As Agencies Latch On To Digital Presence, Vendasta Shifts Client Focus
One company can’t serve every local business alone.
Even the least tech savvy local marketer has the basics of an online presence it has to manage: there are listings, reviews, and mapping, and then Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages.
A number of companies have emerged the last few years to offer software services to help businesses from enterprise companies down to independent SMBs figure out how to connect with consumers and better relate marketing messages to them via digital channels.
One company in that space, Vendasta, has been helping SMBs evolve their digital profile and the toolkit around creating an effective web presence strategy. But instead of trying to lock up deals with every company that has a yellow pages listing, Vendasta CEO Brendan King says the company’s focus rests on striking deals with local agencies and reps.
GeoMarketing: Is Vendasta strictly operating in the reputation management business? Or is the approach bigger than that?
Brendan King: We’ve repositioned ourselves. We used to say that we build reputation products for small-to medium businesses and that we distribute them through partners, such as media companies and agencies. But the truth is, is that we actually build a digital platform for media companies and agencies and some of the products that are in the platform just happen to be reputation, presence and social media management.
But we are adding more and more third-party products to the platform. Listing distribution is one of those. Plus, we’ve got a whole bunch of new products on the horizon that our partners are looking forward to helping them sell digital.
Has that repositioning shifted the way you view the competitive landscape?
Yes, absolutely. A lot of people who we used to consider competitors on the reputation or presence front, we don’t even consider competitors. We are actively looking at partnering with some of those folks to bring their services to our media companies and agencies to sell for SMBs.
When it comes to these wider services and Vendasta’s continued focus on the SMB marketplace, do you think you can be successful because that area appears untapped compared to all the companies concentrating their services on larger, national enterprise clients?
Really, it’s the opposite. We think about our customer as the media company or the agency — and that is our primary user. We still want our products for SMBs to be best in class, but they are really secondary right now. So we think more about our partners, whether on the agency side or the publisher side, now than we do about the end-user SMB. And that really is a big a shift for us.
Obviously, there are tens of thousands of SMBs out there and it’s much easier to find the agencies who are working with them. Is the partner focus predicated on the fact that in order to cover as many SMBs as possible, you need partners to make it happen?
Sure, that’s one of the reasons is that SMBs are notoriously so hard to market to. They are all over the board, right? Local media companies and local agencies have tried to solve that. And in doing so, they’ve built strong relationships at that local level.
There are other reasons as well. Small-to-medium businesses don’t tend to buy a lot of services [from third party tech vendors]. It’s also hard to be mission critical to the SMB.
The truth is, an SMB can drop everything. They can drop all their marketing, they can quit advertising in paper, any print, any media, website, they don’t care. They might even drop their payment processor and they can still use a shoebox, some of them.
Obviously, the successful ones don’t do that. But even still, it’s really, really tough to be top of mind to many of them. We can be mission critical to the agencies and media partners. The way we measure that is with [Google Co-founder] Sergey Brin’s toothbrush test. “Is it something that you use twice a day and is good for you?” That’s what we aim to be for agencies and media companies when it comes to their work for SMBs.
Aside from shifting where Vendasta’s services are marketed, have the actual services and products themselves changed?
We’ve built our core set of products — which are reputation, presence, and social media management — and there hasn’t been any significant changes in our approach to those disciplines.
When we look at adding new products, we go through a “buy versus build” criteria and say, “Hey, can we build this?” We look at a bunch of factors. There is over 46 of them and we rate them and then we choose: “Okay, this is the product we want.” Then we choose whether we buy or build it.
We’ve got a number of different things that are pretty exciting that we want to bring to the media companies and agencies to help them, period. We do everything now through the lens of how can we help our partner? How can we help an agency or media company make money? That’s how we view everything through that lens. Oftentimes it’s selling our core products to those SMBs to help them get revenue.
There are many, many things that we are going to look at through the lens of how can this help our partner make money? The whole shift is from paid to earned and owned so you see a lot of dollars shifting from traditional banner and Search Engine Optimization and Management into, the paid stuff into owned and earned media so that’s where we want to play the most.
Let’s get into the specifics of what you do when you are brought in in connection with an SMB. For example, is it primarily monitoring what’s going on in social media or search and then getting the agency and its client to react to what you’ve seen?
No, monitoring is just the very first step so what we really want to do for the SMB. We generally start off with three things. One is to be prescriptive. This means we need to tell them what to do and how to do it. “So, you’ve got a product review, you need to respond; here’s how you respond.”
The second thing is to track it. You want to say, “Hey, here is the reviews you’ve responded to, here is the ones you haven’t to.” I’m just using reviews as a subset. This is for all the actions of business we take to build their online digital presence.
Then the third thing is assessment. You need context to tell the business, “Hey, this is how we’re doing. We’re performing against this metric. We answered our review in less than half-a-day — most businesses answer it in 8 hours.”