What Will It Take to Make Self-Serve Ad Platforms Work for SMBs?

il_fullxfull.376521548_9cc4Over the past decade, self-serve advertising platforms have been seen as a potential lynchpin for creating successful hyperlocal business models —potentially bringing down the cost of merchant acquisition and management to the point where serious profit can be made by aggregating smaller-sized SMB ad insertions. But self-serve is easier proposed than done. And many companies have found that while their self-serve platform works just fine, many small business owners require the kind of high-touch hand-holding that only a real-life salesperson can provide.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of hyperlocal businesses that are trying out new self-serve platforms and are seeing significant adoption. We asked a few different leaders in the local marketing space what they think will be the key to establishing a self-serve model that works. Here’s what they had to say.

“Self-serve platforms are increasingly successful and will certainly be in the long term. Early attempts at self-serve faced heavy market education problems on the value of digital and how to use online ordering. Now SMBs are increasingly comfortable purchasing what they need to succeed online. That said, it isn’t as easy as it should be. Most current models don’t make it easy to build quality ad creatives, which is needed for any ad campaign to even run — consequently, SMBs are too intimidated or concerned with the cost to even start. Also, current models underestimate the service layer needed to ensure all questions a SMB might have are addressed. While a service layer may undercut a pure self-serve model, it’s necessary to get people initially comfortable so they can completely trust self-serve in the future.” – Victor Wong, PaperG

“With respect to advertising, we have seen bits and pieces of progress there, but frankly it’s nowhere near what it needs to be for easy accessibility to VSBs [Very Small Businesses].  Walk into 10 small businesses and ask them how many have run paid print advertising of any form.  Then ask them how many have run online ads. Then, for chuckles, ask them how many have run targeted mobile ad campaigns. … They don’t care about Google Analytics traffic charts, or discussing the pros and cons of Responsive Web Design. We in the technology business made this whole online marketing nightmare for them and they just want someone to fix it for them.” -Randy Parker, PagePart

“The longevity of self-service platforms for SMBs is somewhat dependent on the evolution of these tools as well as the effectiveness of SMBs to best utilize them for maximum return. It is also simply a matter of vendors successfully getting these services in front of businesses. If the trend continues towards ease of use, low cost with beneficial (analyzable) results, then the potential longevity of these services will remain for some time.” – Ollie Glatzer, East Bay Express

“Self-serve platforms are ideal for SMBs as they allow business owners to deploy marketing campaigns with minimum marketing resources … As long as self-serve platforms can continue to provide businesses with meaningful reach on high quality websites and apps, they are here to stay. It is also critical that self-serve platforms gives their businesses actionable reports on campaign performance in a transparent and simple way.” – Arun Krishnan, AdLeads

“One thing that small businesses have in common is that they’re time-starved and only have so much time in the day to dedicate to online marketing. The priority, first and foremost, is running their business. This makes self-serve online marketing platforms really beneficial, especially if they have the right features, are easy to use, and save time. With the right platform, a small business can develop a professional-looking marketing campaign in a short timeframe, so they can quickly get back to running day-to-day operations.” – Chris Litster, Constant Contact 

“I think a couple of challenges for SMBs taking advantage of a self-service platform is efficient branding/design for their ads/business but also awareness around how to most effectively use their tool of choice. It’s one thing to sign up for a service; it’s another to actually understand the best way to utilize that service.” – Ollie Glatzer, East Bay Express

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.

  1. Dana
    May 7, 2013

    Only 1 has got it right, and that’s PagePart. Craigslist is a total DIY network with millions of postings monthly…..do they provide analytics? NOPE.

  2. May 7, 2013

    Different guests make good points. My experience is that SMB’s don’t have the time or money to create compelling ads. And for the most part they don’t care about analytics. Most will ask about traffic when considering online advertising because they feel they have to, but if they purchase they never ask again.

    I think the notion that “self serve is great for SMB’s because they have little time” is a bad assumption. A self serve platform is seen as another thing they have to do and more time taken away from other things. For the most part businesses want to buy the ad and have it handled for them.

    I also think that those who make these self serve platforms have never spent significant time with a SMB owner. If they did they would realize that SMB’s see it as more work rather than an easy way to do online advertising.

    1. May 11, 2013

      Agree Ken – SMB’s don’t necessarily care about analytics, but the Agency should: it’s often the only ammunition they have to prove R.O.I.

      1. May 11, 2013

        Agreed. But most of the SMB’s we work with don’t use/can/t afford an agency. I also look at it from a small pubisher’s perspective and the ROI for us isn’t there. I know a few sites make display ads work because they have a strong local community that supports them, but our experience is display ads are a very small piece of the revenue puzzle. We’re moving away from them. Membership in a heavily promoted local business directory and social media campaigns, on the other hand, are increasing and eventually will replace ads for us.

  3. Guest
    May 7, 2013

    A major driver in the adoption of self serve platforms will be the evolution of tools that enable SMBs to leverage these platforms efficiently. If a platform takes more than a couple minutes a day, it probably takes too long. Time is too valuable and digital hash’t become critical to success (yet).

    Self serve platforms will continue to evolve, becoming more efficient and better at meeting the needs of SMBs. But the timing of how the tools evolve is equally as important in determining what platforms will be successful. The single tool that will change the landscape (and self serve adoption) is mobile. How many SMBs do you know enjoy sitting in front of a computer or feel it’s a good use of time. Not many. Mobile has the opportunity to change that, bringing the capabilities of the PC to the “mode” of an SMB (always on the move).

    We try to address these challenges at http://www.alicanto.com for small businesses. We’ve made good strides, but the opportunity is still ahead of us.

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