media in smart ways to deliver a great customer experience. That afternoon, Facebook’s VP of Global Marketing Solutions, Grady Burnett, talked about similar concepts in how the social Web transforms business.

The session tracks more than hinted at an increased focus in digital marketing. These tracks included topics like “Acquisition & Lead Generation,” “Real-Time & Trigger Marketing,” “Mobile Strategies,” and “Data, Measurement, & Attribution.” Each track also had courses broken out by knowledge/skill level to help guide people to the most relevant ones. DMA had a pretty stringent submission and review process for sessions this year, resulting in higher quality content that provided real value to attendees.

The show floor also represented the continued shift to digital and cross-media marketing. More and more print service providers are coming to DMA, pitching their marketing-centric services to attendees. Quad/Graphics was showcasing its new Interactive Print Solution, which combines multiple mobile response technologies, including mobile barcodes, image recognition, augmented reality, and near-field communication, into one integrated solution. Many vendors in the digital print space were in attendance, presenting their solutions for direct marketers. There is also an influx of digital marketing solution providers large and small. On the large side is IBM, which has made many acquisitions in the digital marketing space including Unica and Coremetrics, which were on display. There were more niche vendors, as well, especially related to mobile marketing.

There was a sizable, enthusiastic crowd in attendance at DMA2011, and while I was only able to attend the show Monday, one thing remained crystal clear: those that want to continue to be successful with direct marketing, whether it be from the service provider or the marketer side, need to embrace digital and cross-media marketing. These areas are the fastest growing in the industry, and will be the future of direct marketing.

Graph Expo Software Trends Revisited


Back in August, I published an article on the main WhatTheyThink site that highlighted my top five software trends to watch at Graph Expo. In general, this year’s show was an indication that solutions are just as (if not more) important as speeds and feeds, and software is top-of-mind for print businesses looking to succeed in the face of still-challenging times. Now that Graph Expo is over and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’d like to revisit the trends I outlined and see how they matched up with what was at the show.

1. Integration, Automation for Print and Beyond

As Cary Sherburne reported in her Graph Expo retrospective, production automation is a critical technology that will help drive efficiency and scalability in print businesses. Collaboration among different vendors to help their customers meet their goals is happening at a greater rate than in the past, as evidenced by many of the larger OEM vendors showcasing partner solutions and integrations at their booths. Hybrid Software, which specializes in providing software technology that integrates disparate information and production systems, had a consistently packed booth. Enfocus also generated a lot of interest with the new release of its Switch automation tool. Regarding the “beyond” part of this trend, the inaugural marketing pavilion that featured a variety of marketing-related solution vendors exhibiting also generated a significant amount of traffic despite its somewhat undesirable location toward the back of the show floor.

2. The Next Wave of Web Enablement

There were a number of developments and even some new entrants at Graph Expo related to the Web services space. As I mentioned in my original post, I was anticipating the launch of a new print eCommerce solution from Keen Systems. I was able to grab a pre-show briefing/demo, and the solution definitely has some potential; it also won a “Worth-a-look” award, which is great for a first-time exhibitor. Another company that has been around for a few years but just started exhibiting again was PrintNow, which offers three easy-to-understand software packages that service providers can leverage. Aleyant Systems, creators of the Pressero system, debuted their updated online interactive design tool, which was rebuilt on HTML5 instead of Adobe Flex/Flash for broader device support. EFI also previewed the latest version of its Digital StoreFront product, which included a revamped interface and ordering workflow. All in all, the future of Web enablement is shaping up quite nicely, and was on display at Graph Expo 2011.

3. Taking a Fresh Look at Print MIS

While production automation was one of the critical technologies outlined in Cary’s piece, MIS was the top critical technology, and there was plenty of activity related to MIS at Graph Expo this year. While EFI’s dominance in this space was certainly apparent, there were plenty of developments from other players. Heidelberg highlighted its Prinect Business Manager based on its CERM acquisition; the company plans to begin initial implementations of the solution in October or November. Technique received a great deal of attention at the show because of its new mobile application (iTechnique), which provides sales reps and managers with access to information such as customer profiles, active jobs, and the ability to submit new proposals. Avanti Systems highlighted its recent integration with Ultimate Impostrip, as well as its Customer Relationship Management capabilities. Finally, the very recent merger of vendors printLEADER and PrintPoint resulted in shared booth space and a showcase of how their products work together. With a renewed focus on operational optimization, MIS continues to be a key enabler, and printers are taking note.

4. Harnessing the Cloud

As I mentioned in my last post, utilizing the cloud results in easier implementations, reduction in software costs, and provides scalability as needs change. For print businesses to be more agile and make changes or shift directions as the market requires, flexibility and scalability are key factors. Many vendors were offering different flavors of cloud computing at Graph Expo. We already mentioned Keen, which is a true multi-tenant, cloud-based service. Many other vendors are taking the approach of leveraging virtualization, enabling customers to deploy software with less hardware footprint and greater efficiency. Kodak mentioned that it enabled virtualization with its Prinergy workflow suite earlier this year, and many customers have taken the opportunity to optimize their deployments.

5. Getting Serious About Mobile

While this trend was listed as number five on my list, I really think that mobile made a huge splash at Graph Expo and the issue of mobility will become a focal point for both vendors and service providers in the near future. I counted at least a dozen different mobile-related product announcements and features at Graph Expo, and I fully expect more to take shape between now and drupa. Some of these developments are around mobile marketing, including the ability to make print more interactive. Other developments are around the concept of mobile production management. My colleague, Barb Pellow, went into many of these announcements in further detail in one of her recent articles. It will be interesting to see how these applications are adopted by service providers and what benefits they provide.

Overall, Graph Expo was pretty great this year, and I think many of the software trends I highlighted were fairly prominent themes at the show. These are just my own views, though. What did you see at Graph Expo that really stood out to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.