GoDaddy doubles down on SMB social commerce

GoDaddy has acquired Main Street Hub, a social marketing tools and services company, for $125 million in cash with $50 million in  performance incentives, according to TechCrunch. This is interesting for several reasons:

  • SMB marketing must evolve to support on-demand and in-home engagement.
  • SMBs generally favor Do-It-With-Me and Do-It-For-Me (DIFM) models over Do-It-Yourself marketing services. Only 22.5 percent of respondents to the latest BIA/Kelsey survey of SMBs preferred DIFM services.
  • Scale in services is difficult to achieve, and at 10,000 SMB customers Main Street is at a tipping point that will determine if it can grow.

GoDaddy’s 17 million U.S. small business customers must appear a ripe target for Main Street. GoDaddy, too, has searched for additional revenue from SMB customers. At some point in the negotiations, someone at the table must have said “Pitch [Main Street} to the 28 million SMBs in the United States, and we’re sure to generate a billion dollars or more in fees.” In fact, it would take 333,000 customers at Main Street’s current entry price to make that goal.

However, scaling up a services-centric business is much more complicated than automated services, such as website hosting or email marketing delivery. The cost of delivering marketing services rises with each client as that client adds services, scaling linearly, at best, or producing lower margins in many circumstances. When I worked on web hosting at hibu a few years back, the only viable way to deliver web sites was outsourcing to the Philippines, and even that was challenging.

The other factor to consider is SMBs’ tendency to bring services in-house once they feel they have a process they can reproduce. Main Street’s best customers are likely to migrate to automation and in-house resources if they succeed.

The next phase of marketing requires local familiarity, not simply marketing competence. This means people must be familiar with the culture they are marketing into, and that points to lots of U.S.-based consultants. That is not cheap, yet TechCrunch calls this acquisition a “perfect match.”

Main Street assigns an account manager to each small business client, with pricing starting in the $250/mo. range, or $3,000 a year. That’s a small market, representing a few million U.S. businesses, at most. Meanwhile, Salesforce, Oracle, Amazon, and others continue to move their services down-market, into direct competition for these companies.

GoDaddy is taking a big bet in an intensely competitive sector. It isn’t a sure thing, and requires additional features and local expertise that will be hard to scale.

In-Home Smart Speakers: A War of the Big Three

Smart speakers represent a new interface in the customer relationship. Holiday shopping in 2017 established clear battle lines in the home AI market. Amazon, with its Alexa service, Google Home speakers, and Apple’s Siri-enabled services and delayed HomePod speaker are way out in front of the rest of the pack in terms of installed base. Indeed, one columnist says this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is the Microsoft Cortana assistant’s funeral.

Analyst firm Canalys projects 42.8 million or more smart speakers will be sold in 2018 in the U.S. and China.

Voice UX is usually portrayed as a silver bullet for customer engagement, and it may become so over time. For now, however, accuracy and contextual understanding of speakers’ words is lacking. Fixed command phrases that must be memorized and delivered in specific sequences are problematic for people.

Bots, being the shiniest of the new tech playthings, get plenty of praise, but the expectations for voice interaction are over-hyped right now. Until speech interaction approaches human conversational speed and efficiency, which requires more semantic understanding than bots currently provide, intimacy will be hard to achieve.  Voice UX may be good for instigating repeat orders, e.g., “Alexa, order another box of Tide,” are practical, but complex selling will have to wait for further evolution. It is likely that AI bots will support human connections, bringing humans onto a call with a user when the bot’s responses are insufficiently engaging, for many years to come.

Humans, we believe, are essential to trust relationships. Speakers can help make connections, but will not be able to handle simple objections for years to come. Think of the smart speaker like the new switchboard for consumers to connect with companies rather than as an unstaffed sales interface.

Where do the voice service leaders rank in units sold during 2017?

Google used heavy discounting during the holidays to sell 6.8 million Google Home speakers between October and Christmas. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a research firm, reported that Google had sold seven million Google Home units before the fourth quarter. Hence, Google Home sold approximately 13.8 million units through December 31st.

By contrast, Apple did not have its $349 HomePod speaker ready for the holidays, and we can count only Siri-enabled phones and Macs sold, for a total of 211.88 million iPhones and 19.25 million Mac computers, or 231.05 million Siri-capable devices in 2017. This is a considerable number, but currently has no speaker complement to these devices, nor the tens of millions of Apple TV devices its sold.

Apple’s ability to meld voice interfaces to a wide range of services through HomePod, iPhone, Apple TV, Macintosh and in-car systems is the company’s residual opportunity. The Siri strategy remains too fragmented, as it is missing an ambient listening post in most homes. The HomePod story and user experience is a critical test for Apple in 2018.

Amazon is the leader with real-world tools and services in consumer homes. By the end of Q3, 2017, 20.5 million Alexa devices had been sold, according to voicebot.ai. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, founder, and richest person in the world said Amazon sold “tens of millions” of Alexa devices over the holidays. Assuming Bezos is using the phrase accurately, there are at least 45 million Alexa devices boasting the largest variety of “skills” of any platform.

