The small-business advertising arms race has gotten hotter in recent weeks, as companies eye a chance to add Google and Yahoo! search solutions, and other services to small-business marketing budgets once totally contained by Yellow Pages.
First we had ReachLocal’s $305 million valuation based on a $55 million round of financing, sparking the whole marketplace. In early March, Spot Runner entered the game, acquiring Weblistic in an all-stock buy to power its 30 local sales offices with solutions that go beyond its core strength in video. At the same time, Orem, Utah-based Orange Soda got on the map with Freedom Communications, the publisher of The Orange Country Register. Previously, New York-based Yodle got $12 million in funding.
Today, Irvine, California-based WebVisible, a six-year veteran of the reseller space with 60 employees, reinforced its own position with $12 million in new series B funding from Sutter Hill Ventures and Redpoint Ventures, an existing investor. WebVisible partners in the U.S. include AT&T, Earthlink and McClatchy. Internationally, it works with Yellow Pages Group of Canada and British Telecom.
WebVisible CEO Kirsten Mangers says the new money is going to be used to flesh out its offerings and “fully support the customers we have.” The company’s focus is all about “innovation for reaching local businesses. At the end of the day, “it is never a money race.”
A major part of WebVisible’s vision is to provide a 360-degree set of solutions for SMBs. Search solutions are an important part of the equation. But “there comes a time when the sales channel needs more display, more marketing needs. Advertising always follows the audience,” she reminds. “And the paradigm changes over time.” The key is to not tie yourself to a single channel. WebVisible strives to be “Switzerland.”
“Statistics show that conversions will rise with an integrated media campaign,” adds Mangers. “Customers have been asking for it.” Video is not “fully baked,” right now. But it “closes the loop on the brand story,” and is undoubtedly part of a solution that also includes SEO/SEM, banners and location-based services. All of it needs to be “scalable by geography; scalable by vertical.”
With so many players in the market, one would think that the resellers would begin running into each other, much like the third parties in the automotive space that besiege auto dealers, four or five at a time. But Mangers says that almost never happens. “It is a problem I want to have.”
WebVisible’s approach, as a white-label provider of solutions, is to partner with the community players that have brand equity, ranging from Yellow Pages to newspapers to chambers of commerce. “They need to own the relationships,” she says. “It is a more sustainable customer base.”
But the local partners should “put a body in place” dedicated specifically to the extended SMB solutions — not just Yellow Pages or the big-three classified verticals. “They need to go out and tell an excellent story, and show new ways of using online as their lead product.” At the same time, they should “never discount the value of their brand” with bundled discounts, etc.
The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, for instance, has worked with WebVisible to have a dedicated account rep, resulting in a tripling of bookings in the past two months. “Newspaper reps have so many products in their bag that recommendations and fact-finding become difficult,” says Mangers.