Is Cortana out of the picture for good? Microsoft has continued its increasingly open approach to partnering, announcing it will integrate Cortana and Alexa for Windows users. While the PC market is slowly declining compared to mobile devices, it still accounts for more than 200 million units shipped annually. That’s a beachhead of a different kind; one Microsoft must leverage to compete in its cognitive services business. Cortana may not be the voice speaking from PCs, but Microsoft could become the master integrator of voice services.

Ultimately, smart speakers will extend the voice and P2P aspects of on-demand services in the home. People in local markets will deliver the personalization promised by intelligent speaker hype by tying into and using voice UX to connect with customers when appropriate.

 

Talking Cures: Home speakers, audio ads, and the contest for engagement

Amazon will reportedly monetize its site and Alexa channels in 2018 using advertising. Global Web Index, a London-based research company, reports that grocery shoppers seem to love voice speakers. Of 78,000 respondents to a survey, 56 percent are using or plan to buy a speaker in the next six months. But will those consumers love advertising? That’s the important question for marketers considering how to deploy budget effectively.

Advertising isn’t the only customer interface in local. Human relationships, storefronts, out-of-home media, and many other investments are necessary. Adding advertising to an Alexa skill may backfire. As The Economist points out,  there is an uncanny valley problem with voice. When a smart speaker acts too human, the user can become uncomfortable. In short, consumer expectations are tightly linked to what they will tolerate comfortably when dealing with bots.

Adding advertising experience in a bot may violate the consumer’s expectations. Like streaming users, who feel they have paid for media out of their pocket and, consequently, do not welcome advertising, Alexa users are likely to object to the insertion of advertising. IBM Cloud Video found that 72.3 percent of streaming users “felt any type of ad reduced the viewing experience.” Alexa buyers have paid for a channel that promises to do tasks. Advertising remains an interruption to the consumer; it may be a mistake to impose in the smart speaker environment.

Marketers have seen an explosion of channels, in addition to myriad new sales tools to use to distribute experience to the edge of the network. Why revert to advertising, except to create more revenue for the smart speaker vendor? It does not necessarily add to the customer experience. In the local market, in particular, voice ads fail to replace the human connection consumers expect from a device/service they purchased. Perhaps the better move is to augment local salespeople using AI, instead.

The smartest speaker will know when to connect a potential customer to the human who can close the deal and build trust.

Experiential marketing will reach the home

AdWeek’s Sarah Priestman offers this assessment of experiential marketing:

The experience economy is booming, brands are seeking real-world impact, the creative industries are putting dollars behind new capabilities—really, what more do we need to do but let the good times roll?

Priestman goes on to emphasize the experimental and artistic qualities of experiential marketing, urging marketers not to think of this new style as a channel. “For lack of a better definition,” she writes, “experiential is the art of ‘expressing a brand’s purpose and proposition through a form of real-world consumer interaction.'”

Several trends are converging that raise the experiential challenge to the level of a revolution: Mass marketing is dying, turning to highly segmented experience that increases interaction and data gathering that produce better product design, improved inventory management, and a “pull” relationship with customers; On-demand business is driving experience down to Main Street and the consumer’s home; Communication technology is fragmenting as new channels open, each supporting a different experiential engagement.

Priestman rightly focuses on the roles of the brand strategist and producers in current experiential work, but this is a prelude to the delivery of experience in the home. Where experiential marketing today tends to happen at parties and events, such as a Bonnaroo or extreme sports event and brand events presented in urban cores, the future of marketing is personal and in-home. We need an interface at the local level to support this potential form of customer intimacy, and it is made of people.

Teens and Commitment: It’s an Exclusive Thing

Piper Jaffray surveyed 1,100 teens about their spending habits and the results reinforce the importance of relationships with young buyers, according to MediaPost. As noted yesterday, Gen Z is more deliberative, less prone to impulse buying, and already saving for their future. The Piper Jaffray study also found that young consumers look for exclusive offers, which are based on an exchange of information that creates loyalty: 

Teen shoppers are savvier shoppers than you might think. Budget conscious, they look for low prices. They want to protect their investments by buying quality products, but if you want to gain their loyalty, they are looking for exclusives and membership benefits. The older the teen, the more important this value exchange becomes.

The exclusive offer/price as basis for commitment is important to understand and use when establishing customer relationships.

Handy CEO polishes up ‘on-demand’ image, prefers ‘flexible economy’ (PODCAST) – New York Business Journal

Mitch’s take: Naming debates miss the real challenges of on-demand.

Handy CEO Oisin Hanrahan recently sat down for the inaugural episode of our new podcast, Wantonomics, to talk about how his startup fits into the on-demand economy.

Source: Handy CEO polishes up ‘on-demand’ image, prefers ‘flexible economy’ (PODCAST) – New York Business Journal